When I packed the truck and headed for Rose River Farm it was nine degrees out and the main roads were still covered with packed snow from the previous day’s storm. I wasn’t fully convinced this was a good use of a vacation day until I was almost there. Driving south in brilliant morning sunshine, the roads eventually cleared, traffic thinned, and finally the Rose River came into view. A clean, dark, glistening ribbon meandering through the snow covered landscape, frigid water tumbling over rocks and logs, leaving behind brilliant ice sculptures along her banks. I had forgotten how much I love winter fishing. Hell, I had forgotten how much I love winter. But I remember now.
I love having a truck. This was my first foul weather outdoor adventure with my Chevy Colorado, and it’s great fun. I love the workspace of a tailgate as I’m getting ready. While the temperature was quite cold, there was virtually no wind, and the bright sun reflecting off the snow made it fairly comfortable. I decided my ultra warm neoprene waders would be overkill, so I put on my Redingtons and a warm hat and met up with a friend who had been fishing all morning. Bob is a great guy, a fantastic fly angler, and he travels with more flies than I have seen in almost every fly shop I’ve ever been in. “Hare’s ear,” he told me. “They’re killing it.”
A hare’s ear nymph? This is not a fly I use very often. I think maybe because it’s kind of nondescript. Unremarkable in color and vague in shape, a single example sat in the corner of my fly box, long ignored like that drab sportcoat in the closet with patches on the elbows. You can’t remember the last time you wore it, but won’t throw it out because there has to be some occasion it’s perfect for. Well I can’t show you a picture of the hare’s ear I used, because it was in fact the perfect sportcoat for the occasion, and the trout hammered it until it unraveled. Then I trimmed the material that had come undone and they hammered it some more. Finally, the hook literally broke off of it. This is an example of a healthy hare’s ear nymph, courtesy of my buddy Joel of Montana Troutaholics Outfitters. Joel describes it as a “great and often overlooked nymph.” He also said in New Zealand they call it a ‘hare and copper,’ and it’s an extremely productive fly down there too.
The first fish of the day came quickly, as did my realization that wetting your hand to handle a trout on a 20 degree day is uncomfortable.
Catching fish is fun no matter the temperature. But when toes get cold, wading becomes clumsy. And when hands get cold, everything else gets clumsy. Removing a fly, releasing a fish, tying a knot, untangling line. Everything takes longer. I tried a few times to add a trailing fly behind the hare’s ear, but cold fingers and bad eyes (I was wearing a warm hat without a brim so I was without my usual clip-on magnifiers) made tandem rigs just too cumbersome to tie. In addition, trout spinning around in the net tangling in the trailer added a new dimension of frustration. So I abandoned that and stuck with the single nymph.
Anyone who fishes in cold weather has experienced their guides icing up. At first it happens gradually, ice building up from the water on the fly line gliding by. But once they ice to the point the line doesn’t move, you have to dip the guides into the river (which is warmer than the air) to thaw them. This of course means now your rod is totally wet, and in a couple minutes you’ll have far more ice than before. It’s just a part of winter fishing.
Once my hands froze, I tried my best to remove hooks with hemostats while the fish was still in the net. But some fish are worth the pain of wetting your hands for a photo. This fatty was my biggest of the day.
You can just make out this fish in the upper right as I released him. I was a bit late with the photo — did I mention my hands weren’t working very well? — but I thought the swirl of water he left in his wake was pretty cool.
By late afternoon, the temperature had risen to the high twenties and things began to thaw out. I love this curl of snow slowly sliding off the warm, tin roof of the gazebo.
The hare’s ear worked all day, until it didn’t. They just shut down for that fly for both Bob and I. Luckily, he had another winning pattern in his fly box and gave me an extra. It was tiny and pink, hard to really see and damn near impossible to tie on at that point in the day. I told myself I would fish it for another thirty minutes or until I broke it off and then I would be done for the day. But this fly too was extremely effective, producing another half dozen fish in that last half hour. This beauty wanted to pose with my beautiful bamboo rod by Jerry Nonnemacher.
I spent the drive from Madison to Loudoun County smiling about a simply wonderful day of winter fishing. And right around the time I reached Gilbert’s Corner, the feeling eased back to the last of my toes. With warmth and sunshine in the forecast for more than a week taking us into mid March, I think it’s safe to say the worst of winter is behind us. Unfortunately, so is the best of it.
I recently had the privilege of participating in a unique and special project put together by the folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. Fifteen bloggers from all across the United States were selected to receive this custom-built bamboo fly rod made by Fall River Fly Rods, fish with it, write about it and pass it along to the next blogger on the list. The South Fork model 5-weight rod comes with a beautiful reel from Montana Fly Company loaded with Rio line, and after each has had a turn with it, one participant will get to keep it!
When the rod arrived at my post office, having only made three stops so far (Arizona, New Mexico and Alabama) the shipping tube it came in was already getting the look and feel of a world traveled suitcase with stickers and labels all over it. Inside, the rod case alone is a thing of beauty, but as I took everything out and put it together I was really impressed by the wonderful craftsmanship that went into the rod. I had known for some time that I would be taking part in this, but now it was here, it was real, and it was exciting. I couldn’t wait to get that line wet and fish with this piece of art!
I had to bring this rod to my favorite trout fishing spot in the area, Rose River Farm in scenic Madison County, Virginia. I arrived in the evening, with just enough light left to try for one of the many rising trout I could see along the entire stretch of river at the farm. So I carefully assembled the rod and realized I had a new top priority above even catching fish: Do Not Break This Rod! So, slowing down, methodically stringing the rod and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like leave the spare rod tip partially out of the case where I could sit on it or something, I was finally ready to fish.
This was my first time fishing with bamboo, and it took a few minutes to get a feel for it. But the learning curve was not as great as I had anticipated. Short casts were difficult, I found, but once I got some line out, I was comfortable with the rod in no time. And with the June light fading in a pink sky, the black water around my fly broke in a burst of life as a rainbow rose to it. Fish on.
This rod is not light, in fact it feels quite stout for a 5-weight. But the tip is very responsive to a fighting fish. I really loved having this rainbow on the line and wanted to savor the moment, but I also needed to make sure I got it all the way to hand so I could get a picture of my first fish on bamboo. My first fish as my part of this rod’s journey.
The next morning brought perfect conditions, a few friends and one very special guest to the farm.
Photo by Steve Hasty.
I had met General Conway (left), retired four star general and the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at a Project Healing Waters event a month earlier, and his speech was awe inspiring. This man simply exudes leadership, and it was an honor to spend time with him.
I told the general about the bamboo rod project and asked if he would fish a little bit with it. He graciously agreed, and it was fun to watch him cast this rod so beautifully.
Here he is with the Outdoor Blogger Network South Fork rod. A big thanks to General Conway for helping add some unique history to the path this rod will take before settling down in one of fifteen permanent homes.
After a nice lunch with the general, it was time to have some fun with this rod and try to get into some more fish. The dry flies weren’t working anymore, so I tried nymphs and even some streamers. I got very comfortable with the rod trying many different styles and approaches to casting and fishing.
This nice Rose River rainbow fell for my antics and was kind enough to stick around for a photo.
I released my last fish of the day back into the cool Rose, and closed the book on a fun and memorable day of fishing, thus ending my chapter of this rod’s story. Unless of course I am lucky enough to end up with it in the end, in which case you will see a lot more of this bamboo rod here!
Let’s have one last look at the beautiful Montana Fly Company reel under the water’s surface. Good luck to Joel in South Carolina who has the rod now, and to everyone who will share and add to its unique history. Waters in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Utah, Washington and Oregon will see this rod before it’s all said and done. I am proud to have been a part of it all. Thank you to the Outdoor Blogger Network, Fall River Fly Rods, Montana Fly Company and Rio for conceiving such a fun and different project.