It is January, and the snow lies deep. Shelf ice extends across the river. You wake in the morning to a new low low, -20, -30. The beat goes on. Lahhty frickin' dee. January is your lowest moment. The coldest, the deepest snow, the lowest water. It's January. Get used to it.
The furnace runs all night, and yet you still feel cold. You awake to the morning thermometer at -27. Frost runs a fine filigree down your windows, up your pipes, and across your floor. Oh, well, you'll insulate better next fall. One fact is inescapable- winter is here, and fly fishing is next to impossible.
We used to have this notion here of a January thaw. I don't think it exists anymore. Half of January is a thaw now. The snows are sporadic, the runs are unpredictable, the weather a sham, global warming is here. Dispute it all you want, but if we get another trout die-off this year I'm going to scream. We need thigh deep snow, pipe-bursting cold, and lots of shelf ice to guarantee a good fishing season. Even with the diminished conditions, it is still winter.
What will we do this time of year? The waters are cold, the winter is hard, and we all just wish to be somewhere else. Like... like... Andros. You're on the bow of a flats skiff, a dark man with a dark accent is coaching you as he poles the boat into the wind, you cast, you cast.. twitch, .. twitch, and then your line races the other direction. Gulls and terns whirl and scream as you palm your reel, sweat pouring from your brow, then your line goes limp to a dull weight- you reel in the jagged head of a bonefish, still breathing and bleeding.
Maybe you're in Argentina, riding a raft, your guide cursing in Spanish as you repeatedly miss the banks, the sun shines crisply in that South American way, the scrub covered hills lift above you, the wind is brisk, pampas grass billows in the breeze as you float past, and the trout are large and plentiful but somehow different from the fish you know at home.
Why not go all the way? You're in New Zealand, on the..... (no one can pronounce those names, so I'm not going to spell them) clambering over the boulders, cold sweat and cold drizzle sopping your clothes, hypothermia setting in even as you line up on a snaky shadow, a large brown. You cast oh so delicately from 45 feet away, and overshoot your cast. In a flash your dream fish is streaking downstream for shelter, and you, soaked to the bone, must repeat the process over again of slowly working upstream in careful search of fish that do not wish to be found.
Where would I go if I could go anywhere this time of year and money was no object? Because winters are so typically harsh here, I would want to find something completely opposite of what I'm forced to deal with here. I wouldn't want to go to South America for trout, for instance. Who wants a winter escape to a place that is 60 degrees? No, I want tropical. Not just tropical, but far away. I'm thinking the Seychelles or the Maldives, or Christmas Island. Bonefish, giant trevally, milkfish, tarpon. When I want to get out of here, I want to really get out of here. Opposite Day in vacation form. Instead of fresh water I want salt, instead of temperatures below zero, I want blazing heat, instead of my 3 weight I want an 11. I want big fish and lots of them, coconut palms, blinding blue water over blazing white sand, coral instead of limestone (for what it's worth limestone used to be coral). I want the travel to be arduous, customs to be a bear, the guides to barely speak english, half my luggage to be lost, I want the chance to catch a tropical disease and learn the local cure, and the chance to drink the local moonshine. I want to get stung on the legs by some invisible nemesis found only in those waters. I want to get bit by bugs I've never heard of. I want to break a rod and burn out a reel. I want to reel in a bleeding fish head. I don't want a sunburn, but it is probably inevitable. I want a tropical rash. In fact, I think I already have it, and now I just want to scratch it.
I've read Paul Theroux's book "The Happy Isles of Oceania", it's a favorite. The title is a study in irony, as Mr. Theroux maintains a mostly dour outlook throughout the book, and yet I dream of doing what he did- flying from archipelago to archipelago, fold-up kayak in tow to paddle my way around the Pacific, but with one pronounced difference- where Paul Theroux is positively disdainful of anglers, I would want my fly gear strapped firmly to the bow. He actually went to Christmas Island and thoroughly detested the American anglers there after bonefish and other species. I would like to repeat his journey, but with the added twist of fly fishing. We all have a dream don't we. This one takes on a certain significance in January, when my kayak is stored away, my rivers are iced over, and all I can do is sit at my tying bench and stare at the frost on the window.
January is over, I've posted this too late. I fished a total of 3 times, same as last year. Two days were awful, one day was sublime. Perhaps that is all you can ask of January- to bask in the limited glow of the boreal winter. Even with the profoundly new reality of global warming, winter is still winter, minus the deep snows and bitter cold. Instead it involves a dreariness that drives me even further toward my exotic goals- to find fish at this time of year in warm, absurdly blue waters.
Happy next January.