By Matthew Knoblauch
It’s about that time of year when I start to get antsy. Winter is in full swing, but my internal clock has begun to tick down the days until I can comfortably stand along a trout stream without my parka and mittens. There are frequent thoughts that come to me this time of year that make me feel a type of way—a good way, too. I usually start to piddle around amid my angst with my fishing gear that waits patiently in the basement for such a time. Fooling around like this tends to put me closer to the spring season, and that’s all I really want.
I’ll usually start by rummaging through my fly boxes. I take note of the pheasant tail nymphs and the hares ear’s and stoneflies, and although I should be taking inventory of what needs to be tied for the coming season, I can’t help but drift away in thoughts of the same flies that once pierced the lips of a few fine fish. I think of a handful of familiar and some not-so-familiar places that I’d like to drift them this year in hopes of the same outcome. I’ll start poking my way through the dry flies next; the red quills and the march browns that are disorganized and upside down now in the fly box—again, drifting away to the pleasant thoughts of sipping trout. I take inventory of what flies I should start tying to replace the ones I must retire or replace the ones that met their fate in a tree in which there are many. I usually begin by making several orders of new tying material, which I don’t need, but it helps me for some reason. It’s a way to mark the beginning of something good to come. Thread, tinsel, patches of fox fur, and slips of duck quill dyed in my favorite colors. I start browsing through my draws of hooks only to realize I’m well stocked for at least the next ten seasons of fishing, but I begin adding several boxes in varying sizes and shapes to my order anyways. I’ll spend the next couple of months tying flies, sometimes in the hundreds and way more than I’ll need, but that’s very much the point. It can’t hurt anything knowing very well that winter might plan to hold on a little bit longer, and I’ll need something to keep busy with.
This time of year puts me down in the basement more than I should admit. I have a healthy collection of fly rods that sit snugly above my floor joists in the basement ceiling. Each one is in a sleeve and in a rod tube labeled with tape on its end cap, so I know, without too much trouble, which three to grab before I leave home…. When I start getting anxious about spring fishing in the winter, I always find myself taking each rod out from under the ceiling. I must ensure that each rod is in its prospective rod tube and that each piece of that rod is in its prospective spot in its cloth sleeve. I’ll even pull out the rods and piece them together to feel the action again and hold it as if I were standing along a creek somewhere. Soon, contemplation begins to set in, and I’ll think of gathering what bare minimum I can from my fishing gear and make my way down to a nearby creek to just cast a few times; to remember how wonderful it feels. Although I never end up going, I do remain hopeful, knowing my favorite pools will soon be alive with dancing mayflies and hungry trout, and that’s enough for me.
While I’m down in the basement, I tend to look over the clothes rack of waders and fishing vests that lay against the wall. I try to remember which pair of waders has six pinhole leaks and which don’t. Then, I wondered why I hadn’t thrown the ones that leaked away yet. I look through my vests, which are usually still stuffed full in their pockets of last season’s gear, or a compilation of several seasons. Altoid cans full of colorful wet flies, loose leader material coiled up into knots, split shot in 75 different sizes not isolated to a single pocket, but in all of them. I am sure I’ll find even a reel or two shoved in there somewhere, just stuff that tends to weigh down the pockets of a fishing vest. Cleaning out the vest is another thing I look forward to doing this time of year. It’s just another…chore… that puts me slightly closer to the spring season.
A lot goes on in a fisherman’s winter, especially with a fisherman who doesn’t actually do any sort of fishing in the winter. There are books to read and techniques to learn. There are flies to tie and materials to buy. There are thoughts like wondering if my wading boots will last me just one more season or when I should take the dog kennels out of the truck bed to replace them with my fishing gear. There are maps to look over and hidden ponds to circle with a black marker. Phone calls to be made and messages sent to the people we hope will share these places with us come a new season. There are thoughts about leaving to deal with the frigid winter temperatures to feel the rod’s weight in our hands again. There is gear to clean, organize, and set aside for a better day. There are windows to stare out while thinking of all the trout we love, all of which we hope to handle again in the coming spring while the blackbirds cry aloud from newborn leaves. Winter is a fine time to be a fisherman. There is much to do and a lot more to be hopeful for, and we all need a little bit of that to carry us through a long winter season.