It is still snowing outside as I write this but the fishing season, for all intensive purposes, has begun. Last Wednesday I spent the afternoon waking my boat up from her winter slumber. On Thursday I hitched up the trailer in the pre-dawn hours in preparation of hitting the water right when I got out of work at 11 am. I met up with my good friend Patrick at 11:30 am. Patrick was a bit skeptical, " Are you sure we can get this thing in and out of the river without any trouble?" "Well let me show you the put in and take out and you can decide." I showed Patrick how we could slide the raft over a sturdy looking ice shelf and anchor her in a shallow eddie. "Alright but what about the take out?". We drove to the end point and I again showed Patrick that the ice had diminished just enough to get the boat into tow-able position.
With his confidence in our entry and exit satisfied we set up our shuttle and slide the raft into the thirty three degree water of the Androscoggin River. "You know we aren't going to catch anything." Patrick half wined. "We won't catch anything with an attitude like that." I lectured, and Patrick rolled his eyes. I couldn't blame him too much, after all I had "invited" him to go fishing. All of my friends know that when I ask them to go fishing it is because I have something that I want to figure out. In this case I had been studying the river every day on my way too and from work all winter long. A few days prior I had noticed the first bugs of 2015. A light hatch of early dark stone flies flitted about in the snow.
I tried to explain my theory to Patrick, " I think if we focus on fishing stoneflies slow and deep we might motivate one of these fish to eat." "Well I don't know man, it's just nice to get out on this boat anyways." And it was. It always amazes me how quickly things come back to me after a winter spent skiing. The gliding of the river and the stroke of my oars were synced up within a few car lengths of the put-in. We slid down the river, and Patrick threw a mid sized streamer on a sink tip while I tried a new version of an early stonefly that I had tied up a few nights prior. The first few riffles and runs did not produce any strikes, but I did not expect them too. In water this cold I was banking on the fish being laid up in the slower, deeper pools.
As we made our way down the river we eventually came to a confluence of a deeper channel. I'd assumed that this channel, which flows at a fairly constant rate all winter long, would be free of ice, but it was frozen solid. With no choice in the matter we anchored the boat and proceeded to fish our rigs as close to the ice as we could. Fish always like the edges of things and the edge between frozen and liquid H20 is no exception. On my third drift I watched my strike indicator make an unnatural dive. I set the hook but there was nothing on the end of the line. "That looked like a fish to me!" Patrick encouraged. On my next drift my indicator only made it a few feet before shooting under...this time there was tensions on the end of the line...pulsating tension. The rainbow flashed half under the ice and I felt my heart rate quicken. I kicked the net towards Patrick, "Get the net! Just don't fall in!" Patrick managed to find the net just in time, the fly popping from the fish's mouth just as the rubber fell under her. I raised the rainbow, a healthy silver specimen, then slid her back into the water. Watching her vanish beneath the ice, I felt a nostalgic euphoria return.
Now it was Patrick's turn. I put my rod away and set to work on the oars. We covered water methodically focusing on the deeper, slower slots and glides. In one long glide I watched Patrick's indicator shoot under. His rod rose, the line shook, and the fish was gone. We stared at each other, both knowing we wouldn't have many chances. Patrick got one more right before the take out. His indicator shot under in a deep side eddie where no rocks or logs could fake a take. Unfortunately the timing was just slightly off. The problem with only getting a few chances is that you aren't expecting them when they come.
The sun was still above the horizon but the spring warmth of the day was already fading into a winter cold. Satisfied with our discovery we angled the boat into the take out. Patrick agreed to buy me a burger and a beer, in gratitude of the days adventure and I took him up on the offer. We clinked glasses in celebration of more fish and warmer days to come.