Little did I know the other night while I was painting fish and signing books at the Jack Dennis Fly Shop party, my pals Rob Parkins and Paul Bruun were organizing a float on the South Fork for a few days before Christmas. To my delight this excursion included me and I would discover this in a corresponding email later that night. Our day was set for Wednesday, but we ended up going today.
By now you should know Bruun. You may know Rob too, but it’s been awhile since I introduced him on my blog. Rob Parkins is a well known fishing guide here in Teton Valley. Rob guides in both Idaho and Wyoming. He is also a very accomplished fly tier and photographer and although we don’t spend much time together in the summer because he’s guiding so much, in the winter we often fish together and even more regularly grab beers and burgers together at one of the many Victor, Idaho establishments.
Today was the first time I saw the sun in weeks – perhaps since I left Africa over a month ago! I found myself hypnotized by the brilliant blue sky several times. I also found myself picking ice out of my frozen rod guides throughout the day. Despite the sunshine, our temperature never reached much above 20º. But 20º is a true bonus in mid December. And today, even though it was the shortest day of our lives, was a great chance to squeeze out another float.
We put in at the Palisades Dam. Normally our winter South Fork floats find us fishing ten miles further downstream but this float offered us a change in the usual scenery and sometimes up top we often stumble into larger fish. However the trade off is usually fewer fish. The wind always blows at the dam no matter what time of year it is and this morning was no exception. The good news is that once you get around the first turn in the river it all but stops and suddenly it feels about 10º warmer. That’s a huge psychological plus for winter float fishing! Sure enough we got around that corner and even though the rod guides were still clogging with ice, the hats and gloves came off and it was quite a nice day all the way till dark at the take out.
Our fishing ranked as good, but by no means red hot. To start the day, Paul rowed, Rob fished nymphs and I did my usual multi fly streamer rig on straight 0X RIO Flouroflex Plus tippet. We caught several fish and they were nice ones, but we went through some proven hot spots that weren’t so hot. Some good news is that it appears most the browns are done spawning. We caught quite a few and they all came from the deep on the streamers. In fact, we only caught two rainbows and maybe five cutthroats. The rest were browns. Also, when Rob was nymphing he latched into numerous whitefish and even snagged a handsome sucker.
It’s remarkable how much snow has melted. Two weeks ago Bruun and I could barely reach the boat launch and now after an unseasonably mild December the river banks are void of snow. This attracts many of the inhabitants of the river basin down to the edge to find food. The mule deer were grazing the exposed grass while red squirrels gathered supplies. We must have seen a dozen bald eagles and what is most unusual for winter, hundreds upon hundreds of robins. They were devouring midges on both sides of the river for the entire final two hours of our float. It made it feel as if spring is just around the corner – FAT CHANCE!
Speaking of midges, at day’s end the fish were on them. The beauty of it was that Paul brought along some fantastic cigars, a perfect item while taking turns casting dry flies. We were almost to the boat ramp yet we hadn’t smoked these fine cigars. I dropped anchor at one of these rising fish pods and lit up and asked the guys if they wanted to cast some midges. At first they lit up their cigars and we all watched the risers. The trout fed as if it were 10 PM in July during a rusty spinner fall. It was incredible. Then gradually the dry fly rods appeared and Rob made the first cast.
We didn’t exactly extract fish from this pod at a rapid pace. These guys were difficult to say the least. A lot of it had to do with our inability to see the tiny midge patterns we were throwing. Sometimes you would set the hook thinking the fish ate your fly but he hadn’t. Next cast you wouldn’t set and of course you should have because the fish really did eat your fly. We should have rigged an indicator of some sort but I think the cigars and relaxing during sunset took precedence over extra rigging.
I keep leaving this great river thinking it’s my last time for 2010 but I find myself right back. A float just a few days before Christmas on the South Fork – are you kidding me? Taking turns casting a midge to ten rising trout – am I dreaming? Smoking cigars with friends during sunset in December while watching the wildlife and listening to the birds and sudden slurps of feeding trout – that’s enough! Happy holidays everyone.