When you can hardly handle the cold in your own house, that’s usually a good indication it’s too damn chilly to go fishing. You should just quit being cheap, put the heat on and stay home. But my friends Rob Parkins, Weldon Jones and Neil Chamberlin and I are idiots. We went anyhow. Why? Why not?
I’m not kidding. We awoke to snow, wind and another 16º morning. My magpies were scrambling for food – digging through the fresh snow trying to find the laker heads I tossed on the lawn from Lewis Lake the other day. The birdbath has been frozen for two weeks. Time to face it – it’s winter in the Yellowstone area. But that doesn’t mean no more fishing. There are plenty of good venues still. Jackson Lake, which is closed to fishing for the month of October for lake trout spawning, reopens in November. If you can stand the cold, it can be the best lake fishing of the year. So off we went into the storm.
Jackson Lake is in Grand Teton National Park directly under the Teton Mountain Range. The lake is truly one of the most beautiful on the planet. I used to fish Jackson all the time both through the ice and open water but the last ten or so years I hardly ever get there. After the great day on Lewis Lake on Thursday, Jackson Lake seemed like a logical place to fish and spank a bunch more lake trout on the fly.
The drive to the lake was terrible. No one in their right mind would consider traveling over Teton Pass, the mountain pass that separates my house from the lake, unless you absolutely had to. The winding mountain road was shear ice and this time of year there are no snow banks to save you from skidding off a cliff. Even after we put the pass behind us, the drive across antelope flats up to Jackson Lake was treacherous. And pulling a boat on the trailer – yikes! But I already declared us “idiots”.
Once we got there is when that stupid feeling hit us. What in the world were we doing here? It was colder, snowier and windier than when we left home – just like the forecast said it would be. But there was no turning back. Then we’d really be idiots. So with fear of backing down the icy boat ramp and not being able to get back up, Rob bravely went for it. And just as the trailer entered the water, Rob’s truck started to slide into the lake. From my point of view it looked like disaster had finally struck. But miraculously there was enough bare cement where the waves were washing up and Rob’s truck got a grip. After a deep breath and a laugh boat number one was in.
Neil was a little hesitant to launch his boat. Neil is the only one that’s never been on my blog. Like most my friends, Neil worked for me in the fly shop and went on to be an excellent guide, now a school teacher and most important a great friend. Anyhow, after some encouragement Neil went for it and luckily he had no trouble. We were in and on our way, Weldon and me in one boat and Rob and Neil in the other.
It’s always an interesting feeling being on a lake and knowing that if you were to somehow end up overboard your dead. You literally don’t have a chance because of the cold. Lifejackets are virtually useless. They simply allow search and rescue to find your body. That’s kind of where my thoughts were when I looked down to see that I knocked loose the boat plug with my sorrel! Oh my God I screeched! All while scrambling to find the plug and at the same time steering the motor towards shore with hopes we’d make it there. There the plug was. I grabbed it and jammed it into the gushing stream. Just in time. We’d only taken on about two inches deep of water. Just enough to get my feet wet but not enough to sink. Weldon started bailing and we continued on.
That’s about all the excitement for the day. We fished for about three hours total. We all thought we may have had a strike but no proof. The only one to catch a fish was Neil but he cheated, he was jigging with a spin rod. Probably the smart one when you think about it. But even with this evil method he only caught one. Fishing was brutal. After freezing our hands for three hours and nothing, I pulled cigars from my Simms bag and Weldon and I spent the last hour enjoying a smoke with our hands in our gloves. The sun actually poked out and the snow stopped. That lasted a whole five minutes and the snow started again. What a great day.
Skunked certainly happens. And it usually happens right after a great day on the water. That’s fishing. Today was a kick. Another day with friends and probably my last lake day of the year. From here on out it will likely be South Fork, South Fork and more South Fork, my true favorite of November.