I put in research, and I texted with my fishing buddies to try and pick the best place to fish today. Exploring smaller streams I haven’t fished before was appealing, but they are more impacted by a cold snap. A cold few days drop the water temperature in the freestones. Tailwaters, with their constant release from reservoirs with relatively steady temperatures, or spring creeks, with water pumped in from the warmer ground, are more resilient during hot or cold extremes.
Fishing spring creeks, other than Spring Creek in State College, PA, has proven difficult for me. I haven’t mastered or even approached the skills to fish the clear waters of spring creeks. I need to improve my casting accuracy and touch to succeed in those waters. The Gunpowder River is a tailwater and where I fish most. I’ve gained skill and confidence in the tailwater systems. I decided on a tailwater; I wanted to catch a fish, and I thought tailwaters produced my best chance in this cold spell. But I also wanted an adventure. The Tulpehocken River and the Savage River are strong fisheries that are tailwaters within three hour drives of my house. I decided on the Tully, as it’s a bit shorter of a drive.
The night before I fish anywhere more than an hour away from home, I always prepare. I go through my fly boxes to make sure everything is organized and clean and to inventory my collection of flies. I can quickly tie any flies, if I am low on some of my go-to flies. Last night was not different. I was in good shape and ready to go. I checked the weather and saw the temperature would reach about 30 degrees around 10 a.m., so I’d leave a little after 8. My wife woke up with me, and while I was showering and getting the car loaded, made me lunch and put together some snacks for my day.
Driving towards Reading, PA, I felt cared for and content. I was looking forward to some good fishing. I arrived at my selected spot as the clock turned 10 a.m. There were no other cars in the parking area! Walking down to the river, I noticed that the Tully had its green hue and great water levels. I was giddy and walked back to get set up to fish!
I pulled out the mat I use for getting my waders on and pulled the rod out from my travel box. I decided to start the day by putting my waders on. Normally I have the rod all lined up and ready to go, but I didn’t this morning, I wanted to line my rod last. I just got my repaired nymphing rod back from Orvis, and I was excited to use it. As I was lacing my boots, a twinge of fear slid into my mind. Did I forget my sling pack? Yes, I did.
Almost two hours from home, in a great spot to fish, and I forgot all my flies, my tippet, my license, my net, and my split shot. Everything I needed to rig my rod was sitting on a chair in my kitchen. Embarrassment, disappointment, and anger swirled in my mind. My heart was racing, my fingertips got hot, and my cheeks were flushed. How could I forget so much of my gear?
I texted my wife and then my friends Brian and Mark. Chrissy had just texted me a quote from A River Runs Through It. “Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time waiting for the world to be perfect,” was the fitting quote she sent. Now I had the perfect opportunity to fulfill that sentiment. My friend Brian texted “where’s the closest fly shop?” Perfect. TCO to the rescue.
TCO was 7 minutes away. I got some tippet, split shot, nippers, and some flies. I was back in business. My wife sent me a photo of my fishing license. I was hoping that would suffice; the guy at TCO thought it would. Back to the river I went.
My spot was now occupied, so I drove down the river. I wanted to see the red covered bridge and follow in some footsteps of Scott Major from his YouTube adventures. I tied on a Pat’s Rubberlegs and a Pheasant Tail nymph. I haven’t fished with store bought flies in a while. It felt odd and slightly uncomfortable. In about a half an hour of repositioning in the stream and changing weight, I hooked into a Rainbow Trout. It was sizable and strong. Sometimes fish in the winter can be sluggish; this one was ornery. I followed all the good advice I’ve gathered and prepared to net the bow. And I whiffed. Then I felt the line go slack. I missed the fish.
The next couple hours proved to be more repositioning, changing weight, changing flies, but no strikes. The river had gotten more crowded as the day went on, but I didn’t feel crowded, as the Tully is a wide stream relative to where I typically fish. I was in a good riffle/run but couldn’t get a bite. I looked upstream for a good place to move and keep at it. Then I took an off-balance step. I usually can regain my balance quickly as I’m a fairly strong wader, but today was not my day.
My left foot slid, and I couldn’t reset it. My right foot couldn’t gather the strength to hold all my weight. I landed on my left arm and my hip hit the bottom of the stream. I had tightened my wading belt, but I felt the rush of cold water on my left arm, shoulder, and side. Today was not a day to take a spill. I positioned my feet on solid ground and pushed off with my left arm to get out of the water. My ego kicked in, and I quickly looked to see if anyone had seen me fall. It looked like I was alone in my embarrassment. I had a split second of thinking I could still fish some, and then I felt my beard. There was ice forming on my beard. It was time to get dry and go home. Today was not my day.
Luckily, I had a change of clothes and a couple towels in my truck. I rang a bit of water out of my fleece, gloves, sweatshirt, and long-sleeved shirt and hung them over the head rests. I emptied my waders and checked my phone; thankfully it was working, as was my key fob. My wallet was soaked, so I opened it and put it on the dash to dry in the sun and warmth of the heater.
After a couple hours of pouting and a smart reminder text from Mark, I realized how lucky I had been. Many years ago, Mark fell while fishing and severely broke his leg. He crawled from the stream to a trail on his elbows and was luckily found by a hiker. I needed to be reminded of taking safety seriously. Maybe my world wasn’t perfect today, but today was my day.
For the fly fishers who read my blog, please remember that fishing and wading is sometimes dangerous, especially in the freezing temperatures of winter. Please remember to be safe and follow this guidance:
- Always have a weather appropriate change of clothes and some blankets or towels
- Have a wading staff in any “iffy” wading situation
- Check the studs or soles of your wading boots before you fish to make sure you have good grips
- Bring a whistle so you can generate noise if you fall
- Bring a knife in case you need to cut free from filling waders
- Keep your feet downstream of you if you are pushed downstream
- Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be home, and check in with them
- Remember the rule of ten
- If you are nervous, you shouldn’t do it
- Keep focused on where you are wading!
And remember that any day you return from the opportunity to fish is your day.