When in doubt, go fishing


Last updated 1/2/2024 at 3:06pm

Photo by Chester Allen

The Metolius River beckons the fisherman, even in winter.

For the past 20 years or so, I've tried to go fishing on New Year's Day - even when the Ducks were playing in a bowl game on that day.

Stringing up a fly rod and walking along a river just seems like the best possible way to start another year. The goal is always to catch a fish or two, but it's not a gotta-do-this deal.

Some might say that starting the New Year and not catching a fish is a bad beginning. Those are the same people who think that fly-fishing is all about catching fish. It's not, although I have many days on the water where catching a fish is everything.

In my trout-addled way of seeing things, casting a fly - hopefully to a rising fish - on the first day of the year is a statement of intentions. My plan is always to fish as much as possible - yes, I am an addict - and the New Year is a good time to get started.

A few years ago, Heather went along on a New Year's Day trip to the Crooked River. Freezing fog the night before transformed the drive to the river into a gorgeous, glistening world of sunlit ice. The sagebrush and rabbitbrush looked like jewelry. After a while, the sun melted the ice - except in shaded areas.

When we got to the river, a foot-wide shelf of ice lined the bank, and we carefully waded into the shallow water. Midges - tiny bugs that look like mosquitos but don't bite - were hatching in the slow current, and redsides rainbow trout slowly sipped the emerging bugs from the surface.

It was fishing in slow motion. The trout were pretty silly for a size 20 Pheasant Tail nymph just under the surface. I watched Heather gently cast to the slowly spreading rings of trout rises and hook fish. She looked so beautiful in the soft winter light, and I took many, many photos of her casting and playing trout.

I don't like to share those photos, as the day almost seemed like a dream, and it felt like we were the only anglers on the river. Everything about that day was about the two of us sharing moments of beauty in a silent world. The day felt rare and magical.

Hello, 2024

A lot of people make resolutions this time of year, and I respect that. At the same time, I suspect many resolutions are made to be broken.

I always make the same resolution: to fly fish as much as possible - and to make angling part of my everyday life.

I think about this a lot, as the modern world gives us lots of reasons to not go fishing. Most of those reasons are tangled up with the human trait of knowing how things usually work, combined with the astounding amount of information that is so easy to get these days.

Let me explain:

If you've been fly fishing a while, you know how weather conditions, time of day, and the season influence a day on the river. If it's early March, about 45 degrees, and drizzling rain, I know that Blue Wing Olive mayflies will probably hatch on the Metolius River in the afternoon.

Yet, if that same March day is sunny, a little colder, and windy, the chances of seeing rising fish are pretty crummy.

So a sunny, cool, breezy day in March gives me several reasons to not fish. I can then log onto the Internet and read fishing reports and weather forecasts. This information usually gives me more reasons to stay home and tie flies, read a book, or even work.

Yet the right answer - at least for me - is to go fishing.

You never know

Going fishing in imperfect conditions seems silly - but you never know what is actually happening on the water unless you show up and see for yourself. I've had some of my best fly-fishing days when the conditions are far from perfect.

Last January, I drove up to the Metolius River on a bright, cold day. A little, chilly breeze was blowing in Sisters, and the day didn't feel fishy at all.

But when I got to the Metolius, there was no wind, and the sun felt warm on my back. The bankside shrubs were icy, and the muddy trail was frozen and crunchy under my boots.

Flotillas of Blue Wing Olive mayflies floated on the surface of the Metolius, and the cold air made it hard for the bugs to dry off their wings and fly away. The noses of very nice trout poked out of the water and sipped down the helpless, luckless insects.

Soon, one of those very nice trout sipped in my size 20 Sparkle Dun.

So I, once again, plan to fish my brains out in the new year. If I don't, I'm going to miss a lot of magic. And magic is really what I seek on the water.


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