No Catch, Pure Joy: Snowstorm Fishing

Winter Fly Fishing at Savage River: A Mix of Wonder and Challenge

What began as a well-intentioned trip to the Savage River quickly transformed into a wintery mix of wonder and cold. Eager for trout fishing, I hoped to land a few in my net. Arriving at the campsite, I was greeted by below-freezing temperatures, ominous gray clouds, and a sunset hidden behind the hilltops.

Setting Up Camp: The Prelude to a Fishing Adventure

Dry leaves blanketed the campsite and crunched under every step. The frozen earth and biting cold were harbingers of an impending winter storm. After setting camp and enjoying a warm, caffeine-free tea, I meticulously prepared my camera equipment and fishing gear for the next day’s adventure. I readied several plastic trash bags that I thought might come in handy to provide cover for the camera. The next day, the bags proved ineffective, and I will most certainly need to think of a better solution for bad-weather filming in the future.

I brought plenty of firewood and cleared the dried leaves around a stone-encircled firepit. I gathered kindling and made a small nest of dried grass under a Lincoln log cabin of small sticks. I decided not to rough it and instead used a lighter. As much as I wanted to be a contestant on Alone, I felt like making my life easy. I added some pieces of firewood once the kindling was ablaze and sat next to the fire, enjoying my tea, the sound of the rushing river, and the peaceful chill provided by the calm before the storm.

A Frosty Morning: Embarking on the River

Waking up at 7:00 AM to a brisk chill, I felt the humidity that foretold a looming snowstorm. Ignoring the weather’s warnings, I headed to the renowned Ph.D. pool, where the trout are as discerning as Ivy League scholars. This picturesque location, with rushing water and varied aquatic landscapes, is a fly fisher’s dream. Rocks, riffles, holes, and flowing water make up the pool.  

You can also see the USGS hydrological unit there. Whenever I see it, I am grateful for the incredible work the good people at the USGS do to monitor our environment – and I am particularly appreciative of the results of the Water Data for the Nation project. Here, you can find various water data metrics from around the country, which are invaluable to anglers. Metrics like water discharge rates and temperature are profoundly important when deciding when and where to fish.

An Unexpected Snowstorm: Adapting to Nature's Whims

Suddenly, a heavy snowfall engulfed the area, turning my gear and clothes damp and heavy. A brief interaction with a friendly Maryland State Trooper underscored the significance of the storm and the importance of safety in such conditions. I thanked her for checking in on me, but in hindsight, I am sure she was ensuring I wasn’t a serial killer.  

Fly Fishing Techniques: The Pursuit of Trout

Despite the challenging weather, I worked the calmer parts of the pool, experimenting with midges and terrestrial flies resembling egg patterns. This experience underscored the unpredictability of fly fishing and the importance of adaptability and preparation. I spent less time at the pool than I’d hoped. The weather deteriorated quickly; I couldn’t keep the camera dry, could barely cast my 5-weight, and had minimal success managing the drag when attempting to cast across the pool to the calmer side by the hydrological unit.  

If I’d spent more time there, I would have used a drop rig with a small egg pattern on the bottom, but once I started feeling my arms get soaked, I knew it was time to head back to camp. I would also have added some split shot with a midge to present deeper in the water column, but it wasn’t a great time to spend all day on the water.

Community and Warmth in the Cold: The Fly Fishing Family

The camaraderie of the fly fishing community shone through as I met fellow anglers who shared their successes and tips. Their kindness and willingness to help epitomized the spirit of the fly fishing community. They’d fished downriver earlier in the morning and landed several brook trout using small egg-pattern flies. Of course, I didn’t bring any eggs, but I had a couple of terrestrials tied that looked something like them. I gave it a shot without success.  

Respite and Reflection: Balancing Enjoyment and Safety

Given the harsh weather, I made multiple trips back to camp for rest and warmth. These breaks offered time to reflect on the day’s experiences and prepare for the next outing. Reflection is one of my favorite aspects of fly fishing. Whether on the water, casting for fish or next to the fire, staring at the stars, fly fishing forces me to be outside. I inadvertently go places lacking cell service and am naturally inclined to live purely in the moment. I can genuinely appreciate the tiniest moments: the squirrels gathering nuts before the storm, the birds singing praises of the passing of the storm, and the crackling of the fire as I start to doze off. Fly fishing offers peace of mind and a reason to be.

Technical Challenges: Navigating Equipment in Adverse Conditions

The snow posed challenges for my camera gear, prompting creative solutions to protect it from the elements. It was a reminder of the importance of being adaptable and resourceful in outdoor photography. Trash bags were an undoubtedly ineffective barrier between the cameras and the storm. If you have suggestions for protective gear, I would love to hear them in the comments below.  

My waders are lightweight, and although I layered up effectively underneath, I quickly noticed the 40-degree water. I was fine, but if I wanted to spend much more time on the water, I would have needed to increase the bottom-half layering. 

Fly Tying and Anticipation: Preparing for the Next Day

Spending the evening tying bead-head nymphs, midges, and egg flies, I planned my strategy for deeper water fishing. This preparation was integral to the fly fishing experience, combining skill, anticipation, and hope. I drank some more tea, wrote a poem, made a journal entry, and played sudoku before falling asleep.

Renewed Efforts: A Second Day on the River

Despite feeling sluggish, likely due to a vaccine I received on my way to camp and cold weather, I returned to the river, fishing near the Allegany Bridge. The tranquility and beauty of the river, even in harsh winter conditions, provided a sense of peace and accomplishment. The footbridge is beautiful. It’s picturesque and doesn’t deny naturalists the beauty of the river. I was roll casting and false casting near the bridge. I used the roll casts when I stood just inside the water’s edge due to overhanging trees and branches. Once waist deep, I could cast farther out but remained somewhat constrained by the flow of the water dragging my line despite high sticking and mending. 

Invitation and Community: Looking Forward to the Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival

As the trip concluded, an invitation to the 2024 Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival offered an exciting opportunity to connect with the wider angling community. It’s a chance to share experiences, learn new techniques, and celebrate the diversity and unity of anglers. I received a message from Beau Beasley, whom I look forward to meeting this weekend in Virginia. He is a fly fishing legend and has a new addition to his collection of authored books. He is a dedicated and kind angler and an incredible community ambassador.

Conclusion: The Essence of Fly Fishing

In closing, this adventure was more than just a fishing trip; it was a journey of resilience, learning, and connection. I invite you to follow my experiences, reach out on social media, and share your stories. Let’s keep the spirit of fly fishing alive and thriving. It helps if you push the like/follow/subscribe buttons on my social media pages. The algorithms on the respective pages are mysteries, but I understand that engagement matters. So, if you enjoy the content I publish, please tap those buttons! It means a lot to me, and I appreciate it.

I’ll see you on the water.

Tight lines!

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