By Nick Simonson
In the waning afternoon light of a warm Friday where the high temperatures spiked into the low forties between last week’s bone chilling outbreak of Polar Vortex media hype and the next cold slap forecast to hit the area, I stood on the edge of open water. While it felt like spring in the calm of evening’s onset, I knew it wasn’t and the open water that spilled out before me wasn’t anything natural as the cooling canal from the nearby power plant kept the lake at an artificial 55 degrees or so. With its warmth though was a taste of spring in between winter’s one-two punch, and I stood at the far end of a string of gentlemen who sought the same flavor of something different in the middle of the cold weather season.
Gingerly down the snow-covered rocks of the shoreline I made my way, wedging my knee-high rubber boots for a firm foothold along the humps created by the boulders. I found my way to a pair of flat rocks, one for each boot, and threaded the neon floating line through my five-weight fly rod, before tying on a gaudy orange estaz and chartreuse-hackled woolly bugger which I had tied specifically for the always-open lake and its mix of crappies, bass and bluegills.
On my second cast the line bumped and I missed the hookset as I watched a pair of eagles roll and tumble in the sky above the open water. Behind them, several hundred geese from a resident flock of thousands took to the sky. One after another, a vee of white-and-grey birds would take off for some faraway field, like planes on a timer at a busy airport. The occasional whistling of wings from smaller waterfowl like mallards would add to the vernal illusion before me. A few minutes later a hard thunk jerked my line forward and I lifted up on the rod while pulling back on the line.
With a swirl and a splash, a little largemouth bass surfaced and charged out from the slack toward the current, his body just big enough to provide a fight in the moving water and allow me to refresh my memory on line management and drag manipulation. In a few moments, the bucketmouth rolled to shore and into my waiting grasp. With a twist, I popped the bright bugger loose and turned the fish back into the warmth of the water. As I did, I knocked the ice-based frosting of snow from a nearby rock, and it toppled into the lake. Within a minute or two, it melted away into the warm water, like ice cubes in a fresh glass of summertime sun tea.
Changing things up, I switched to a chartreuse Clouser minnow, a sleek streamer of bucktail hair with krystal flash sandwiched in the middle. As I completed the retrieve through the shallows a solid strike and my reactive hookset connected into a heavy opponent. I had little time to get excited, as the fish flopped up on the surface and dove again – it was an eight-pound carp and it followed the little bass’s lead, charging for the current and keeping my rod bent in a full arch. For five minutes, I kept the tension on the fish, smiling and laughing with each charge as I worked him back and forth along the eddies of the inflowing water. With a sudden rush, the line went slack and the leader and tippet zipped out of the water without a fly and landed in a curl in the rocks at my feet. I sighed and retied another Clouser, this one bright pink, and drug it through the same area, hoping to find another big fish – rough or otherwise – to tangle with.
Instead of the school of carp however, I found a pack of crappies – four black and one white – that turned on as the sun broke free of the high clouds and made the last hour of daylight feel warm. With zeal, the handful of aggressive panfish, joined by two nice bluegills, closed out the day and despite my continued reminders that it was only the start of February, made me believe that spring wasn’t far away. With daylight waning I headed back to the truck and wished the remaining anglers on the shore well. I separated the two-piece rod with the streamer still stuck firmly in the cork handle and set it alongside the spinning options in the passenger seat which I had packed but didn’t use. I turned the truck around and wove it in between the other vehicles parked in the small landing and headed home, ready to face another cold blast but looking forward to the next time I’d be able to sample spring a bit ahead of time…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: A black crappie comes to hand, fooled by a pink Clouser minnow cast from the snowy shores and into the warm waters of Nelson Lake near Center, N.D. Simonson Photo.