By Nick Simonson
Even with the rather kind spell that mother nature has afforded us over the last few weeks with no blizzards, light winds and even some melting temperatures scattered in here and there, winter can still feel a little long. Spending afternoons huddled over an ice hole can wear on a die-hard openwater angler in the middle of the off season and any chance to stretch the legs and the casting arm is one I’ll take advantage of. With the temperatures creeping above freezing and light winds out of the south, I sped up the old county blacktop to a water that knows no ice and is kept warm all year round by the discharge from a nearby powerplant’s cooling system, hoping to connect with some fish before the wind shifted back to the north and things cooled off.
I lost my race with the sun as it slid behind the hazy cloud layer creeping in from the west while I pulled into the parking area just off the edge of the inflowing water which kept the lake at a balmy fifty-five degrees or so all winter long. In the ripples of the outflow a Nitro bass boat held its position as the two anglers in it flipped paddletail worms after the lake’s famed largemouth bass which grew to epic proportions due to the extended growing season the warm waters provided. When I inquired as to how the bite was, I received the should-have-been-expected response that things had just slowed down in the last 20 minutes after the sun had become shrouded. The angler on the small fishing pier suggested the same for the crappies he had been catching. As I readied my two fly rods with favorite streamers and carefully stepped my way down the snow covered embankment and onto the rip-rap, I watched the steam plume from the stack on the powerplant at the far side of the water shift from the south to the east and felt the slightest chill blow across my hands and a ripple work its way across the reservoir. My time would be limited, especially with how quickly my fingers go numb when they get cold.
Despite the shift in the breezes, I whipped the green floating line out over the spillway and let it tighten in the current as the fly tumbled along with the ripples and boils in the water. A few casts later, I set the hook on a feisty bluegill after having missed its first take and it ran against the current, flashing golden scales and swirled and broke the surface with a splash. The deep olive-green top, the orange sides and purple trim of the stout panfish stood out against the snow-covered rocks and made it feel like for a moment I was holding summer in my hands. With a flip the fish was gone and the rising wind blew the warm water droplets on my hand into chilly pinpricks as I exhaled through my clenched fist and wiped my reddening fingers on my sweatshirt.
Behind the spot where the bluegill had been lurking, I felt a pop on a drift about a dozen casts later and set the hook with what my chilled hands could muster and the rod bent with a deeper dig of something a little bigger. As it too made its way into the outflow, I saw the dark sides of a black crappie that turned with the flow and then up to its side, coming to hand along the rocky shore. With the shimmer of the emerald-and-ebony scales, I was taken back to those humid days in August on my favorite panfish lake (which likely won’t open for business for at least 2 months) and the schools of specks that sat under the boat taking jigs and making bobbers disappear.
With a splash the crappie swam off and I knew my time was growing short as the wind rose some more. I tucked my hands in the pocket of my sweatshirt and clasped the handwarmer packages until I could sense my fingertips as the end of the fluorescent green line waved in the water and the reel remained tucked under my right armpit. Gaining some feeling, I lifted the line, cast out again and watched a wind gust carry it to the left and I stripped it in to reset, only to pick up another bluegill on the hurried retrieve. Before my hands locked up one final time, I’d land two more sunnies and let them go with the final fish doing my knuckles in as they clasped tight around the handle of my flyrod.
It took about five minutes with my hands held up to the air vents in the truck before the white tips of my fingers would turn crimson and then a near normal peach color. Able to grip the steering wheel, I broke the rods down and stashed them under the back seat before heading home happy to have had the chance to cast the long rod in the warm water environs and shake hands with some old summer friends…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Looks like Summer. A black crappie comes to hand on a Clouser minnow streamer. Simonson Photo.