When the snow begins to melt, I’m drawn to rivers. Over the weekend I packed up my waders, fishing vest and fly rod and headed to Rock Creek east of Missoula. I dragged a friend along too. As expected, the fishing was slow, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see another person all day, and that was the point.
In general, people are skeptical of wading into a mountain stream when the temperatures hover around freezing. Which is understandable. But for those of us who forgo rationality in the name of solitude, it makes perfect sense. You get cold, but you’re never wet. There’s a certain indescribable sensation involved with standing in the middle of a flowing river as snow showers down on you.
Every year when the weather begins to warm around February or March, I fall for the same trick. I rejoice in the arrival of spring, only to watch the temperatures plummet to below freezing again. It’s too early to fall for that now. But if it stays warm for a couple more weeks, I may begin to believe.
I can put up with weather’s teasing if it grants me at least two consecutive weekends of temperatures in the high 30s or 40s. Then if it wants to freeze again, go for it. I only want enough time to pretend it’s spring and fish a little. I have nothing against winter – I’m just ready to transition. I understand the drawbacks of this transition, like slush and mud, but these are moot points when you’re knee-deep in a clear river.
Down at Rock Creek a bald eagle watched us from a nearby branch. Eagles there have seen enough fishermen to know they are both engaged in the same activity. Fishermen and eagles watch each other. I lifted up a stone from the river and it was covered with nymphs, slimy bugs that signal life. They signal the potential for decent fishing. For a moment, I thought they signaled spring.