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PAUL SMITH: Cold hands and big trout

I have to thank the gods and Outdoor Research for this one.
I have to thank the gods and Outdoor Research for this one. - Matt Brazil photo
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Wow, it’s been so bloody cold lately. Well, I suppose it’s not that the actual air temperature is so low, but rather the wind chill has been absolutely bitter.

On times it’s nearly bitten my fingers off, especially when my gloves were wet. I’ll tell you more about that in a bit. Wet gloves and a minus 20-Celsius wind chill are a bad mix. Despite the cold, we still have no snow on the Avalon Peninsula. Winter is slipping by. On the upside, we are supposed to get 10-cm tonight.

Remember what I said last week? No snow, no snowshoeing, too windy and cold for ice trouting, I’m going sea run brown trout fishing with my fly rod. Mild temperatures would be better, but hey, I have the itch.

But here’s the problem. It’s difficult to fly fish sensibly with gloves on, decently warm ones anyway. Last Saturday the cold and the wind added up to a solid minus 20, but I just had to go. My hands would suffer.

Fly fishing in winter is not for the faint of heart at the best of times. On top of that, sea trout bite best in nasty weather. The weak link is nearly always my hands. I got the -40 boots, and the 5-mm neoprene waders, wool hats, and a jacket stuffed with the best insulation. I have super warm gloves as well, but they don’t leave me with much finger dexterity.

Matt got a nice one.
Matt got a nice one.

What I do have are those Outdoor Research liners I mentioned last week. They are advertised as mobile device friendly, not fly fishing friendly, but I did manage a decent double haul with them on. Although not nearly as warm as spun wool cuffs, they can keep you fishing for a few hours instead of 10-minutes. That is a very good thing.

I studied the tides over morning coffee. I have a tidal app on my phone. I knew two hours was near about the fishing limit, factoring in the wind and cold. I figured out the best time and gave my buddy Matt Brazil a call. We scheduled for him to pick me up around 1:30, so we’d fish the outgoing tide. It was top high at noon.

I’m not going to tell you exactly where we went for reasons you will soon understand, because the gods smile upon us. If I told you my fishing spots both the gods and my buddies would not be happy with me.

We arrived and almost never left the warm cab of Matt’s truck.

The vicious westerly wind was rocking the F150 and lifting sheets of spray right off the water. The conditions were not exactly inviting, not the calm picturesque sun setting sort of scene typically associated with the long rod. No, not a bit, this was no “A River Runs Through it,” Montana scene.

I dare Brad Pitt to wet wade in this water. But the sun did peek through the clouds. We were there, rigged to fish, so we decided to have a go at it.

By the way, those Simms boots from a few weeks ago are fantastic for frosty sea trout fishing. And I managed to assemble my rod and rig my strike indicator without taking my gloves off. My hands were at least still warm when I made my first cast. Good gear makes life better.

I will tell you about my frosty fly fishing technique.

That’s not classified. I dead drifted a brown rabbit fur bead-head nymph under a tiny foam bobber. We call them strike indicators in fly fishing, but they are really tiny lightweight bobbers. The idea is that the weighted fly drifts along in the tide beneath the bobber, and when a fish bites, hence the term strike indicator.  It’s the best way to fish in cold weather because too much stripping the line in and out freezes up the rod eyes in a big hurry. There’s more time between casts with a bobber and nymph.

It also helps to recast your line with minimum stripping, fishing a constant line length.  If I fished conventionally I would have spent most of my two hours picking ice out of rod eyes and freezing my hands.

If you strip your line in and out too much your rod will freeze up.
If you strip your line in and out too much your rod will freeze up.

The gloves didn’t work out that well for de-icing procedures. I’ll have to speak to the folks at Outdoor Research about that.

We weren’t there long, hands still warm, when I caught a decent size trout. Life was good. Matt caught a bigger one. Life was better.

We caught a few more each and then it happened. My little bobber was drifting merrily along in the tide, upriver actually, because the tide was pushing randomly back a forth. I wasn’t expecting that from the tidal charts.

Anyway, my white strike indicator disappeared and I lifted my 11-ft rod in response. All hell broke loose.

Wow, this was a very big trout.

I called Matt to come see, and give me a hand with the tailing. I wanted a picture of this one. After about a 5 minute to and fro fuss I got him close and Matt grabbed the fish’s thick tail. We plucked him out for a quick photo opportunity.

As you can see from the photos he was a whopper, about 32-inches long. I slid him back into the water and wished him well. I hope we meet another day, maybe a warmer day in August or September.

Now my hands were wet. The gloves aren’t waterproof. Handing that big fish soaked my fingers. I bent over with my hands poked inside my coat and under my armpits to ease the numbness. It helped but we wouldn’t be fishing much longer.

Winter fly fishing can be mighty cold on your hands.
Winter fly fishing can be mighty cold on your hands.

I need spare gloves. I’ll order more. Another half hour and we sat in the truck with the heater on. Maybe we’d warm up and have another go. I laid out my gloves on the dash heater.

Now there was time to contemplate and thank the gods.

That was a big trout, albeit a bit on the slinky side. These trout can only find enough sustenance to maintain their body weight in fertile ocean water. They fatten up in the summer and slim down over the lean winter months. That’s why I hope we meet again in late summer. That trout was likely a solid 15-lbs last fall. That’s what keeps me fishing the elusive sea run brown. They are amazing critters.

You know what? There is great sea trout angling potential here in Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s too bad we don’t manage and protect it better. Actually it’s very sad, that we retain immature fish, kill kelts, and have excessive bag limits, and no slot size regulations.

We could have a world-class fishery that would attract anglers from around the world. But we don’t. I’ll say more about this later.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

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