I have to admit, for years, most of my fishing has been done in the summer months. The long days, warm temperatures, and open access to nearly all of California's trout rivers, the summer is prime time for fly fishing. To make the summer months even better, the chance of tricking a trout on a dry fly is greatly increased. On the other hand, the winter months can provide quite the challenge. The official trout season is closed and fish hunker behind rocks at the river's bottom. The decreased water temperatures slow the metabolism and feeding is reduced too. Then, there's the weather. The short days, wind, and rain make a day on the river that much more of a production. Most people stay off the river, nestled in the comfort of their warm, dry homes.
This winter was a completely different experience for me. After a few winters dipping my toe in the lifestyle of the steelhead fishermen, I've become much more comfortable with sliding on the waders, zipping up the rain jacket, and heading out on the river, rain or shine. The process is actually becoming quite comfortable for me at this point too. With the crowds off the river, there's plenty of opportunity to find solitude and cover water at whatever pace you'd like.
Recently, my friend Aaron and I spent a weekend on the Lower Sacramento river. We drove north from San Francisco on a Saturday morning in the pouring rain. At first I didn't think twice about the weather. It wasn't until we reached I-5 that the prospect of standing in a cold river being soaked by rain and beaten by wind began to become a reality. Each of the next few days presented us with slightly different conditions. Some days we ducked and weaved through mild rainstorms and solid hatches of baetis and midges. Other days, we could barely get our fly lines in the right current to produce a natural drift. Regardless, the fish were eager and the crowds were thin, exactly what we were looking for.
With the short days through the winter months, I find myself getting antsy after long periods in the city. Without a dose of the natural world...the sounds of the river, the feel of a fish in your hand, and the expansive views of the mountains, the winter can be long. This winter, however has been a great one. It's taught be how to approach the river with new techniques and made me realize that a day in the rain catching fish is a lot better than a day stuck inside a studio apartment in downtown San Francisco. For years to come, I'll see the shoulder seasons and the deep winter as prime times to target large migratory trout, steelhead, and match winter hatches on the few rivers open to fishing year round. The rainy season may now be one of my favorites!