Places

The Risks of Fly Fishing Ice-Out


In some lakes a window exists, simply after the ice melts and earlier than the lake turns over, when you possibly can catch actually large fish in comparatively shallow water. (Al Hassal artwork)


This text was initially titled “Lake X” within the April-Might 2019 situation of Fly Fisherman journal and the 2020 Gear Information particular publication of Fly Fisherman journal.

One spring I set off with mates for a distant lake we might solely get to by flying in. The timing was of venture, which at first we appeared to have misplaced. We had pushed days to get to the floatplane launch level however have been grounded by low clouds. The pilot knowledgeable us we seemingly couldn’t land on the lake anyway, as a result of it was in all probability nonetheless iced in.

By the murky window of the trailer that served as his base, we might see oily airplane components strewn on the deck and scattered across the yard. I spotted they have been from floatplanes, and appeared to have been scavenged from wrecks. Newer components spilled from bins on the desk, the place the battered coffeepot was percolating. The pilot poured himself one other cup—his third—seemed out on the ashen sky, and stroked his grey beard.

“There are previous pilots and daring pilots, however no previous, daring pilots,” he mentioned, repeating a cliché as drained as he was. We’d been ready all day for a climate window and nonetheless he didn’t see one.

I sighed. I seemed on the beat-up previous sofa the place he had been sleeping, peered down into my cup, full of a corrosive substance passing for espresso, and questioned for a second about giving up on the journey. After which I assumed concerning the lengthy drive behind us. We couldn’t flip again now, not over these rutted dust roads and even longer stretches of freeway.



I hoped the climate was going to melt, that hotter winds would prevail. Folks have been telling us they’d by no means seen such a late spring. By no means. They mentioned it needed to finish quickly.

However all I knew was that the clock was ticking, and every day we waited for the soften to start, we obtained a day nearer to going again to work.

I turned to my good friend Dr. Harvey Thommasen, who had first tracked down the rumors of trophy fish in what we known as Lake X; and to Nick, who had traveled all the way in which from Vancouver with me on the promise of catching large, large fish.

“I feel we should always nonetheless strive it,” I mentioned. They nodded. No want for dialogue. We had come for giant trout, and we have been able to fly in as quickly because the climate allow us to. We have been ignoring the graveyard of discarded plane components, the ramshackle state of the pilot’s quarters, and the warning sign in my head that mentioned a man who can’t preserve his coffeepot clear in all probability can’t preserve his gas filter clear both.



After which the clouds parted. Daylight fell by way of a blue gap within the sky, and Nick walked exterior along with his arms unfold. Lastly the bush pilot mentioned: “Properly, we are able to go, and if there may be an excessive amount of ice we’ll simply flip again.” At $500 every manner that was a little bit of of venture, particularly after we had awoken that morning to search out the espresso ignored on the deck had frozen in a single day.

However Lake X was simply over the horizon. Harvey mentioned, “If we do get in, we’ll be the primary this yr.”

So we took the constitution. We flew over a mountain to take a look at a lake that, in keeping with an area chopper pilot who flew over it only a day earlier, was nonetheless frozen strong.

“If the floatplane can’t land, we are able to at all times discover that chopper and go in that manner,” Harvey advised. “He might land us on the shoreline for $1,500, in all probability. Chop holes within the ice. Or fish the outlet. It’s sure to be open.”

We nodded as if this made sense. Then once more, we had simply dedicated to an costly flight that was seemingly going to only circle again to the place we began. So rational thought was gone. We had tipped over into loopy land within the pursuit of huge trout and nothing was going to cease us now.

The Cessna took off, sluggish on the sticky, windless lake—ice-free as a result of it was a thousand ft decrease than our vacation spot—and tilted on one wing to show southeast.

The final highway was left behind. I watched for moose or bear within the areas flashing between timber. However nothing moved within the nonetheless forest. Because the floatplane climbed over the ridge I noticed the ice floes on the lake. It seemed unhealthy—shimmering white. However as we obtained nearer the pilot mentioned that leads have been open on the far finish, alongside the shoreline.

The Risks of Fly Fishing Ice-Out
(Al Hassal artwork)

“The water is a distinct colour,” he mentioned, pointing. “Kinda darker. Shiny.”

All of it seemed like ice to me, however he didn’t get previous by being daring, so we went in, and 30 ft from the deck I noticed the fracture he had seen: there was an extended, slender ribbon of black water near shore, simply large sufficient for a aircraft to land.

After the floatplane left we questioned what would occur if it obtained chilly for a couple of days and the lake froze strong once more, or if a wind got here up and shunted the ice pans collectively, closing off the one touchdown strip.

However that didn’t occur. Every day it obtained hotter. Every day the lake opened a little bit extra. We might hear ice candles, lengthy vertical crystals of ice that kind as floor ice melts, falling late within the day, with a comfortable, slushy, tinkling sound. The water was chilly and clear. At evening there have been wolves. We discovered moose tracks on the shore, rising from winter snow.

And we discovered the trout, too—large rainbows, feeding laborious after an extended winter beneath thick ice. At first we weighed them—twelve kilos, fourteen kilos, eighteen kilos—however after some time we stopped. It didn’t matter how large they have been or what number of. But it surely started to matter how we caught them.

I gave up on the heavy, weighted leeches I had been catapulting out on a quick sink line, and switched to a dry line. My catch price fell, till I drifted to a degree the place a mayfly nymph within the floor movie provoked porpoise rolls from unbelievably large trout. Within the distance, snowcapped mountains shone within the setting solar. The sky flared pink. And close to me, within the water that had been ice solely days in the past, the trout hunched their backs as they pulled the road down.

At one level I assumed, “What did I do to deserve this?” Then I remembered: I drove a great distance and took a danger each on spring and on a floatplane journey to a frozen lake. I might have stayed residence.

When the pilot returned we didn’t say a lot. Simply loaded the aircraft. I didn’t look again because the Cessna went over the ridge and dropped down into the valley. I wished to recollect the lake drifted with ice, so forbidding it took my breath away.

In B.C., manner out on Canada’s western edge, we’re nonetheless fortunate sufficient to have distant lakes which can be seldom fished. A few of them maintain 18-pound trout that may cease your fly within the depths and threaten to drag you out of the boat. In these lakes a window exists, simply after the ice melts and earlier than the lake turns over, when you possibly can catch actually large fish in comparatively shallow water—generally on a nymph fished on a dry line. However many of the common lakes in B.C.—significantly these within the Kamloops area—are closely fished, and 18-pound trout at the moment are a rarity.

Lake X gave us a style of the previous and served as a reminder not simply of what we’ve misplaced, but additionally of what we might have once more.

This story is an excerpt from Mark Hume’s new guide, written with Mo Bradley, Trout College: Classes from a Fly Fishing Grasp (Greystone Books, 2019). The textual content is part of Chapter 7 titled “Ice Out.”



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