Don't go, don't know

Don't go, don't know

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 3 March 2020

An old saying that keeps us fishing is, “You don’t know if you don’t go.” It is a truism that gets us out on the water even if the conditions do not look the best. For as any experienced angler will tell you, if they are being honest, we don’t always know what to expect. Sometimes when you least expect it, a trip can turn out pretty good. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility of the opposite too.

This past weekend was not looking very promising, at least from a fishing point of view. After weeks of unprecedented warmth for this time of year, it was beginning to look like winter was over, and surprisingly early. Then came the news that a cold front was coming, two in fact, in tandem, and the air temperatures would drop back down to a bit lower than the normal range.


Fishing aside, I was glad to hear it. I have had very few nights around a campfire this winter and even though I have lived in the semi-tropics all my life, I occasionally do enjoy some cool fresh air. It makes for a good excuse to sip bourbon and sleep in that overpriced down sleeping bag.


I had my doubts if the patterns I have deduced from previous years, when the weather was not such a roller-coaster, would still be valid. In times past, the winter got cold and stayed there, usually at least until somewhere around early April. Certain fish went to certain places and hung around until the waters warmed. Then they moved out. There were places to fish when they were in the back, and other places to ambush them as they departed. The last few years all that went away.


Besides the temperature drop, the winds over the weekend were anticipated to be quite strong, which is common during the passage of a cold front. As a fly angler with a fetish for fishing from a canoe there cannot be a more challenging situation. By the way, I think a canoe is the premier platform to flyfish from, but we can discuss that at another time.


So… lets see… I do not have confidence on where the fish will be, if I find them they will likely be a bit stunned by a surprise rapid drop in water temperature to levels below their comfort zone, and I will have to cast in strong winds from a buffeted canoe! It did not sound promising, but the lure of a crisp night under a clear sky won out, and I knew I was going.


I had an idea to visit a large lake that has always intrigued me. It is quite a distance off the main path, but unlike most, it appears to be uncommonly deep. The water is dark and indecipherable. In the past, every time that I have been there I always dropped anchor occasionally to test the depths. In recent years, with the advent of modern wireless sonar units that communicate with a cell phone, I began to investigate and map it. I have only covered about 10% of it. So, with the fishing quality doubtful, I thought I could use this weekend to at least continue with that experiment.


Then, when I was sadly looking over the weather predictions one last time, it struck me! The wind predictions fit a pattern that I once, long ago, found to be perfect for a completely different location. The pattern usually worked well, but much later in the year when the fish were on the move. Would the warm weather of late have the fish in a later in the year pattern? It was worth a try.


The downside was always about comfort and exertion. To fish the area I would have to cross a very large lake, manually, because it is in a zone where motors are prohibited. The lake can get quite uncomfortable when the wind blows, but if you launch well before dawn, when the winds are at their lowest, you can hug the lee shore and cross at a narrow neck. On the return trip the winds at your back are less troublesome, and can actually assist.


I went for it. I had not gone there in years, and I may not get many more chances to do so. And it worked out perfectly. The predawn paddle was spectacular. It was downright cold, but the winds were not that bad, and the physical exertion generated more than enough heat. I paddled through rafts of surprised waterfowl that could not hear me coming and were either asleep or disinclined to take to the air in the moonless darkness.


Throughout the mornings I found very few fish, and those that I found were not in a mood to eat. In any case it was nice to be back in an area that I had spent a lot of time in the past. I sought out a few places that were protected from the wind and I spent a lot time just floating around in the sun-warmed calm.


By Sunday afternoon I found a long shallow shoreline protected from the winds. Along there I found active cruising snook, and I sight fished them, bringing 3 out of 4 to the canoe. They ate the same fly I painstakingly modified over the many years I have fished there.


And, the best part of the trip was the “paddle” back to the van. I stood with the wind at my back and essentially surfed the entire length of the usually dreaded lake. It is hard to describe the sensation: it was exhilarating, challenging and scary, but also lazy, quiet and serene. It was truly the icing on the cake. There is no doubt in my mind that I crossed that lake faster than I ever have, and surely it was with the least amount of effort.


I am so glad I decided to go.