Sometime around mid-November I typically stuff my waders and boots, chest pack and fly boxes into a Rubbermaid tub and stick it high up on a garage shelf.
It’s not that I mean to leave it up there for months at a time, but soon comes ski season and Christmas. Then a January of shoveling snow, hot toddies and lounging by the woodstove. My fishing time becomes time spent reading books about fishing and restocking fly boxes. Finally, it becomes too much time spent scrolling Instagram giving out likes to other peoples’ pics of bonefish and permit.
That’s when I know it’s time to get out on the river.
I pull up to my go-to spot on the Provo and posthole out to my favorite run. Under the blanket of white, this river landscape that I know so well has changed into something entirely different. It’s like seeing it for the first time again. The river is undeniably beautiful but winter also gives it a certain harshness. White light makes everything brighter, crisper, cleaner. And it’s quieter too, as if the snow muffles the roar of the current and the hum of passing cars.
Sheets of ice jut out over the water, so I’m especially careful as I wade out. I take off my glove and stick my hand in the water just to feel it. It’s shockingly cold—a cold that makes the muscles contract, that screws with the rhythms of breathing like a misfiring cylinder on a pickup truck. It’s exhilarating standing out there in waders as the icy water flows past, the same kind of feeling as hunkering down in a dry tent during a deluge—only one degree removed from the full onslaught of nature. It’s a feeling I intend to savor.
Here by myself, the river brings peace and calm. That calm is partially because life slows down for every living thing during the winter months, including the bugs on which trout feed.
The fishing is slow. And there are other challenges too: like attempting to tie knots in 6x with numb fingers—or casting with frozen guides. I free my line by biting down on that little ice chunk, spitting it into the current like a ballplayer spitting a seed. It drifts downstream as a caddis does on a June evening.
I catch one small brown on a midge. This winter fish is distinct from a summer fish—like its colors have taken on a different character when juxtaposed against a backdrop of white.
After I free the trout, I take a drink from the beer held close in my chest pack. I’d almost forgotten it was there, and I wish I’d thought to bring a Thermos of hot coffee instead.
Back at the truck, the only one in the parking lot, I pull off my waders and let them freeze solid. In the cab I blast the heat, trying to embrace the ache as the feeling returns to my extremities. Wind-burned cheeks feel hot as they flush with blood. I make a mental note to remember this feeling in July when this dirt lot is full and there are three people fishing that run.
At home, I opt to leave the Rubbermaid tub in the back of my truck, ready for the next time I’ll need it.