Match the Hatch

by Scott Sadil

Joe phoned.  He’d driven into the upper river, found some good trout and a bunch of whitefish right below the hatchery deadline, a run, he said, with lots of inviting structure.  A visiting high school buddy of his, now living in Colorado, had broken off something heavy, maybe a steelhead.  One of the fish Joe landed, displayed in a photo he forwarded, looked odd—long and thin and colored up some, too small to be a steelhead, unless maybe a one-salt jack of sorts.   

“What’d you get ‘em on?”

“Guess.”

The weather held, clear and cold, frost hanging in the shadows throughout the day.  No need to start early.  Time, instead, to dig out layers not seen since last winter, trying to devise that impossible balance between warmth, or at least comfort, while standing in a river, guides on your rod crusted in ice, and breaking out into a heavy, dangerous sweat as you stumble through brush and branches to the next run.

Also, that sad moment you concede to leave the summer rod behind; no more dry-line muddlers in this cold.  Instead, the shorter, compact two-hander, for big flies and heavy tips or, in this case, probably high-stick, short-line nymphing.

The drive swings in and out of frosty pavement and stretches of brilliant light, the groves of aspen bare, the mountain again blanketed in snow.  Plus details of Joe’s late-season elk opener, thanks to a cow tag he pulled, one that restricts him to private timber company property.

“You might want to come along with a shotgun,” Joe suggests.  “Sluice some grouse out of the trees.”

I don’t know enough about it to be sure he’s not pulling my leg.

The frost makes the hatchery buildings appear covered in snow.  We bundle up and rig rods and plunge into the shadows.  Joe says he found the run, with his high-school buddy, the way I often advise:  “If there’s a pull-out or a trail, you know there’s a fishing spot.”