Embrace the Cold

by Phillip Dobson
(Butte, MT)

The outflow creek.

The outflow creek.

Hyalite Canyon is of my favorite places. I've spent the last ten or so winters climbing ice there, but it wasn't until last year that I tried fishing the creek that runs through it. It's a small (maybe 50cfs) stream that tumbles out of the mountains, and the lower section is controlled by a dam that provides drinking water to the city of Bozeman.

The fishing style is right up my alley. Tons of pockets filled with willing cutthroat and rainbow trout. A great place to spend an afternoon in the summer or fall.

This year was the first time the creek was open year-long, so I figured I'd check it out. I had noticed the last time I went climbing, that the water exiting the reservoir was warm enough to prevent ice out for a couple of miles. I had a couple hours to kill yesterday so I drove up to the dam. It was -18F when I got out of the car. Good thing I brought some serious winter gear!

Cold weather at that level presented some new challenges. Firstly, my rod had frozen closed. I had it warm it in my jacket for a few minutes to get it to deploy. Frostbite was also a serious concern. I was wearing extremely warm gloves that are relatively dexterous, but not nearly enough for tying knots in fine tippet. I would have to try to get the knot finished in a few seconds or have to retry after warming the fingers back up.

The line did freeze up pretty badly and I had to mostly give up on getting good sensitive drifts. Getting weeds off the nymph before everything froze solid was tricky too. What wasn't difficult was getting the trout to bite. I missed a lot of subtle takes, but still brought half a dozen fish to shore. I did my best to flick the hook out of their mouths without exposing their skin to the frigid air.

I don't think I'll make a habit of fishing in minus double-digit temps, but I'm glad to know that it is possible. The important thing is to find the right water and to stay safe in those inhospitable conditions.

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." -
Col. Robert Venables 1662

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