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Frost Bite

Collin Szewczyk
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

We rolled up to the Fryingpan River early on Sunday morning, eager to wash the skunk off of my new fly rod.

Lately, I have spent many hours on local rivers without catching a single fish on a fly. Today, I was determined to end my slump.

Snow was in the forecast, and harsh winds bit into our fingers as we exited the vehicle and began to gear up.



I was fishing with local guide Thomas Clennon, who works out of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt.

Clennon, 43, grew up in northern California, but found his fishing paradise in the Roaring Fork Valley.



With waders on and flies set, we descended into the icy waters of the Fryingpan.

The Fryingpan is a remarkable river, with gin-clear water and amazing views. The fishery has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best trout-fishing locations in the world.

On most weekend mornings, the river is home to dozens of fishermen honing their skills and catching monster rainbows and browns.

But on this day, there were surprisingly few anglers on the water.

Less competition equals more opportunity for us.

We crossed the river and set out trying to spot fish in the many holes.

Trout can be difficult to see, as millions of years of evolution allows them to blend into the river bottom effortlessly. Once you get an eye for them, however, they appear as sleek, grayish-green torpedoes.

Torpedoes we hope will soon be launching at our flies.

I made my first cast and as my fly drifted past the hole, Clennon said, “Hit it!”

“Why?” I said. “The indicator didn’t flinch.”

He informed me that these fish are smart … too smart.

“By the time you see the indicator move, the fish most likely has already spit the fly out,” he said.

Years of being caught and released have given these trout the nickname “Ph.D. fish.”

Drift after drift, I was setting the hook too late and missing my chance to break into the winner’s column.

“You’re asleep at the wheel,” Clennon prodded.

Years of waiting on bobbers in the Midwest was hurting my timing.

When walleye fishing with slip bobbers, you have to wait until the float is completely submerged to set the hook.

Here, you almost have to feel what the fish is doing (see: using the Force) in order to get your timing down.

Apparently, these trout graduated from MIT, and upon doing so, were granted access to the Fryingpan to live out their days.

I had to focus.

We stepped forward and spotted several large rainbows in a small pool.

I made my cast, followed the indicator, saw the slightest wiggle and set the hook.

It stuck, and I could feel by the weight that I had hooked a nice fish. The pole bent as the fish raced toward a rapid, pulling with all its might. A couple of minutes later, I looked down into the net and saw my catch in all of its multi-colored glory.

“I did it. I caught a fish on a fly,” my mind screamed as I watched the smog of failure blow away in shame.

Clennon was ecstatic.

“You did it! Great job!”

After a few more successful casts, we decided to move downstream and check out some other holes.

Clennon explained how to adapt presentation with each insect hatch, told me stories of some monstrous trout he and his clients have caught and filled me in on some other nuggets of fishing wisdom.

I learned much more about the art of “the mend,” not to mention my timing on the strikes continued to improve.

Hole after hole, we caught fish.

I can now see why fishing in winter can be such a lucrative experience.

The large fish have to hole up in shallower and smaller pools and are that much easier to spot.

I began to see that there is no end to fishing season, just a different approach to catching fish.

A few hours in, I was nearing double figures with rainbows and had caught a few nice brown trout as well.

When fishing with a guide, the river becomes your classroom. Every cast, a lesson.

As we neared the end of our day, Clennon wanted to hit one last hole on the Roaring Fork.

We snuck up on the day’s final spot, and I cast out into the water.

Almost immediately, the indicator disappeared from sight.

“Aggressive hit,” Clennon noted.

I set the hook and heard my drag scream out. This was a big fish.

I fought to gain line, and tried to keep the fish from running downstream on me. Then, in full kamikaze manner, the trout reversed direction and launched itself out of the water and directly toward me.

I had to step back to avoid the determined projectile.

Wow, no net needed.

We unhooked the 17-inch fish and returned her to the water.

Ph.D. indeed … or did it know that, if it leapt out of the water, it would be released more quickly?

The thought gave me chills. No fish could be that smart, could it?

I shrugged off the notion and made another cast.

Bam! I hooked another trout almost immediately.

“This is the hole of the day,” I thought … until the trout came soaring out of the water, determined to sweep my leg.

Now they’re coordinating to take me out … we’re doomed.

I snapped a quick photo of the fine rainbow and she was rushed back to the water.

Exhausted, we decided to call it a day.

We said our goodbyes, assured that this wouldn’t be the last time we’d go fishing together.

All in all, we caught many fish, lost a few more and had a great time doing it.

And as I drove along the weary road home, I had to smile.

The fish may have the Ph.D., but I learned a lot today.

I learned that I can fly fish, that the fish are smarter than we believe and that winter doesn’t mark the end of fishing season.

Collin Szewczyk is a copy editor at the Post Independent. Maybe he won’t have to break his fly rod into 38 pieces after all. He can be reached at cszewczyk@postindependent.com.


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