The True Cast Trout Talk

The True Cast - The smell of mud

I can smell spring coming. 

It reminds me of walking to the school bus stop in Wisconsin, in a lost era when the ground would be covered by Thanksgiving with snowfall that would last until St. Patrick’s Day. After a long, dark winter, I would yearn for the special sunny morning when I would catch that first whiff of mud.    

For a kid from the Upper Midwest, the smell of mud was as welcome a harbinger of spring as the sounds of cracking bats in spring training down South. The faint aroma of wet earth still revitalizes me, and at this time of year in the Rockies, the best place to find it is down by the river. 

So, I took the “wonder hunting dog who likes fishing more than chasing birds” to the river yesterday to try to catch a few trout, but I didn’t tell her I was really looking for mud, or more precisely, the smell of mud. She’s pretty good at finding mud—and smelling like it—on her own. 

Unlike the Northern Rockies, we’ve had a good snowpack where I live in Colorado. There’s still a fair amount of snow on the riverbanks, though the ice has pretty much receded from the water surface. So, we post-holed our way to a good-looking spot, and before sliding down the bank, I stood on rock to look for fish. 

I’ve never been particularly fond of the kind of winter fishing where ice builds up in the rod guides. I don’t want to have to try that hard. What I like best about late winter fishing, when it warms up just enough, is spotting trout. It’s like a reunion with friends. I just like to know that they’re there.    

Sure enough, I spotted a brown trout that seemed surprisingly fat for the time of year; it looked like a loaf of French bread. I slid into position and made a few half-hearted casts with a small blue-winged olive dry fly. Meanwhile, Maya was bright enough to remain standing sentinel on the rock, opting for semi-dry land over wading chest deep in cold water. In summer, at best, she would have been standing by my side, and more likely splashing half-way between me and the fish. I started to think that I might actually be able to “fish-train’ her if I took her fishing in late winter more often. But I also knew if I were to actually hook that fish, she’d charge right into the river without a second thought like she always does. 

But that wasn’t going to happen. It was pretty clear within those few casts that this fish wasn’t a player. That trout was cold and lethargic, so much so that it didn’t even bother to skitter off when I made a clunky cast. 

I figured I could probably hook that fish if I put on a little black stonefly nymph or zebra midge and hit it right in the noggin. But I didn’t want to try that hard. 

And so, it went for a few hours—finding fish, making a few casts and then moving on, equally satisfied in just knowing that they are there as I would have been catching them. We got blanked, and Maya was angry with me. But I got to smell the mud… at the river, all the way home, and then some. 

And that tells me that we’ll have great chances when it warms up just a tad more. The best “catching” days of the year are just around the corner. The best “fishing” days have already arrived.