Swimming the Yampa in January
My family and I found ourselves with a weekend free and planned a trip up to Steamboat Springs, CO. My sister-in-law has a nice condo there and we have wanted to get our son who is six up to learn to ski. Neither my wife nor I ski and so this was a good excuse to make the trip so that auntie Karen could have the honor.
As I said in a previous blog post I am not big on winter fishing. This trip though doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like it to. I have been really itching to get in some fishing and to travel that far an not at least get my feet and a line wet would be a shame.
The Yampa is one of my favorite Colorado rivers and with good reason. It is a wonderful catch and release waterway with lots of healthy trout. (Or so I have noticed in the spring and summer months past when I fished it.)
The trip was really about getting my son up on skis but I brought my gear “just in case” I found some time that I knew I would. My son did great with my sister in law showing him the ropes of holding his skis like french-fries or pizza slice. He did the mini hill a few times the a little bigger training hill about 9 or ten times more. So mission accomplished.
We got back to the condo with plenty of time for me to decide "Why YES... I am going to go try to fish." The Yampa winds about beautifully and goes right through the center of town. It is easy to access the river from a paved walkway that runs right along the river banks. There is a great access and parking spot just down the hill from the condo. It’s about a 5 minute car ride from the condo to the parking or 2 minutes by bicycle. Always a fun ride in the warmer less snowy months I can attest personally.
For Christmas this year I had gotten myself a new pair of Chota hip waders and thought it would be a good chance to give them a proper try out. So I slipped them on and really am happy with how they fit. I rarely go in over my thighs in depth anyhow and the weight is so light and they are so packable.
I made my way down the path and found the railroad trellis that in the past has served me so well as a regular hot spot . Rigged up and found a few places to cast too. I found a thickly iced bank that was strong enough to stand on and cast around an iceberg island. After no action I could see the bottom and the water was shallow, a foot maybe? So I took the step in and started to walk downstream towards a couple of great looking rocks with some promising looking holding areas.
One thing I forgot about having not fished in a while was that sometimes the rocks of the Yampa get a bit slippery. Sure enough I felt my feet fly out from under me, my waders seeping water into my pants and all up my back. I got up pretty quickly but not without a gasp and a string of profanities.
So the first question I had was “What the hell was I thinking?” The second question that any good angler asks is “Am I okay to keep fishing?” The answer to the latter question I was good. This answer made me forget I had asked the first one. I had a good pair of polypropylene underwear on that while wet were still keeping me warm for now. It was a rather nice day overall anyhow with temps just at 30-32 but sunny and bright.
I hadn’t gotten far from my car so I knew it was only a little ways away. Knowing I had probably spooked any fish nearby I decided I had better trek down the path a little more and find the next available hole. That was about 100 yards more downstream. The water was much darker and deeper channeled here and the ice on the banks looked a little thinner. My cooling in the breeze butt reminded me that this was really no place to take risks. So I extended my T-USA Sato out as far as it would reach and fished along the banks for another 30 minutes or so with no reward.
The sun was starting to drop behind the hilltop and I decided it was time to get a move on anyhow.
I had to laugh at myself the whole way back. Once I got into the car I felt the warmth almost immediately and not a moment too late. I knew I would be in a little trouble when I got back because my wife did tell me to be careful and not fall in… There was no way to pretend this didn’t happen.
I turned the car on and cranked up the music, a little Cuban style band I hadn’t listened to in a long time singing about warm climates and banana rum. The irony was not lost on me…Yeah I am done with the winter fishing for this year…well at least in Colorado.
Some helpful tips "If you Insist" on winter fishing.
1. Know where you are going to go. It helps to have a very clear idea of where you are planning to fish and what conditions await you there. What do the banks look like? Is there good access without having to take chances on icy banks or trudging through deep snow drifts or fields? Deep snow could be a very big detriment if you do fall in and find yourself injured or dropping into hypothermic shock.
2. Tell someone where you will be and when to expect you back. I do this year round. You can also decide to take a buddy with you. That never hurts. At the very least you should let your loved ones know where you will park and when to expect you back. This is more than a courtesy. It may be the best way to keep you from staying out too long in the first place. Set a reasonable amount of time to feel you will satisfy and tame your winter itch.
3. Don’t stray too far from your car parking area. Having a warm vehicle close by is comforting. If you intend to hike further from your car than you would feel comfortable hiking back to wet and cold you need to do more planning. You need to have a plan for what you would do if you unwittingly end up joining the local polar bear club. The best bet is to avoid this kind of outing unless you are experienced in dealing with any emergency situation.
4. Don’t take chances on the ice banks. The ice along even a slower moving river can be very dangerous. Slipping on ice or even breaking through the edge into the water and a fast current can push you under an ice bank. Falling alone can cause other injuries from twisted/sprained ankles to broken legs and head injuries. Wading in the cold water you may not realize that the cold has wicked the heat from your feet and legs. This can cause you to be perhaps a little clumsier. Take that wading stick with you if you need to but also make sure you don’t walk into water that speeds up too fast and sweeps you off your feet.
5. Have a “keep warm and stay warm plan.” We never plan to have an emergency but we can plan to reduce the risk and to be ready for one. Warm beverages, hand and feet warmers, good outdoor clothing designed for cold weather should be planned for use in advance. It is a good idea to have a second set of clothing to change into and perhaps even a blanket if you need to warm up. Be sure that your cell phone is charged and with you as well for those emergencies that a call for help from friends or professionals wouldn’t be a bad thing to be able to do.
6. Learn to tie flies instead. One of the best things I can think to do during the colder months is to tie up some flies and have a nice glass of scotch or bourbon. I can also read blogs, article and trail books. Winters can be about dreaming and planning for the spring and summer trips you will take. There is always something new to learn or read. Settling into the idea that there are a lot of other ways to curve your winter itch is healthy mind set and will keep your wife from making that face at you when you come home soaked to the bone like I did.