Winter comes late in South Carolina. We often enjoy very mild weather all the way through Christmas. January, February, and March are the really tough months. It's this time of the year that our cold really sets in. During this time, there isn't much to do in the way of fishing where I live. Deer season is also over at this point. So with the fly rod and my longbow on the rack, the suffering begins. I go through it every year. I try to keep myself busy. I tie flies, play with my watercolors, fletch arrows, and generally find anything I can to keep my mind preoccupied. As March approaches things begin to warm a bit, but it's total deception. The warm sun signals my brain to begin thinking about visiting my local waters. The stream temps tell me I'm being lied to. The water and the fish are still cold and sluggish. So I trudge on into April. At this point, there are still periodic cold snaps. The water, however, has generally reached the 60's by the end of the month. I've never been much of turkey hunter. The problem for me is the fishing begins to get really good at the same time. It's usually around this time that I simply cannot stand it any longer, and the first trip of the year is planned.
Looking out across the vast barren wasteland of winter, the first trip of the year appears as mirage on the distant horizon. Blue waters, warm sun, and green budding trees shimmer, always just beyond my reach. I backed the drift boat up to the edge of the river bluff on a narrow dirt road deep in the forrest. We got out and stood for a moment, studying the water, smelling the woods, and assimilating to our new environment. Our jackets, like the baying of bloodhounds after escaped prisoners, reminded us that winter was still close by. The babbling river beckoned us onward, and we shoved off in search of salvation.
I pushed on the oars lazily, and Rich tossed a fly around the sunken logs and rocks along the way. The key to spring fishing is correctly interpreting the signs. It didn't take long to figure out we weren't doing something quite right. I opened my fly box and perused its contents. I knew we needed something with good action and a slow sink rate. The fish often aren't overly aggressive during this period. So a fly that wiggles as it falls between slow strips is ideal. I picked out a fly I call "The Gill Tickler", and handed it to Rich. It was composed of bead chain eyes attached to a size 6 hook. The tail was a tentacle from a koosh ball kids toy. The body was a peacock ice dubbing finished off with a soft hackle collar. It had been deadly all last season. On the first cast , Rich let the fly sink, made a slow strip, and that's when I saw the tip of his fly line dart under the surface. He struck quickly, arcing the rod above his head. While the fish may have still been on the cool side, he made a strong effort to bury himself in a nearby blowdown. After a short, but hard fought battle on his glass 3wt, Rich lifted the fish into the boat.
The turquoise sky, orange and yellow sun, and the greens of spring were painted all over that redbreast. Tucker gave approval with a gentle nuzzle, I took a few photographs, and we returned him home. The day was warming, and we periodically stopped to wade a bit. The fishing was slow overall, but as we drifted on, we certainly picked up our fair share.
As we neared the end of our float, the warmth of the afternoon slowly slipping away, we were content to enjoy the spring woods and each others company. After what had been a great start to our spring season, we were already planning future outings. Winter had mistakenly left our cell unlocked, and we had bolted through the door.