Wednesday, February 26, 2020

New Rod, Old Stream - Fishing Meramec Spring with My Fenwick 6-Weight

Since my last blog post (which my friend Brian conveniently reminded me was about six months ago), there have been two new exciting additions in my life. First, my daughter, Mary-Louise, was born. She joined the Voss family and human race back around Thanksgiving last year. What she lacks in a regular sleep schedule, she makes up for in cuteness, and Emily and I couldn't be more excited to have her around. Older brother Willie is also very, very excited about his baby.

Welcome, Mary-Louise.
The second new addition is my brand new Fenwick World Class 6-weight, 9-foot, 6-piece fly rod. A few days before my Maramec Spring trip, I attended the 2020 Ozark Fly Fishers Annual Banquet and Auction. After browsing all the silent auction items and consuming a couple of Bud Selects, I was talked into buying a playing card in the 52 Card Pick Up raffle. I looked for the Queen of Hearts, couldn't find her, and settled on the King of Diamonds. Lucky for me, that's the card that was called and I came home the big winner. To say I was excited is an understatement. It is by far the nicest piece of fly-fishing tackle I now own, and the six-piece design makes in incredibly compact and perfect to throw in a bag for a hike. I won the rod on a Saturday, and by that Monday I was already testing it out on the stream.

Welcome, Fenwick.

The family was staying at my sister-in-law's house for Martin Luther King Day holiday. Her house has the distinct advantage of only being about a 20 minute drive from Maramec Spring. I woke up at a decent hour, reasonably rested despite sleeping between a two-year-old and a newborn. The weather was a bit brutal. The high for the day was only supposed to hit about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and would only be about 8 degrees when opening bell rang. I was concerned fishing on a holiday would bring out the crowds, but the cold, cold weather pacified my fears.

The cold weather scared off most folks. Okay, it scared off all the folks except for myself. I was the first and only car in the parking lot when I arrived at 7:30. Just me and a half dozen deer. The dashboard thermometer had the temperature at eight degrees Fahrenheit - way below freezing. That meant when I took one step out of the truck, I slipped on some frozen gravel and completely wiped out. I managed to hit my leg, hip, and ass on the way down. Luckily though, there was no one around to witness the spill. Better yet, there was no one around to hear my cursed grunts of pain. Lucky me. Of course, one silver lining was that the cold helped numb the pain in my hip bone quite a bit, and my leg really didn't start screaming in pain until later that day when I was done fishing andfinally warmed up.

All things considered, the weather didn't end up being nearly as nasty as I feared. It was cloudy, which helped keep the water glare-free, and there was a steady but light snowfall that was fairly pleasant. Yes it was cold, but I dressed in layers. A lot of layers. Skivvies. Pants. Underarmor undershirt. Flannel long-sleeve shirt. Heavy knit sweater. Thick hoodie. Winter coat. Hat. Two pairs of gloves. And as a special-treat, the fishing buff I'd been meaning to try out for months. I kept it around my neck for most of the morning as a sort of scarf, but when my nose got too cold, I covered my face as well. Although, in true nerd fashion, whenever I had my nose covered, my glasses would fog up. Contrast this with August 2019, my last visit to Maramec Spring, where the temperature reached 70 degrees and I was fishing in nothing but jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. The contrast in photos is vast. Oddly enough, even with the stark difference in temperature, that trip was surprisingly similar in the amount and locations in which I caught fish, but I'll cover that below.

August 2019 vs. January 2020

On the drive down on the cold January morning, I realized I had I forgotten my sunglasses on the seat of my wife's car. There's always something you forget. I was about 10 miles from the house when I realized I had forgotten them, but decided to soldier on without them. Yes, my visibility below the water's surface would be stymied, but I planned on fishing with an indicator anyway. My strategy for the day was to fish some orange, pink, and olive bead-head nymph patterns I had been tying up recently to see whether they would strike the trouts' fancy. They had a pheasant-tail and shiny collar made of dubbing. Looking back, they were maybe a little too big for the stream. They were size 14s, but I probably could have tied them in an 18. I'd have to buy new hooks and beads then. It's always something.

As mentioned, the river was gloriously empty, and I hopped around all morning at my leisure letting holes rest and hitting my favorite spots again and again. I was nervous that a leaky wader would ultimately lead to me getting soaked, catching hypothermia, and dying, but the water actually felt toasty in comparison to the air. I'll take 50 degree water over 8 degree air any day. Steam was pouring from the river all morning long. It took a little while, but I finally netted a nice rainbow using one of my new patterns. I've had busier days on the stream, as far as fish go, and the strikes were rare. Given the slowness, I decided to head upstream to get some coffee and try out some other spots.

Jackpot. Rainbow Trout caught & released.
The new rod performed well once I finally managed to get a strike. I was using an antique reel, though, so I need to do some research to optimize my reel type and line weight to accommodate the new 6-weight Fenwick rod.  My casting was . . . fine that morning, but not the best. Room for improvement I'm sure, and I'm positive I will improve my casting once I get some more time to master the new rod.

Eventually, I did see another person that morning, but not an angler. A birder was walking the stream with a pretty powerful looking camera. I let her know I had spotted a Pilated Woodpecker down beyond the bathrooms. The photo of the woodpecker I took with my phone (forgot my camera along with my shades) was too blurry to add to my Life List, so I'll need to spot Woody another day. The birder was kind enough to point out to me three bald eagles hanging in some trees across the field. The snow falling in the picture below camouflages their heads, but if you squint, you can make out their white caps in a diagonal line. It's always amazing to see these birds in person. Sure enough, I spotted two more later in the day, this time much more close up. One was hanging out over Highway 8 on my drive out, sitting in a tree above some roadkill waiting for its chance to scavenge. Truly majestic creatures.

Later in the morning, fishing downstream from the handicap access, I was able to land my second trout of the day. This one, however, was smaller than the first and didn't put up the same fight as his cousin. There wasn't much more action before I left around noon to return for lunch with the wife and kids.

Say "Cheeeeeese"
We had planned on hitting up St. James Public House on the drive back to St. Louis. I usually stop in there every time I fish Maramec Spring. It's one of my favorite bars on Earth. Having a beer there is a wonderful way to cap off a day of fly-fishing. However, we were saddened to find their doors locked when we arrived. Closed on Mondays and Tuesday. Dammit. We ended up down the street at the Missouri Pizza Company. It's a great new spot in St. James with good food and cold drinks. Nothing beats pizza, hot wings, and beer after a cold morning on the stream. It does make for a sleepy 90 miles back to St. Louis though. More winter weather was arriving, so we headed back east to get ahead of it. It was a good day, both on the water and off.

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