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The Gearboat Chronicles

C-c-c-cold out there

Winter steelheading is a good test for how tough you are. The results are in and I am not tough. At all. It was so cold on an overnighter last weekend I couldn’t even sleep. I thought freezing was supposed to bring on a sense of euphoria. I was definitely freezing and there was not a single thing even remotely euphoric about it.

Papa Baird, myself, Todd and Tammy and some pals from Portland went on this bone chilling fishing sleepover where I was roused from my rest by all the racket my skeleton was making by chattering. On the bright side, things were beauty-full when the sun was out and we caught steelhead. Had this been a full-blown Winding Waters trip, we’d have had the walltent up and gently wafted warmed air into the sleeping chambers of our guests. But this was not a fully catered Winding Waters trip.

I realize other parts of the country are getting the lower parts of their thermometer exercised these days (where does all the mercury go when it gets down so low?) and we were down there voluntarily . . . but hoowee. Just . . . hoo-wee.


But, like I said, we did catch fish. This one here is wild, and she was a bundle of firecrackers in fish form. The indicator didn’t bob, it started zipping upstream quick as you please, I threw the rod tip up and it was on like Donkey Kong. So fun. One of those where you yell out loud because you just can’t help it, even though nobody’s there to hear you. Whooping it up.


Next slide please. Ah, this here’s a hatchery female that took a purple and black streamer-looking fly. Later that evening we dined on fresh-caught steelhead with lemon, butter and mango salsa stuffing. Mmmmm-mmmmmm.


Then Jack Frost invited all his friends over when it got dark and the suffering began. Of course you know winter steelheading in January is going to be cold. Forecast was for lows in the mid-20s, but camping right next to the river turned that into a bazillion-million mega degrees below zero. Frost started forming on our waders as soon as the sun even thought about going behind the ridge.


Not prepared, you say? To the contrary, I had my zero-degree sleeping bag along, thermarest on a cot for insulation, wearing fleece everything, wool hat . . . even started out in a hot tent thanks to my super-jazzy Kifaru tipi with woodstove. Here we see Baird and my pooch inside the wonder tent.


But that stove requires stoking on a pretty regular schedule and won’t hold a fire all night. I rekindled that bad boy to knock the chill back enough to get back to sleep, lulled by the cries of agony from the other campers who didn’t have the luxury of a woodstove.


Here we see Tony, shielding his eyes from the sight of a sun he thought he might never again see just a few hours before.


But the sun did return, all was right with the world and then you break out the guitars and do a little strumming. Here’s Casey, taking a break from his mission of birding. I think he’s just glad his fingers didn’t snap off while unzipping his tent in the morning.


Of course, one way to circumvent freezing at night is to go steelheading during the day and enjoy Wallowa Valley nightlife before retiring to luxurious guest accomodations. And it just so happens Winding Waters can make that happen. Fish are in the rivers so give Winding Waters a jingle and get after them.