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The Gearboat Chronicles

Ice ice baby

Freezing water is all over the news. People third-degree burning themselves by throwing boiling water into the freezing air only to – what? have it not freeze? I didn’t bother reading further into those headlines. I’m pretty old school about hurting myself in winter. I don’t need to introduce outside factors like boiling water.

From the archives of hurting myself – my favorite ice related injury was pushing a wheelbarrow filled with large firewood rounds over a light dusting of snow covering a sheet of ice on my property. One foot swooped out and boom, down I go. The wheelbarrow also tipped over, introducing gravity, which sent the heavy firewood chunks in motion for the earth – except my hand was in the way. My pinky finger did its best to break their fall, but catching large, heavy masses of wood is tricky at best when you’re distracted by falling on the ice and then getting your pinky broken.

Fun fact: Broken pinkies hurt. A lot. It doesn’t seem like your pinky does all that much, but it turns out almost every single thing you do involves your pinky. You’d be surprised how often you notice this when your pinky finger is broken and the pain receptors are working at full capacity. Thanks, ice!

But frozen water can work in your favor. Here’s a photo from our friend Hilary Valentine’s holiday party, involving a miniature golf course constructed in ice. This one’s a par three.


She also had ice candles placed around the course, made by leaving a hollow in a bucket set out to freeze, then illuminating with a candle set inside. Enchanting.


But let’s talk fishing. As reported last week in my guide to assaulting your friends who catch fish when you do not, Mike Baird and Cam Scott did pretty well a week or so ago in the steelhead arena. So we went back a few days later. I had plans to redeem myself. I took the necessary steps to prepare by smudging my fishing gear with burnt sage, tying a new batch of flies, rigging up a fresh leader, getting a good night’s sleep and making a plan for how I would go about my low water, cold weather tactics.

What I didn’t plan for was ice in the river. In three days the river had dropped. A bunch. And there were ice floes floating along – not big, but small patches about a foot or so square, with thin shelves growing out from the banks. So you had to pick your spots for casting to avoid draping your line over the little islands of ice that would keep your nymphs from getting down into the business district. It was kind of fun, really. You could land your weighted flies in the liquid, then throw mends accordingly.

Here’s a view of a run I’ve had success in before, and thought may be a smart play on account of enough depth for a fish to hunker down in.


The shelf was a problem and I would have needed a twenty-foot spey rod to manage any attempt at a good drift. I tried some big barrel rolls and rodeo mends, but mostly I was just making pretty zig zags on the ice with my line. Entertaining, but not part of the master plan for breaking my no-fish streak.


So I violated the guideline of not tromping around in the water and alerting the fish to my presence. I kicked some strategic holes into the shelf to free up access, launched a big sheet of thin ice into the current and sat down to eat a sandwich and hope any steelhead in the vicinity would forget the commotion. Here’s the shelf pulling away to start its cruise downstream.


And by adapting to the elements, adjusting my approach and being flexible, I was able to successfully maintain my streak of not catching any fish, then walking back to the truck and finding out that Cam Scott did catch fish. Two, if you’re wondering.

It’s fun, this winter steelhead fishing.

But ODFW reports steely activity in the Grande Ronde, moving up into the Wallowa River and folks are catching fish. We’ll keep you posted when it really turns on. In the meantime, watch your step on the ice.