The only proof winter was actually on the run circled above me, scanning the very same water I was plying with a fly rod. The osprey, home after a long flight north from those warmer climes way down south, was on the prowl over the Snake, hoping to snag a meal and keep its energy up as it reinforced its nest in preparation for the new family.
Walking on the flat in the cold wind, with a gray sky overhead and black clouds on the horizon, I was reminded yet again that winter in Idaho can shrug its shoulders just about whenever it pleases--even on the first day of May. Two weeks earlier, I plyed the same flat for pre-spawn carp and enjoyed a day with the warm April sun on my bare arms and a good showing from the exotic torpedos of this mighty river. This day, though, the fish were wiser. They didn't brave the white-capped flat and likely sat stoically on the river bottom, waiting for a brighter day.
It should have been a trout day--the Henry's Fork and its hungry rainbows and browns wouldn't have been put off by the wind and the hail. But spring beckons me to lower, greener landscapes for some reason. And I won't lie--carp have gripped my angling soul of late, and it just doesn't feel like spring without the saltwater pull of the imported freshwater omnivore. I can't explain it, I guess. It's like a job, or being a parent. You just do it, because if you don't, you quickly realize you've missed something. Something important. Something irreplacable.
It's odd to think that I've begun to mark the season's change by the mass migration of a bottom-feeding cretin to the soupy flats of our lakes and rivers. I used to watch for signs much more practical--thermometers, barometers ... weather.com. I knew that when the osprey returned, the big cutties on the Snake would be in full pre-spawn frenzy in the braids below Wilson Bridge. I knew that three or four March days in a row with highs over 35 would put the rainbows on the bite above Ashton Dam.
Now I watch for breaching cyprinids in the shallows, and the "redneck run." Years ago, as a kid, I chased these same fish with a concoction of flour, water, sugar and cinnamon mixed with care in Mom's kitchen. Now I spend my Februarys and Marches hunched over a vise tying crawfish patterns and dreaming of screaming reels and backing escaping out of my tip-top. Spring has taken on a new meaning altogether.
On this day, there would be no tug. No blurry reel spool. Even the osprey went hungry as it hovered in the easterly wind overhead. No, this was yet another day of dreaming. But I know, thanks to that kindred spirit who dances between hemispheres in search of fish, that spring is coming. Soon, dreams will be reality.
Soon, I'll feel the pull.