Mostly, it's just cold. Freezing cold. The water, black against winter's white, reluctantly follows its given course off the shoulder of the mountain.
There, finning quietly in the deepest, darkest pool in the tiny backcountry creek, a brook trout rests on smooth gravel. The spawn is over. The fall feed is done. Now, as the stream flows thick with chunks of ice, it's time to rest.
What little light there is filters through the cloak of winter in a blue-gray tinge. Days are short this time of year. Nights are frigid and calm, silent, save for the footfalls on snow above, which tremor into the midnight water just enough to keep the char on edge.
These are the nights that remind the fish of better days ... of warmer days when stoneflies hatch and caddis dance on the water's surface. When lunch is a tailslap away. Winter is long in the Rockies, where this imported salmonid thrives in borrowed waters. Proof of its resilience lies largely in its ability to displace the natives that evolved here ... thrived here.
The brookie's life force is undeniable. The diminutive exotic of scores of Western waters has the heart of a Russian weightlifter and the spirit of a nimble ninja. It might be the perfect coldwater denizen.
For now, as near-frozen water tumbles reluctantly by, the brook trout simply holds on, nose pointed into the current. Its heart beat slows. It moves only to breathe. Food is a distant afterthought. It nearly hibernates.
Above, the cold, clear sky soaks up the winter sun–what moisture lies in the air freezes in tiny crystals and falls to the ground. The meadows of high-country trout streams are fields of white, unbroken, unmolested.
In time, the snow will melt, and the brook trout will once again rise to the fly. For now, during the shortest days of the year the brookie rests. Warmth will come again, and the char will dance on a tight line in good time.
In good time.