We've had a very un-Vancouver-like cold season this year in middle Tennessee, with above-average rainfall, presumably above-average snowfall and more than our share of frigid temps. As a result of the rain and snow, the lakes are full and the dams that hold them back have been dumping huge amounts of water into my favorite tailraces.
That means my fishing has been relegated to the area lakes. The last trip -- taken about a month ago on nearby Percy Priest -- was something out of The Deadliest Catch. When Barry, Anthony and I arrived at the boat-ramp, we found 25 degree weather, an empty parking lot and crystal-clear, unfrozen water. We carefully dropped Anthony's perfect aluminum boat (aptly named The Perfect Drift) in the lake, after filling it with an arsenal of fly rods, conventional fishing gear and a plethora of tackle ... and, three Thermos' filled with hot coffee, of course. We were pumped. We were prepared. And, we had the lake to ourselves.
Before launching, I stood at the top of the boat-ramp and looked upstream. The riverine portion of lake was covered in a white sheen of ice and snow. Not good. Undeterred, we cranked the motor and began idling away from the glacial floe of the Stones River and downstream toward the "main lake." We were targeting a section of the reservoir that is fed by springs, which typically run in the 50-60 degree temps. The working theory was the higher water temps would gather bait fish, which would attract the striper and bass we hoped to catch.
The first few hundred yards were clear and cold (33 degrees, in fact), but we soon began to notice a thin layer of ice on the surface. The aluminum hull of The Perfect Drift carved through this without a problem. It may have been the coffee talking, but all of us roared as the boat cleared the translucent layer of half-inch ice. We felt like Shackleton.
After a 100 more yards, we encountered a thicker, yet still breakable, layer of ice. The cheer was more subdued, but accompanied with a smidgen of laughter -- you know, the way one laughs in the face of doing something that is completely stupid.
For the next half-mile, the laughing was overwhelmed by the cacophony of the aluminum hull crunching through two-to-three-inch-thick ice. A Titanic reference was screamed over the din. Barry, perched on the hull and trying to figure out the easiest route of passage, turned and shot me a confused look -- one that could be interpreted in two ways: 1. This isn't as much fun as I had hoped. 2. We're gonna freakin' die.
We knew the stakes here: if we were to fall in, we'd die of hypothermia, or just plain drown; if we were to strike an iceberg, well ... the results would be downright DiCaprio-esque. As we rounded the first bend, I think all three of us realized that this was not only silly, it was getting quite dangerous.
But, we are men. So, we didn't say anything.
The next quarter of a mile, the conversation vanished into the din caused by aluminum meeting ice. We just stared into the frozen water ... just waiting for one of the other guys to crack under the strain, fall to the boat's floor and curl up in a ball, crying "Make it stop! Make it s-s-s-top!"
Our dreams of reaching fish-filled warmer water were being agonizingly dashed by the realization that we'd need an auger to reach them. After a few more minutes of plowing through the sea of ice, we reached the collective decision that this was a waste of time.
Beaten, maybe scarred a little, The Perfect Drift pivoted and made its way back to the ramp. We were greeted by an armada of hopeful fishing boats, launching in the ice-free water with intentions of plying Percy Priest on this grey December morning. We warned who we could warn, including one guy in a really nice fiberglass bassboat who seemed to really doubt our report of the glacier-like conditions. As we loaded up Anthony's boat, we heard the roar of the guy's 250 hp outboard ... only to hear it quickly shut down just a few seconds later. I'm not sure how gel coat would do in that amount of ice, but I think the bass angler decided not to find out.
Disappointed, but oddly thankful to have had the opportunity, Barry, Anthony and I limped back home, fish-less, yet thankfully unfrozen. The hull of The Perfect Drift had a few scrapes, but seemed to handle the adverse conditions ... well, perfectly.
Since that day, I haven't been back to a lake or river. My fly rods and fishing poles sit in my garage, ready for action, yet probably feeling abandoned. Instead of casting to stripers or trout, I've been working on my business and a few commissions ... and staying indoors a lot.
Punxsutawney Phil just told us we'd have six more weeks of winter. Well, he sucks and so does his forecast.
Sorry Phil, you didn't deserve that and I have nothing against you and your groundhog prognostications. I just hope you're wrong. Until we find out for sure, I hope everyone stays warm. If you're fishing, just know I'm jealous.