I dropped the first two fish I hooked in 2017. Both felt heavy and hurt in their own way. One was a northern pike that I lost an arm's length from the ice hole. I never did get a look at her, maybe it was for the better, but by the fight and weight I know it was big enough to be rattled over losing it.
The other fish wasn't under the ice; it was next to a brush pile in a small stream. I saw the trout's back come out of the water as it crushed my black and olive bugger. I set the hook and she thrashed, spewing my fly ten feet behind me. I let out an "Oh my god. What the F was that?" while the gravity of the situation sunk in. It was definitely another class of fish that I was accustomed to from this stream; something I'd be happy with from the Farmington, yet this was unstocked water a fraction of its size. I was certain it was the largest wild brown I had hooked in more than 15 years of fishing there. That one stung pretty good. I was in a funk to start the new year.
Cue the January thaw. I went back to the same small stream today during a long lunch at work. The fresh wading boot prints on the snow-packed trail was a punch to my gut. Someone had already fished this stretch today. I blew by some water that I would normally take some casts in to get to the exact lie I pricked the fish from. Along the bank I could see where the angler got into the water and broke shelf ice and stirred up mud. I knew right then that he didn't hook that fish and neither would I this trip. I kept moving upstream and I couldn't escape the fresh prints. I made it to a deep, slow pool screaming to be fished with a woolly bugger. I couldn't get a sniff and to make matters worse, I busted off the streamer on a tree branch, then worked it free with my rod tip, only to lose it for good after it fell to the ground. I walked back downstream dejected.
Before leaving for work, I had packed two other flies just in case I found myself in a jam like this. Back at the truck, I tied on my bread and butter dry-dropper combo and headed to my Alamo. Work lunch was stretching longer than usual at this point, but for good reason. I needed my first fish of 2017 and to snap out of this mental funk. I approached the honey hole and saw no prints. It was a good feeling knowing my flies would be the first these trout have seen in at least four days since the last snow. And they sure acted like it, too. In quick succession, I landed six trout from the small run. Five browns and a lone brookie, all of which looked healthy and put a bend in my three-weight rod. Each of them took a tiny bead head pheasant tail nymph dropped 18 inches below a stimulator dry fly. This method had worked for me many times in this run and it wasn't going to let me down now. I was on the board for the year and swapped my Muck boots for work shoes and drove back to the office with the smell of fish on my hands.