Fly fishing's off season doesn't represent the end of anything as much as it does a shift; instead of talking on the river, your little group of fly fishermen hold those same conversations on the phone.
And as the winter slowly closes out, those phone calls turn to spring.
Naturally, there's an unspoken etiquette when discussing the upcoming fly fishing season - especially when that season involves a record 170% of normal snowpack and a forecast for a cooler-than-normal spring.
First, you don't come right out and admit the obvious: You're screwed.
That's considered poor form.
Instead, you're encouraged to speculate wildly about best-case scenarios, often couching your speculation in experience: "The snowpack was higher in ought-whatever" we'll say, "but we were still fishing by the Fourth of July."
Of course, the snowpack wasn't higher in ought-whatever, and plenty of years the river was still unhappily elevated by the Fourth of July.
But you don't say that out loud. That way lies insanity.
Instead, you dance around the subject, but slowly -- because you're not blind to reality -- the evidence builds.
Record snowpack. Cold spring (the temperature is 15 degrees lower than "normal" for this time of year).
Lots and lots of split shot.
Thus concludes the discovery portion of the phone call (over the past two days, I went through this with both Wayne Eng and Steven Bertrand).
Then we move into the Adaptation phase.
Wayne, ever the optimist, suggested we'd just have to look for the right spots on the river, which will become difficult to fish just as soon as water starts spilling over the Box Canyon dam at Lake Siskiyou.
Bertrand - who is not so optimistic - suggested trips to reservoirs and tailwaters, which set off a whole new round of speculation about what happens to the Lower McCloud and McCloud Reservoir once that 170% snowpack hits Mud Creek.
Even with the Optimist setting turned up to 11, we quickly started running out of fishable water.
I even essayed a classic backcountry gambit, where I suggested I'd be able to fish a couple of my alpine streams as early as late May or June, which is total bullshit.
Bertrand noted that we normally fish those places by May or June, and this year wasn't normal, which forced me to fall back on my "I'll snowshoe or ski in" fantasy.
That works if you ignore the fact that you'd ski many, many miles one way, only find a creek over its banks.
In other words, it works not at all.
We did isolate on small creek that might be fishable before the others, and because you don't want to find other people there, you speak its name sparingly on the phone (apparently out of fear the NSA is populated with fly fishermen).
The Lower Sac? The Rogue? There will be fly fishing, though it'll likely involve some travel or AA sized split shot or sheer luck.
And naturally, you'll occasionally encounter a spoiler; while I was writing this, Dave Roberts called to reveal he'd spent yesterday in a snowstorm on the Henry's Fork, catching trout during a heavy BWO hatch.
You simultaneously curse him for the taunt, but quietly thank him for restoring some hope.
Now if only you could afford the gas.
See you working the phone bank, Tom Chandler