It began as an ice skating trip to a high lake in the Cascades in southern Oregon. But before I had even parked the car, I noticed the ice fishermen, and on the way to the skate-rental shed I stopped to see how they were doing. "Go on and get started," I said to the two friends who were with me. "I'll be along in a while."
"If you stop to watch, you'll never get skating," one of them answered.
"Sure I will. I don't even have any tackle in the car."
"You'll figure something out."
"Go on," I said. "I'll be along in a minute or two. Five or 10 anyway."
Of course, they were right. It had been 15 years since I had last skated, so another day certainly wouldn't matter. And I saw at once that the ice fishermen were doing very well. There were about a dozen of them, in an area less than half the size of a basketball court. Six-inch holes had been chopped through the ice, and numerous kokanee salmon and brook trout lay scattered about them. The kokanee were eight-to 10-inch fish, dark and thin, apparently close to spawning, but the brook trout were fat and beautifully marked, some of them as large as 16 inches.
I wandered around, looked at the fish, asked a few questions. Everyone was using bait—worms, marshmallows, cheese, salmon eggs—and everyone agreed that it was possible to catch the limit of 10 fish within 45 minutes or an hour.
A quick search of the car's trunk produced all that I would need—some scraps of leader ranging from four-pound test to eight, which, when I knotted them together, gave me a few yards of line, a tire iron and three old but still fishable steelhead flies, a Skunk, a Golden Demon and a Thor.
After about five minutes a middle-aged man in a down jacket and cowboy hat limited out and relinquished his spot. As he started toward the parking lot, he did a double take.
"You gonna fish with that stuff?" he asked.