Visiting a river in winter is an experience unlike that of any other time of year. From a distance, a river blanketed in snow and ice may appear as if it is asleep in the season. Upon close examination, all is not as it seems.
A river does not rest, even in winter. Beneath its icy canopy, water continues to flow toward its ultimate destination. There is life in and along the river, regardless of the time of year.
In some places, springs and upwellings prevent the river from freezing in winter. In other places, its swift-flowing currents yield only to the coldest of temperatures. Then, at the slightest hint of warmth, the surface ice melts, and the river opens once again.
Deep pools and runs provide shelter and habitat for trout during the winter months. Deer and moose find cover in surrounding woods and forests. Hungry coyotes patrol the river valley after nightfall. Ravens and bald eagles scavenge the area by day.
Other birds, such as the American dipper, are often seen along open stretches of water. They bob up and down while perched on rocks or ice at the river’s edge. Without hesitation, they dive into the frigid water, only to reappear with a caddis larvae or stonefly nymph secured in their bill. Then, with a few high-pitched chirps, the small bluish-gray bird sets off, flying low over the water, in search of another streamside perch from which to ply its trade.
Visiting a river in winter is a unique opportunity. The soft, muted sound of the river, the freshness in the air, snow under your feet, the wildlife, and the gentle tug of a trout at the end of your leader, makes the experience all the more memorable.
“It is easy to forget about the river in winter, particularly if you are a trout fisherman and live in town. Even when you live in the country, close beside it, a river seems to hold you off a little in winter, closing itself into the murky opacity of freshet or slipping past ice-fringed banks in shrunken, silent flow.”
― Roderick L. Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps (1944)