OK, so you mistakenly think that Christmas is the most important event at this time of year, but I beg to differ (sort of). No, I’m not the Grinch, but one of my most favorite-tist things is the passing of the winter solstice on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year – which to me means that beginning on the 22nd our days will be getting longer every single sunset.
You didn’t know? And what’s so important about this whole thing? Well, to me it means hope. Hope that you can fish longer and that warmer days are coming.
I’ll admit it, I hate cold weather and short days, so this day is the mental change-up I need to make me feel like it’s all getting better each day. Freezing fog, cold rain, howling wind, numb hands and feet – they are just not my cup of tea. I think it’s something like a PTSD thing for me that dates to childhood. Traumatic!
It’s pretty deep-seated, and it’s all because I truly believe that Dad had antifreeze for blood. He loved cold weather and especially fishing in the winter for crappie in the worst weather imaginable (to me). He would always somehow entice me to go night fishing for crappie right after New Year’s, when weather-wise things would usually be the nastiest. Dad was very persuasive, but each time I vowed I would never do it again.
We would fish all night in the bone-chilling, rolling fog banks that slowly curled and hovered over the surface, wrapping around and chilling me to the bone until I became numb. Reaching into the slightly warmer water to lift a fish out actually offered some temporary relief, but I regretted it later as my wet hands turned blue. No real cold-weather clothes or gloves, either – Dad didn’t need them! I suffered and hated the really clear, hard-freeze nights. It was miserable. I couldn’t wait for sunrise.
What exacerbated the situation for me was that my father would sit in the front of the boat – happy as a clam – talking about the next fish he was sure was looking at the nervously twitching minnows we had suspended below the lights we used to attract the baitfish that the crappie loved to feed on. He was in heaven and I wasn’t happy.
One time at New Melones, it was so foggy we got lost on the lake (no GPS. then). We just motored around slowly, looking for any shoreline until we finally found a small, bushy island. Incredibly, completely by accident, we had stumbled upon a crappie hole and the bite was on.
It was so foggy you couldn’t see more than 30 feet or so. We had a small navigational light on, but when I heard a weird whooshing sound above me in the dark as I fished, I suddenly realized that a confused and lost seagull had been drawn to the light and actually was touching down on my head. We both squawked! Memorable.
Whether it was the duck-hunting trips to Mendota, standing in the tules in leaky waders in waist-high ice water, or these nocturnal iceberg fishing trips, it all began to convince me I wasn’t made for the cold. Dad loved it. But even Dad’s friends wouldn’t go.
Years later, in the name of sanity, I decided that making Dec. 21 my mental release valve was a way I could put it all in perspective and not be traumatized by the winter. It makes me feel like I only have to endure it just a little bit longer.
Yes, I am fascinated to watch when I see that the sunrise and sunset times grow a minute every day. Sick! My wife laughs at me. A minute longer of daylight is important to a dying man.
This may sound like a bunch of drama, but I assure you that it was as bad as it sounds.
However, I will be honest: The surprising flip side of all this is that I wouldn’t trade even one of those miserable, but memorable, fishing trips with Dad for anything. We shared in the misery, but few understand how close it made us, too. I’ve found that suffering can be a blessing.
Never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,