Snow flickered in the headlights as I drove toward Nampa to meet my fishing buddy, Dave Gourley, for a trip into Hells Canyon to go bass fishing.
There were only a flew flakes, not even enough to warrant windshield wipers, but still, bass fishing and snow don't normally go together. To make things even more auspicious, we were fly fishing.
It wasn't a completely mindless endeavor. We heard earlier reports of bass being caught in Hells Canyon, and there was a bass tournament at Brownlee scheduled for the same week.
Bass anglers were already catching fish at C.J. Strike, which is a Snake River reservoir farther upstream.
So, if you connected all the dots, bass were being caught, and catching one or two on a fly seemed within the realm of possibility.
Besides, Gourley bought a '60s-vintage Boston Whaler skiff over the winter, and we were itching to get it out and try it.
We would be just like the bass pros in their super-sleek dragsters-on-water - only completely different. Our 14-foot Whaler is like a Camry among Corvettes, and we had fly rods and wore shirts without sponsors' patches.
We turned the corner at Cambridge and headed toward Hells Canyon just as dawn was dawning. It's a great time to see wildlife.
Tan hillsides started looking like anthills with herd after herd of mule deer dotting them. On higher ridges we saw scattered herds of elk, and at times, the deer and elk intermixed.
A pair of bighorn ewes stood in the rocks above the road as still as statues.
We were surprised by the lack of one animal - turkeys. The area is usually brimming with them, but we didn't spot a single one.
When we got to the reservoir, a bald eagle stood on the roadside looking both regal and casual. Two other large, unidentified raptors sparred in the sky. Golden eagles? Immature balds? I could only guess, but they were cool to watch.
We spotted a raccoon waddling down the shoreline away from what looked like a red rag on shore. It turned out to be the rib cage of a winter-killed deer that the raccoon was apparently dining on when we interrupted it.
WEATHER OR NOT
We decided to hit Oxbow Reservoir because it tends to be a little more sheltered from the wind than Brownlee, and it's smaller. If the weather took a turn, we wanted the option of getting off the water quickly.
The sun was just starting to peak over the ridges and the reservoir was mirror flat. The weather had been erratic, which is typical for spring in Idaho.
Ice had formed in the bottom of the boat, which we noticed as we prepared to launch. As soon as the sun hit us directly, it was warm and comfortable, but any breath of wind felt like opening the door to a walk-in freezer. Like I said, typical spring weather.
We timed our launch to coincide with the sunlight hitting the reservoir. We were in no hurry because we were the first ones there.
Everybody likes an uncrowded fishing spot, but I couldn't help notice we were the only boat on the reservoir, and no one was fishing from shore, either.
I also noticed a truck drive by pulling a trailer loaded with snowmobiles.
DO IT LIKE THE BASS GUYS
Dave and I are a little odd as fly fishermen. We see fly rods as fun and interesting ways to catch fish. Any fish. Which is why we were ignoring some pretty good conditions for trout fishing to try catching bass in marginal conditions.
We jetted across the reservoir and checked out the first cove. I joked that bass guys seem to like driving their boats as much as fishing, which is understandable when you have a metallic-flaked water-born muscle car.
They zoom to some place on a reservoir, take a dozen casts, and then zoom off to the next place. We deemed the first cove unsuitable, so zoomed off to the next one, only we didn't exactly zoom, we kind of buzzed. We were getting the hang of this bass thing.
After several stops, we start fishing in earnest. Our theory was maybe we could catch the bass moving into shallower water that got warmed a few degrees by the sun. I dipped a thermometer in the water: 40 degrees.
WEATHER OR NOT, PART 2
I later learned there was a flaw in our logic. With water temperature that cold, we were essentially winter fishing for bass despite the date on the calendar declaring spring had arrived.
I read this on bass-fishing-source.com about smallies in cold water:
"In general, smallmouth will tend to be in deeper water during winter than at other times of the year."
Uh oh. Even with sinking line, flies aren't exactly deep-water lures.
"The best days might be any unseasonably warm day during the winter."
Oops. Missed that by about a week.
"In general, when pursuing winter smallmouth you should use larger lures and fish them deeper than at other times of the year."
Larger lures fished deeper? Flies don't fit into that description.
You've heard of taking a knife to a gunfight? This felt like taking a butter knife to a gunfight.
LIVE OR DIE BY THE FLY
The odds of catching bass appeared stacked against us, but what were we to do? Quit?
That's not in our fishing vocabulary.
We motored into a cove where a creek poured into the reservoir and created a broad, shallow flat.
We cast our flies with purpose, bass-fishing-source.com be damned.
There's a reason why fishermen are eternal optimists and it was soon thrashing on the end of my line.
Against the odds, I hooked a fish and it shook my fly rod like a willow in a gale.
I don't claim to be the world's smartest angler, and I am clearly not an expert on bass fishing, but something didn't feel right.
A smallmouth in 40-degree water is like me at 4 a.m. Neither of us move fast or with a lot of vigor, and this fish was downright pissed.
It flashed near the surface and confirmed my suspicion. I hooked a healthy, hearty, chrome-sided trout that was perfectly content in 40-degree water until someone impaled its lip with a hook.
I netted the fish, Gourley snapped a quick photo, and I unhooked it and sent him on his way.
We continued fishing - casting time and time again into the cold, clear water hoping that a contrarian bass would defy conventional wisdom and take an interest in our flies. Except for a moment when crossed lines fooled us both into thinking we had strikes, it wasn't to be.
We threw out a litany of excuses: too early, too cold, weather too unstable, too something else. But deep inside, we knew the bass guys probably weren't going to get skunked during their tournament, and I later learned they didn't.
Not that we consider ourselves in their league, but I was kind of using them as our role models. If they can catch them, maybe we could, too.
But if we couldn't fish like them, we could at least zoom a boat like them.
Dave's little Boston Whaler skipped across the afternoon wind chop like a well-thrown flat stone.
"How fast do you think we're going?" he asked.
"I don't know," I replied. "My iPhone has a GPS. Let's find out."
We pulled up to the boat ramp, and I grabbed it out of the truck. We headed off across the reservoir. Unfortunately, my iPhone app is designed for bicycling and it measures speed in minutes per mile. Simple math could have easily converted that to miles per hour, but doing math while fishing didn't seem like much fun.
Dave dropped me off, and I jumped in his truck. He cruised parallel to the shoreline at full throttle, and I matched his speed with the truck. Without me onboard, he went about 30 mph. Maybe the skiff wasn't zooming, but it was definitely zipping along, and we had silly fun racing each other.
So we didn't land our first bass of the year, but we didn't get skunked, either, and there are certainly worse ways to spend a day than scoping out wildlife and racing a skiff with a pickup.
And getting a bass whuppin' sets up a rematch with the smallies later on.
Like good terminators, we'll be back.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors