Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ice On the Pond

When I woke this morning it was 22 degrees F outside and it was mostly dark except for the hint of soft pale light spreading across the Eastern horizon.  I could see the dark silhouettes of several does milling about the edges of the pond nervously, as a large buck lay still in the grass under the cedar tree watching them intently.  Unseen birds welcomed the new day with song.

As the darkness gave way to the expanding light, I noticed that the pond had a film of ice on it, which in itself wouldn't be a surprise except this was the first time I have seen my pond iced over.  In the 6 years I have lived here, the pond has never had ice on it, even when the temperatures have dipped below 0 F.  You see, the pond is spring fed, and the bubbling earth borne water that fills it has always been as steady as the tides; the crystalline flow from the rocks below has maintained a water temperature in the small pond above freezing season after season, year after year, until now.  The flow of late is barely a trickle, the level of the pond is down about 6 inches, making the water temperature now subject to the moods of the atmosphere.

The small pond and its present condition is a microcosm of what is happening throughout Northern New Jersey.  The water table is falling from the lack of rainfall over the last 3-4 months.  The ground is dry and the fallen leaves brittle and colorless.  Our rivers and streams a mere shadow of what they typically are. Their flows slowed to a crawl, barely filling the stream beds they have nourished for eons.  The trout hover quietly in the deeper pools and runs, feeding when they must, otherwise laying low from flying predators above.  Their only solace the cool temperatures of Autumn and fewer anglers invading their space.

Although the weather folks tell us we are not in a drought, and that it's only an aberration in the local weather patterns, there are contrasting signs everywhere you look.  Things are dry around here, very dry.  The usual tapestry of radiant fall colors was muted this year; the dry leaves mostly withered and faded, and the exceptions stood out brilliantly against the otherwise dull background.  The ground is dry and dusty, lichen and moss easily dislodged from where it lies.  And when it has rained - mostly brief showers - the earth soaked up the moisture so quickly that by the next day there was little evidence the skies had cried.

Like everything else in nature, we know things will change, waters will rise, and we will re-adapt to the new conditions.  In the meantime, we can fish, although I'm not inclined to fish our local streams and instead have been heading over to PA to fish. 

One positive is that there are things to be learned with the water levels so low.  Gravel bars are exposed, as are rocks and other normally hidden stream bottom features.  If you want to see the contours of your favorite river or stream and where every rock and holding lie is, do it now.  The rivers and streams are giving up their secrets to anyone that cares to look, and the information you get now may be invaluable in future fishing trips. When nature restores the flows, you can then recall what you see now and fish accordingly, knowing what lies below the surface.  It should help you.

All that said, I do look forward to when our rivers fill their banks and the depths are again a mystery to the naked eye.  For me, reading water is one of the facets of fly fishing that I most enjoy.

Have you ever seen the rain?

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