How Cold Can You Stand It!

Anchorage Daily News - February 19, 2006

After he had been fly-fishing two hours in single-digit temperatures, ice had clogged the bottom guides of Richard Kelso's rod, gripping the fly-line like a rope in a vise.

One of the Kenai River's few die-hard winter fly-fishermen, Kelso had dealt with icing problems before. But his usual tricks to free the line were not working.

He dipped the rod into the river, hoping the flowing water would free the frozen guides. But a two-week cold snap had dropped the river's temperature so close to the freezing point that its thawing powers were zapped.

He picked at the stubborn ice with his gloved fingers. No good. The ice was too hard and too thick.

He was afraid the guides would bend or break before the ice let go.

That's when Kelso remembered the thermos of hot tea.

Kneeling on the riverbank, he poured a stream of steaming green tea over the frozen guide, the runoff melting a thin, brown hole in the snow. He picked at the ice again. Nothing.

"That's a waste of tea," he said.

Despite the cold weather and slow fishing -- one trout in two hours -- Kelso wasn't ready to quit. But he didn't want to empty all of his tea into the snow, either. So he snuggled the thermos' cup into the snow, held the iced-up guide above it, and filled the cup.

As Kelso picked away the ice, his friend Kenny Leaf stepped out of the river to warm up.
"Do you want some tea, Kenny?" Kelso asked, offering the filled cup.

Winter fly-fishing on the Kenai River is not for the casual angler. Frozen guides are just one of the hardships. Fingers can hurt so much from exposure to the wind, water and subfreezing temperatures that they feel like they're on fire.

Feet and toes get so numb that they tingle for an hour after leaving the river.

But there is one big advantage to the discomforts of winter fishing -- no crowds.