Here's the catch that keeps Jeff Little going through the cold of winter.

Here’s the catch that keeps Jeff Little going through the cold of winter. Photo: Jeff Little.

Mental: Sticking Out the Cold on a Kayak
By Jeff Little

The night before I had looked at the USGS forecast at least twice, then watched the Weather Channel’s Local on the 8's until I dozed off. The phrase that stuck with me was "20% chance of snow flurries before 10 a.m. then gradual clearing." By 3 p.m. I hadn't felt so much as a rub on my line.

The flurries never materialized. Instead, sleet and freezing rain pelted me in the face, reminding me of the exact location of my balaclava – safe and sound in the hall closet at home. My mind wandered to other things in my warm home.

"I wonder what Jessica is cooking for dinner," I thought almost out loud. I could smell a plate of parmesan baked chicken, real mashed potatoes with a heap of gravy and butter, and green beans that she canned at the farm the previous summer – the kind with chunks of ham in it. I felt the steamy warmth of the food waft up into my face. Then, upon opening my eyes, I focused on a frigid drop of rain building at the tip of my nose. Drip. Drip. Shiver.

A gust of wind pushed the bow of my kayak off the rock it was wedged on. My head snapped up to look for someone to blame, but I was alone in the middle of the Susquehanna River. I groped for my paddle's shaft and forced the boat back upstream, wedged again and recast.

Defeat had soaked into me like the frigid fog hanging over the river, but for some reason I wasn't moving from that rock. Some have called it dedication. Fishing isn't a noble enough pursuit to use that term. In such rotten weather conditions, it's one part hope, one part habit and one part self inflicted compulsion.

"Thump!" the finger my braided line was draped over said to my brain. I was as confused as someone who's had their doorbell rung at 3 a.m. Before I realized I was engaged in a fight, I set the hook, felt a heavy throb and watched my leg shove my kayak off the rock.

Two minutes later near the bottom of the huge foam eddy, I unfolded my net to reveal the reason: a five-pound two-ounce smallmouth bass. Holding the plump bass up to my nose, I filled my nostrils with it's unique aroma the way someone does with a cup of hot coffee. My fingers were no longer numb. The adrenaline warmed my core and extremities like a hot shower.

The one that didn't get away was one that I remind myself of whenever I struggle. It waited until hours after I should have given up.

Jeff Little’s Change of Heart, why fish-hugger Jeff Little changed his views on catch and release.