Ok, so finally I took a trip of my own rather than reading all your great accounts, looking at beautiful videos, and just dreaming myself away.. Since I'm about to switch jobs, I took last week off on short notice, and decided to go back home to Sweden to fish. In March, that means snow and cold, but who knows when my next chance would come up.
A little apprehensive of the cold weather camping since I'd never done that before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect so I packed plenty of layers.. which turned out to be a good thing. But I was also anxious to try out my HG underquilt properly, as well as my underground quilts top quilt, both rated at 20*F. Expected lows were about -2C, so I figured I should have some margin. Given that I was going to a creek near my hometown in the relative south, but flying in to Stockholm, there was also a logistical challenge to overcome. However, some research revealed that a decent combo of planes, trains and automobuses would do the trick, with a finishing touch of "horses of the apostles" (that's what we call walking where I'm from).
The creek of my choice was Tidan, which has a very nice beat of a few kms that is stocked with rainbow trout in excellent condition (no fin-chewed broilers here), as well as wild brown trout. Thus, this were to be no wilderness expedition, I just wanted to get a couple of days fishing in before I need to work my butt off to finish up on my old work... but it's outside of town, which provides for a nice feeling of getting out and about when fishing for that trout.
I arrived in the town near the beat (Tidaholm) at about 2230 hrs after a flawless series of connections, and proceeded to walk to where I'd preliminary decided to camp after looking at the satellite images of google maps. There's a trail going along the creek, which had a fire pit set up, so I decided to go for that. The beat was still a km or so upstream away from the town, but over there the trees were fewer so I had opted for the protection of the woods. I arrived about 2300-2330 and decided that it looked good enough also irl, and proceeded to set up camp. I had feared what conditions I was going to meet - the weather had been in the pluses for some days, so I wondered whether there would be snow or mud facing me.. Turned out to be snow, and that late, it had frozen again after thawing during the day. I was a little apprehensive of the trail being very close to my site of choice, as it was near the town enough for early-morning dog walkers to come by. But I was tired, it was late, and I wanted to hang.
I set up quickly since I wanted to get into bed asap, as my plan was for getting up at 0530 to brew some coffee, slip into my waders and begin fishing as soon as possible. That was mistake #1. I had an absolutely miserable night. Setting up in the dark, and not taking time to tinker, I had not gotten my UQ right. I barely slept at all, and my feet were so cold my toes ached. I was also so bent on sleeping that it somehow didn't occur to me to get up to fix the quilt, I was just surprised at how cold it was and put another pair of socks on... and another layer of fleece.. and another layer of longjohns... and finally a pair of really thick wool socks... Well, first time in the snow, I guess my mind's a little slow..
I tossed and turned and went up to pee, and I may have slumbered here and there, but when my alarm sounded off I wasn't very thrilled... I stayed in bed a little longer, because boy was I tired.. but then I finally made myself get up, get into my waders, brew some coffee and pack camp up. Since I was a fair bit from the fishing beat, and there was a trail that looked frequented by the towns people, I didn't want to leave things behind. Thankfully, my LazySlugs made that a breeze. I just left everything in there - all the clothes for sleeping, the under- and top quilts, and of course the hammock itself. Great for simplicity, and then I just shoved that big ol' slug into the backpack.
Needless to say, my mindset wasn't at its greatest. And the fishing went accordingly.. While conditions were a little tough with ice cold water and ice shelves hanging out, other people were still catching fish so I couldn't really blame the weather either... Of course, I had spent the winter tying little intricate imitations of bugs, and not great big attractor lures, which was what was working, so at least I have that excuse still left.. The day was wonderful though, bright sunshine and warm and cozy in the right places. But I was tired enough not to enjoy that to its fullest either..
At some point, I had thought of what could have been wrong with my quilts. I realised that my haphazard set-up in the dark likely left something to be desired when it comes to the quilt set-up. I decided to call it a day a bit before sundown, in order to at least have some light to aide me. I hiked back to the same place and hung the slug and tarp, and when I unravelled it all I noticed that the foot end of the underquilt wasn't the least bit cinched up, but rather left a 20 cm gap to the hammock... Ah, how easy things are when you figure them out... Well, at least I could look forward to a night of proper insulation, and an exhaustion level that would hopefully make me sleep like a baby! And indeed I did. I did wake up twice to go pee, but my oh my what a difference when the alarm bell went off that morning.
I jumped out of the hammock (ok, that's an exaggeration), made some coffee and enjoyed the daylight starting to poke its nose up above the horizon.
Coffee is for me a life elixir. At work, there is no work until I have a mug of seriously strong stuff. Enjoying it on a winter's morning, next to a creek in the (at least seeming) woods is something else alltogether. Harmony.
My next challenge proved to be getting into my waders.. or at least the wader boots. I had left them hanging over the tarp ridgeline, and I did kind of expect the issue to occur, but I also figured I had no other choice. I sure wasn't going to bring wet and muddy wader boots into the hammock with me! A resolute stepping-on crushed the layer of ice and made them flexible enough to force my feet into them..
As I hiked my way back to the beat, the winter sun was rising over the fields. This time I was both up and about earlier, but I also had slept, thus able to enjoy it.. It was a beautiful morning.
Wise not to use any nymphs or egg flies from yesterday's experience, I heeded the advice of one of the luckier (hrm.. better.. ok) fishermen the day before: "large and bushy". Problem was, I had only small and not-so-bushy.. but anyway, it felt like I had a chance now. It was also a bit more frigid than the day before. Ice was forming in the rod loops.
The day went on, and I still felt nothing. Until I decided to hell with other people's advice. I tied on a variant of the Montana Nymph, which had been developed in the area: black with a marabou tail and chartreuse thorax. When I let it drift in under trees hanging out over the bank, I suddenly felt a nibble. Heart racing, I cast another time to let the fly drift exactly the same, and low and behold, I had a taker! It was already afternoon, and I had begun to seriously despair, but my oh my what a great feeling! The rainbow trout was srong too in the cold water, and the fight went on at least ten minutes. The nymph was seated firmly in its jaw though, and after some time I was able to net it. Ahhhh, the incredible relief...
I tried a couple of half-hearted casts more, but I was done. With a dumb smile on my face, I made my way back to the table set up near where people usually park and get ready for fishing. I had a couple of hours until I had to hike back and catch the bus back, so I decided to cook the fish and eat it at the side of the stream instead. A rainbow trout, caught not half an hour ago.. needless to say, it tasted incredible.
I enjoyed the fish in the company of a farm cat that smelled dinner as I had rinsed the fish, and then packed up to hike back to town. I caught the bus in good time, made the train to Stockholm and checked in to a low-budget hotel. The next day, they organised the Wilderness Fair, very timely, so I decided to stay for another day. Good thing I did, because it was the first time I went to a fair and actually had some purchasing power... I don't dare count how much I spent there, but I do know that all the crap I lugged home (together with my original gear of course) weighed about 38 kgs... UL backpacking? Nah, that's for weaklings! I wore HamMike's Hammock Life T-shirt to the fair, and when a guy asked if I wanted to enter a contest to win a tent, I pointed to it and said "Tent? no, thanks, I sleep in a hammock!".
So there you have it, two nights out and a wilderness fair. I'm now at home, tying some of those attractor flies, and trying to think when I'll get another chance of going...