Fishing an Atmospheric River

By: Andy Marks

I moved lots of snow New Year’s day. I cleared the driveway with our 80 V Kobalt snow thrower. Its battery was in the charger when the power went out for 9 hours. UPL reported 14,000 customers lost power, blaming heavy wet snow downing trees and power lines. I shoveled the back deck, and returned to find 4 inches of snow and a downed oak blocking the drive. This was the start of an atmospheric river snow storm that lasted 2 ½ days. My wife measured it at 17” with her yardstick.

I bought a Tenkara USA Rhodo a few days before Christmas and wanted to try it on the local river. The storm suggested I “wait a while”. Thursday looked promising. The river, a tailwater, runs through the Wasatch Back, which was supposed to get at least as much snow as the Wasatch Front. 

Thursday’s weather was still, “overcast with a high of 34 and a second storm starting at 2”. I checked Fish Angler: it had favorable conditions from 10 until 1. I dressed for winter fishing: long johns, a thick hoodie under a wind and water resistant shell, a knit cap, and light gloves. I put the Rhodo in the left pocket of my pack and a G.Loomis 4 wt IMX-PROc in the right. Suitable flies for both rods went in. I packed a 3 m 2.5 Level Line for the Rhodo and a Cortland reel with Classic 444 SL WF4F line. I packed my Redington Escape hip waders (REAL BAD for high stepping) and size 14 Simms Flyweight wading boots. They only look like snowshoes.


I was on the road by 10:10 and approaching the river 40 minutes later. I had second thoughts as I scanned the surrounding countryside. Would the lot be plowed? Would trails be visible? 

The lot was plowed, and there was a skinny (snowshoe) trail toward the river. Another guy pulled in right after and next to me. He thought we might have to post hole to reach the good stuff downriver. We’re both old coots, so I held my tongue. I slipped on my waders and boots, clipped on my net, and set off. Tenkara doesn’t demand 20 minutes behind the vehicle.

About 1/10 mile in I stopped to lash my jacket, cap, and gloves to my pack. I was getting warm and I’ve found my system doesn’t have much capacity for cooling and hiking these days. That and at 100 Kg I was breaking through the trail often. While I looked for a place to attach the net the other guy passed me. He was normal sized and NOT breaking through the trail.

After another 1/10 mile the trail went through a hole in snow-mashed willows. I removed my pack and crawled through and the trail ended. I backtracked to the river. I had waded this section before. About 15 yards later I was across a small bay, standing on slippery branches at the bank. I climbed out, went a few steps downriver, and looked around. The other fellow was well upstream, fishing in the middle of the river. A muskrat paddled by. With deeper water ahead I turned east and post holed 20 yards up to where the usual trail runs. There was a second snowshoe track, heading south. I either missed that in the lot, or it didn’t start there. I followed it until I reached the exit for “my spot”. No exit trail! 

I knew the river was 75 yards west, and my spot another 100 yards south. I unfurled a 54” wading staff, switched to slow gear, and worked my way West, and South. I wished the wading staff had a friend, with ski pole baskets. Two wildlife tracks broke the snow ahead: No one had fished the spot in at least 5 days.

I stomped the snow down to make an 18” diameter space well back from the water. I studied the water. There were no fish porpoising, and there were no midge trudging around on the snow. I watched the water some more, glad I came, but hoping to see a fin, tail, or splash. Slightly bummed, I decided to fish blind before heading back. 


I extended the Rhodo to its 2nd length, added 4’ of 5X tippet and a Manhattan midge, and started working the slow water along the bank. I crept north, one post hole at a time. Faster water came into range, and I cast to the seam. I extended the Rhodo to its 3rd length: Try that with a muggle rod. I finally reached a spot where a large rock, buried in snow, marks the end of a fast and deep run (and a holding place of a large brown I saw in early November). 

I took off my pack and placed four fly boxes on the thigh deep snow. It was like having a small table. I spotted a midge on the snow: It was my fly! I worked a 10’ eddy above the buried rock then checked my watch: I wanted to be gone before the storm. I clipped off the midge and tied on an Idaho Killer Kebari. I worked the edge of the fast current, which took the wet fly over submerged rocks. The hook scraped the face of a few boulders, the only action I got. 

Caution got the best of me. How far did the snowshoe track go toward the car? I put on my cap to mute a new cold wind. I collapsed the Rhodo, spooled its line with the fly, and post holed back to the trail. I was careful to step in my own tracks: It went easier. I followed the trail back to where I picked it up, and it went 15 yards further before turning onto private land. It wasn’t from the lot and I hadn’t missed it. I post holed north in a solitary deer track that met the trail near the river. Thirty four minutes and 0.54 miles after leaving my spot I was at the car. Ten minutes later I was ordering a bagel dog and coke at the Bagel Den. My Garmin watch recorded 167 Intensity minutes, 17 more than my weekly goal! 

To fish an atmospheric river, or a regular river shortly after one comes through, prepare to walk the same distance but at ½ to ⅙ the pace. Bring your GeoPress: You can only eat so much of The Best Powder on Earth. Dress for standing around in the cold, but wear layers for adjustments. Trudge through new snow to extend the range of others coming later. It might be just you. Get and bring snowshoes suitable for breaking trails in deep snow over beaver groomed brush. I ordered a pair of Delano X2 28”. Get and bring trekking poles: They might help you get (and stay) up in deep snow.  Let caution get the best of you, then set your aftermarket seat heater on high, and cycle between low and high every five minutes on the way home. I’m trying again next week.

Thanks for reading.

Bio: : I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 4 tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former.

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