Winter in Breckenridge. Thick pillows of snow hang from lodgepole pines on either side of the Blue River. The resort is bustling with skiers making fresh tracks. Twenty minutes away, 26-year-old Nicky Anastas eyes the recent snowfall and knows he has a chance to have the river to himself.
Anastas, who grew up in Aspen, learned to fly fish from his dad when he was nine. By age 20, fishing, film and music became his obsessions.
Today, he spends most of the year in Los Angeles, working on ads for a video production company specializing in the car industry. However, starting around the Christmas season, Anastas escapes the smog and warm days of LA and returns to Colorado to visit family and work as a ski instructor at Snowmass. Oh, and to fish.
On the shores of the Blue in the early morning, Anastas is dressed in waders, boots, extra socks, gloves and bundles of clothes. Barehanded, he ties a midge to his line. His fishing bag is placed down in the snow next to him. On the top is a small dry towel, which he uses to dry his hands before sliding them into his gloves. This is one of many tricks he’s learned after years of winter fishing, and it has proved essential. You have to keep warm. Ready for the weather, he makes his first casts of the day.
Snow on the banks muffles the sound of the river as it flows down the canyon. Anastas watches the river move, and keeps his mind on the prize—feisty brown trout. He targets them, knowing he has to cast his fly to within six inches of the fish for them to snag it. Trout need to conserve energy, especially in the chill of winter, and won’t strike for the fly unless they know they will get more food than energy expended, Anastas explains. He lays the line down soft on the stream, with an even timing reminiscent of playing a stringed instrument.
Why would anyone fish in winter? To be alone here with his thoughts puts Anastas in a trance and leads him to a state-like Buddhist meditation. The fishing can also be damn good.
“You get less fish pressure on the really cold days in places like in Breck, since all the skiers go skiing. If you can endure the cold and put your hands in the freezing water,” he says laughing, “there is certain quietness out here with the snow on the trees. You get these spring bluebird days juxtaposed with this beautiful white.”
“For a while it took over my life in a good way,” he says, going on to explain that, “Colorado is filled with geologically amazing places but sometimes you have to share the water instead of having this wide stream is open in the winter months.”
And why not? Being alone or sharing the time with a friend, Anastas casts to fish that haven’t seen an artificial fly for months. They are here spread out along the river ready to bite. The only thing you may hear if you give it a try? Anastas, releasing another big, child-like laugh.
—Chris Van Leuven is the Digital Editor of Backcountry Magazine and The Alpinist.