Winter Fly Fishing
With the coldest time of the year upon us, a lot of people don’t think about getting up to the mountains to do some fly fishing, and I would be one of those people in the next few days as the high isn’t going to get above 21 degrees for at least three days. But by Wednesday it will be 52 degrees, and that will seem like shorts weather around here, and that will be a prime day to get up to a tail water and try to fool some winter-hungry trout.
On the days when the skies are filled with clouds, that warm air is trapped near the earth, and even if it is snowing, those are the best winter days to fish. Sure, I’ll still go on a sunny day in winter, but the cloudy days are the most productive. You can see into the water better, and the fish are not as wary as on a sunny day.
A tail water is where a river comes out from below a dam, and usually this time of year the water flow will be low, and the water nearest the dam is going to be the warmest water on the river, attracting lethargic trout looking for a meal. The ideal method for catching those trout is with tiny midges on very light tippet, like 6x or 7x.
A midge is a tiny, two-winged fly that resembles a mosquito. At this time of year, the midge is in its larvae form, and resembles a small, dark colored worm with a segmented body. When I say small, I mean tiny, like a size 22 or 24 hook. There are several fly patterns for midges which work well this time of year, like the Disco Midge, the UV Ice Midge, the Zebra Midge, and many others that look similar. Those are just my favorites, I’m sure everyone has their own that they prefer.
The best strategy is to use floating fly line, a light tippet as I mentioned above, a weightless rig with no strike indicator, and a tiny midge tied on your tippet. Use the clouds to your advantage to see into the water and find fish. When you see fish, watch their behavior for a few moments before casting your line. Look to see in which directions and how far they are willing to move to take your fly. Typically it will not be far, so your casting accuracy is very important. When fishing in this manner, I try to keep my casting distance to less than 20 feet, and a soft landing of the fly is crucial. Once the fly is in the water, I raise or lower my rod to keep the fly at the depth I want, and keep as much slack out of the line as possible. If the fly is not getting down deep enough, I will put on a midge with a bead head.
As always, polarized sunglasses are very important when fly fishing, they help you see into the water. But you may not always see the fish take the fly, so you have to be very diligent watching your line drift in the water. A subtle stop means to set the hook. You will not get the charging slam bites on your flies as you might at other times of the year.
Be sure to dress warm, and in layers. I prefer 7mm neoprene waders with a layer or two of leggings underneath. I also like the winter fishing socks that many manufacturers offer these days, those have often been the difference in staying out longer, or heading home early. Fishing gloves that can uncover your fingers and thumbs easily are also a must; wool is the best material for these. And of course a good, warm hat which covers your ears. Be sure to bring plenty of water too as your body needs it more in the winter time than you might think.
So get out and give it a try! Don’t say “It’s winter, I can’t fish now,” because you can, and you may find some of the best fishing of the year!