While winter might not seem like the best time to be standing in water in pursuit of trout, our finned friends brave the cold and are there for taking to those hardy few willing to brave the elements. Tactics change with the season, however, and nowhere is that more apparent than in winter fly fishing pursuits.
Going after trout in winter is all about angler comfort. This is the one time of year where it’s more important to think about ourselves first, and the fish second. If the fisher isn’t warm (a relative term in the frigid months) then he/she won’t be able to fish productively.
Hand warmers, layers, wool gloves, a good hat, and a quality rain/winter jacket all go a long way in making a day on the water more enjoyable. Once the thought process turns away from “holy smokes this is the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” efforts can be turned more towards the fish.
TROUT HAVE HABITS
Trout are basic creatures with basic functions. When it comes to eating, they must consume more calories than they expend.
There are exceptions to rules, but typically a fish won’t move several feet to chase down a streamer or move far out of their holding lie for a nymph. The caloric equation just doesn’t make sense. During cold winter months when the water is borderline ice, trout (like some humans) hunker down and try to ride things out until warmer weather returns.
ICE: PRO OR CON?
One of the more advantageous times to trout fish is when streams start to ice over, which seems strange. The truth is conditions like that tend to congregate fish together, typically in the deepest of pools. That means if we catch one fish, or even if we see a fish, more are sure to be present. Fly anglers who locate fish should drop anchor and prepare to spend some time methodically probing the area before moving on.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” is a familiar phrase, but perhaps it should read, “it’s always darkest and coldest before the dawn.” Early winter mornings are bitingly frigid and ice on the streams becomes commonplace. Don’t wake up early in the name of duty only to find a favorite winter pool entombed under a sheet of ice, and the trout underneath untouchable. Sleep in a bit, take the dogs for a walk, have a hearty breakfast, and then go fishing. Starting the day at 10 AM instead of 7 AM can make all the difference in the world both to us and the fish. Allowing the sun’s rays to shine down even for an extra few hours can stimulate bug activity, and in turn feeding trout.
“Match the hatch” is a phrase known by even the most novice of anglers, and it holds merit. It only makes sense to match our fly selection to the natural insects hatching.
Despite the bugs being smaller when the weather is colder, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to throw larger flies. Remember a trout’s life is all about consuming vs. expending calories, and after all their brain is the size of a pea. Throwing large prince nymphs in a #12 or bright colored San Juans should never work in relation to what natural bugs are present, but the fish will respond to them!