"This might be a stupid question, but can you fly fish in the winter?" I've been asked this question more times than I can count and the answer is YES, you can go fly fishing in the winter!While some would gawk in utter disbelief that anyone would actually enjoy standing in cold water, barely able to feel their fingers, for many anglers’ winter fly fishing, holds unique opportunities as well as challenges. The fishing may be slow, but it can also be very rewarding. Understanding nymphing techniques, how to set up a nymph rig as well as which nymphs are going to be the most productive is extremely important. If you understand this, winter can offer solitude, unique beauty and a rewarding fishing season. First things first, winter is not the time of year to adopt the “Dry Fly or Die” mantra. Now, there is no doubt that dry flies are arguably the most fun way to catch fish, there isn’t an angler out there who doesn't get an adrenaline rush after watching a trout rise to the surface and aggressive slurp your fly. However, there is a time and a place for all types of fly fishing, from dries to streamers and nymphs. Winter is guaranteed to be most productive when using nymphing techniques. Nymphing can be extremely effective and relatively easy. By positioning yourself directly across from the fish-if you aren’t able to sight fish, place yourself where the fish are most likely to be feeding, you are setting your flies up to move through the water directly in front of hungry trout. All it takes is roll cast upstream and a proper drift for trout to notice your flies. Trout are significantly less active in the winter which is why it’s a good idea to offer the trout as many delicious food options as possible, this can be achieved by rigging up three flies below a tiny indicator. Think of this as a juicy buffet line, start your nymph rig with 5x or 6x sized tippet because water in the winter can be low and clear and you don’t want to spook away the chance at a fish. Next, add a very small strike indicator, and micro weight, sometimes two. Add the first fly which should be an attractor pattern such as a San Juan worm. Then below the first fly, add a midge and then a second midge below that. Be sure to keep the heaviest weight midge on the very end, to avoid bird nesting your line. The other benefit to nymphing 3 flies on a single line of tippet is the ability to try multiple colors and patterns all at once. Then you can dial in the pattern that is producing fish more quickly. When the mercury is falling and the fly lines are calling, make sure to hit the water with your buffet-style nymph rig! Top 3 recommended Winter Flies-Nymphs:
Everyone loves “meat” flies. I’m no exception -- I love swingin’ meat to t-rex sized fish.When I first got into streamers, I loved the idea of going after those dino sized trout you can’t get with a 22 sized BWO. But now, let’s face it, it’s an addiction. Years ago, I never thought of using hinged streamers. In fact, I was just only introduced to the streamer life about 2 years ago by a good fishing friend. For the sake of keeping his name private, let's call him John. John taught me the ins and outs of these beefy flies. I consider him to be a true streamer junkie. No, he didn’t live out of his van, but John is as dedicated as they come. From what I can tell, a lot of new fly anglers have yet to try articulated streamers. Or at least they buy the streamer and it sits in the fly box as a collector's item. Instead of me ranting on about my best streamer tactics or techniques, I figure I’d let more experienced anglers tell you theirs. I asked these streamer enthusiasts what their top 3 tips were for fishing streamers.
Here’s the question I asked:“If you could only pass on 3 tips for fly fishing streamers, what would they be?” I received the following responses. Tyler Tasci 1. Strip with the rod - it’s all about feel 2. Keep stripping - often times fish with half-ass it or just nip at it. If they don’t engulf it, don’t set! Keep stripping and they’ll come back to finish off their kill. 3. Strip to your feet - many fish will eat less than a couple of feet away from you, don’t stop stripping till the fly is at your feet. Aaron Pryzbylski 1. Keep casting and keep moving. Cover a lot of water. 2. Vary your retrieve. Slow, fast, short, long, spazzy. Sometimes just let it swing. 3. Don’t be afraid to fish dirty water! Use a dark color fly and pound the banks! Courtney Morris 1. When streamer fishing, make sure you have different weights of streamers. 2. Change your retrieve rate till you find what is working 3. Change flies for color as a last resort. I’d recommend changing flies only after you have tried the same fly fished with different retrieve styles.
TIPPETSelecting tippet for streamers is much different than selecting for microscopic mayflies. Bigger flies naturally require thicker tippet. Thankfully, using thicker tippet will not discourage shy fish from striking. Look, fish can easily see tippet. But, large fish won’t bother to study what their meals are attached to. If they did, their lunch would get away. Do you typically see h-angry fish swim up and calmly eat a distressed minnow? No, that minnow gets slammed! That minnow’s lights get knocked out. This aggressive behavior makes it easy to get away with thick tippets like 0x-3x. Plus, you are going to need these stronger tippets for what you are going to catch. Thicker diameter tippet also helps with casting. See, streamers catch the wind when you’re shooting it through the air. This causes the fly to spin and twist the line. Twisting in your line can cause weaknesses. To combat this, you can three things. One, use thicker tippet. Two, tie a swivel into your leader. A swivel will prevent weaknesses and allow your line to spin freely. Or three, shorten your leader. Less leader means less room for twisting. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways in addition to what I mentioned. But, these are some basic methods.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T TROUT SETI see this all the time. A fish takes and the inexperienced angler shoots the rod up to set the hook. Then the streamer pops out of the mouth and they lose the fish. Because the hooks are bigger than average trout flies, lifting your rod up to set the hook will make the hook point pull up and miss a secure area in the mouth. There is one easy way to ensure a great set. Streamer fishermen use a simple technique called a “strip set.” Basically, you let the line set the hook. To strip set, point your rod at the fly and strip the line until it is tight. You’ll feel the line tighten as the fish pulls back.
(Image from Vimeo)Stripping the line allows your hook to set itself straight into the mouth. It goes like this: strip, strip, strip, strip, *strike*, strip, fish on.
STRIPPING LIKE A MINNOWArticulated streamers dart and swim just like the real thing. But, you also have to make it act like the real thing. While they strut their stuff, you have to make sure that they do it in the right direction. Stripping towards fish can put them off. Baitfish don’t have the guts to swim directly towards larger trout, they flee. Large trout aren’t accustomed to pewny saplings attacking them so it may put them off the feed. Make your streamer imitates a panicking baitfish or sculpin swimming away from the larger fish.
SWINGING MEATSwinging meat across currents is deadly. Many streamer junkies do this to cover a ton of water. Streamers swung down and across gives predators something to chase or, even, puts it in front of their face. The basic technique is to cast out downstream 45° to the bank. Do a quick mend and follow your line as it completes its swing. Hold on tight because they don’t hit streamers lightly. You’ll fill the hard take and then do a quick strip set to make sure that thick hook is set properly.
PINCH YOUR BARBSBig flies require bigger responsibility. I’ve seen many horror stories and have had many close calls, myself. Whipping around heavy flies requires the right equipment and timing. A strong breeze can put your accuracy off and shoot your streamer into your back. For safety reasons, pinch your barb and have some sort of eye protection. Not only that but makes it easier to take out for you and the fish. Although, there is a trick to barbless flies and that is to keep the pressure on. Any slack in your line will give them some wiggle room. But don’t beat yourself up if you lose a few without the barb, it’s natural.
CASTINGSmooth and steady. Changing directions abruptly is only going to whip the heavily weighted streamer right into your head. Have a fluid motion to your back cast and forward cast. But watch your streamer as you cast. If you shoot your fly too soon, you will lose momentum, decrease your accuracy, and probably tangle your rod up in the line. If you shoot it too late, your fly is on the ground. We are always taught a tight loop is the ideal. Take that idea — and roundhouse kick it out the window. In this case, with so much weight on the end of the line, you’re going to want to widen your loops. Widening your loops keeps your fly from running into your line and from hitting your rod (possible damages). The trick is to drop your rod tip a little bit on your forward cast. The Belgian cast is a great way to keep your streamer from away from your head and makes for more accurate casting.
- Make a low angle back cast.
- Bring your rod up while your line is rolling out.
- Make a higher angle forward cast.
ONE ~ “Be the fish”Although surviving nature’s grueling struggles for thousands of years, salmonids are susceptible to suffocation when held out of the water. The best way to ensure a trout’s survival is to remove the fish from the water as little as possible. In a perfect world, the fish’s mouth would never leave the water, and we would all remove the hook under the current. Understandably, first-time trout anglers and trophy hunters will want to take a photo of their catches! A big 20+ in bull brown trout fought for minutes is a trophy in ANY angler’s book, as is an 8” stocked rainbow caught by a brand new fly fisher at the age of six. Some of the best fish photos are taken with the fish still in the water! However, if removing the fish from the water is unavoidable, count in increments of ten to fifteen before submerging the fish again. Trout breathe underwater and tire easily. Always remember to keep oxygen flowing into their mouths and through their gills by holding them upstream to rest between camera flashes.
TWO ~ “DON’T GET HANDSY”The less you handle a trout the better. Period. When landing a trout, the ideal release would be to grab the fly, twist, and off goes the fish. However, this is real life. If you plan to handle a fish, wet your bare hands first, to protect the slimy coating protecting the fish. Handle the fish quickly and gently, cupping the body without squeezing, then release the fish head-forward into the current. This better ensures the survival of the fish. The rule of thumb is to handle the fish as little as possible. Overstressing the fish is a key component to injury. In addition, handle the fish with care, and do not grab the fish by the mouth or gills. Instead, cup your hands under the main body of the fish, and control the tail of the fish (at the base) if the fish is larger. NEVER squeeze the fish, as this may damage internal organs or fins.
THREE ~ “We DON’T Like Barb!”Any angler worth his salt (get it?) will learn to out angle a fish when playing it to best capitalize on leverages and pressures to land more fish. When landing every fish in the river slowly loses priority to better increasing the vitality and health of the fish in the river in an angler’s mentality, THEN and only then will one truly appreciate what the use of barbless hooks does for catch and release fly fishing. By using barbless hooks, or mashing the barbs down with forceps, pliers, or a tying vise, the time required to release a fish is decreased, as well as the potential for bleeding out and injury. In addition, if a fly is taken deeply into the trout’s stomach, the angler is far more likely to unhook the fish and release the fish alive and well.
FOUR ~ “Length Matters”When playing a fish, the shorter the fight, the less stress the trout endures. To increase the survival of a fish, play it as quickly as possible. If catch and release are a priority, please land fish quickly and follow the proper steps to handle the fish.
BONUS! “Why net? Why not?”The hot debate across the far reaches of today’s internet gurus is whether netting a fish is beneficial to its better survival. There are plenty of pros and cons associated with utilizing a net to land fish. Using a net to land small fish is unnecessary for the majority of catches. A net is beneficial for keeping a fish submerged in the current but is also stressing a fish when a simple release may increase the fish’s chances of survival. Managing and landing big game fish such as steelhead and salmon is often easier with a net, and decreases the amount of time required to successfully play a fish to the net. Beaching a fish is often damaging to the quarry, so using a net to manage them before a quick release may be a better alternative. Regardless of your reason to utilize a net, a rubberized net bag must be prioritized. This is the healthiest and least destructive material.
By Colton Orbaker
Ever try picking out the right fly?
No, no, I get it. It’s tough.
Conditions are always changing and it always seems nearly impossible to pick the perfect fly for the job.
But, it can be so easy.
I actually use a simple 3 step process to pick mine. In fact, 80% of the time, it works every time.
There are typically three considerations I make when distinguishing which flies I reach for in my boxes.
The first factor when analyzing a dry fly hatch is the general shape of the flies on the water. If you are sure trout are targeting surface flies, then categorizing the insects is a great place to start.
In typical scenarios, three potential flies are present; mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies.
Mayflies will generally appear high riding in the current with sailboat-like wings that point to the sky.
Caddisflies possess wings that lay flat against their bodies. Stoneflies are typically larger and will have two distinct tails that jut from their flat lying wings.
Understanding which group of flies the hatch belongs to is essential to understanding where to begin before further limiting your imitation selection by general shape.
The next step after selecting which shape you need is to select the appropriate size fly required. This does not need to be an exact science, but the closer you are to imitating the natural size of the insects hatching, the more likely you may deceive a tricky trout.
The general size is a great place to start, but in large hatches, sometimes variety proves essential. In some cases, when matching the hatch perfectly, the volume of flies passing the target fish doesn’t place your imitation as a high priority.
In this case, increasing or decreasing the size of the fly will give the fish a different perspective towards your fur and feathers, increasing your odds.
After selecting the shape and size appropriate in matching the naturals swarming around you, the last factor in matching the hatch is the shade of the fly.
The term shade, in this case, refers to the overall color scheme of the fly.
This again does not need to be exact. If the naturals are tan, then choose a tan pattern. If the naturals are black, then choose a dark pattern. This, coupled with the other two prerequisite factors discussed prior will generally deliver on most streams.
Fishing is often a science, but one does not need to be an entomologist to find success fooling trout. By following these simple steps, you may hook into the fish of a lifetime or maybe your first ever trout on a fly.