It’s that time of year. The temperatures have dropped, the snow is falling. It’s time to hang up the fly rod for the season and just stick to the fly tying bench until the spring thaw. Right? Not necessarily. As long as there is open trout water, there is trout fishing. The conditions have just changes, so our tactics will have to change, too.
The fish are going to be slower as the water temperatures get colder – it’s their way of conserving strength and energy. You need to follow their lead. Let the flies dead drift – the fish are not going to chase them for a meal. Also plan on going deeper – fish a weighted fly, or put some weight on your leader. Don’t be afraid to use the high-stick method – keep most of your fly line off the water. Sleep in. The fish may not get active until around mid-day. You should do the same. Give the water a chance to warm up a little, then the trout, and the insects, will become more active. There is a lot of disagreement over tippet size for winter fishing. Some favor lighter tippet, others opt for heavier. Match you tippet to the flies you are using. A little heavier tippet will turn over better if you are casting a heavier nymph rig, but with smaller flies, you’ll need the lighter tippet. For me, it’s a matter of what I feel comfortable with. I have a few favorite flies for this time of year, and there are a few new patterns I’ve come across that I plan to try this winter. Most of what I’ll use are nymphs, but once in a while, a small dry will be the ticket. In my box this winter, you will find: John Barr’s Pure Midge Larvae, size 16 – 20 This fly just works for me. I tie it with a red, green, or tan body with a black head, or all black. Drift it behind a larger nymph. Bead-eyed Scud, size 14 – 16 I carry this one in olive, gray, and rainbow colors. Those big, buggy eyes seem to do the trick. Disco Midge, size 16 – 18 I like this one in red or green the most, but have also used it in black. I am thinking about trying it in blue this year. I’ll do some with a poly wing, and some without. Parachute Blue-Wing Olive, size 16 – 20 I’ve just always preferred parachute dry flies. The BWO can be productive on the right winter days. Griffith’s Gnat, size 18 – 22 This fly imitates clusters of midges on the surface. In fact, add a wing of white CDC to it, and it’s called the Cluster Midge. Either way, it works. Some new patterns I’m going to try include: English Pheasant Tail Nymph, sizes 18 – 20 This is a slimmer version than the American PTN. It’s supposed to be a better imitation for the BWO and for small brown stoneflies. Zebra Midge, size 16 – 18 Tied in black or red with a silver tungsten bead, this bad boy will get down into the deep holes where the fish are hopefully stacked up. ICSI (I Can See It) Midge, size 22 With a gray body and an orange parachute post, this as a floating midge pupa pattern that should be easy to spot on the surface. Finally, just a reminder to help you stay comfortable while you fish on these cold days. Dress in layers. Star with a good wicking layer next to your body that will move the perspiration away from you. There are lots of new technical materials in different weights that will keep you warm and dry in almost any temperature. Follow that with something warm, but breathable. Wool is always a good choice, but again there are a variety of new materials that can really get the job done. Finally, the outer layer should be wind and water resistant. Keep some snacks in your pocket or your pack – it will help keep your energy up and will also help maintain your body warmth. Also have something to drink. You will be surprised how much perspiration you give off by being active on a cold day. And for safety’s sake, fish with a buddy. Better safe than sorry in this weather. So get out there and enjoy the challenge. Keep your feet warm and dry, and your lines tight. CJ