I am not referring to carting all sorts of equipment; “bait”, an auger, an ice house, 24 packs, donuts, short rods with open-face reels, arctic boots, a generator and even sonar out onto “hard water”. THAT would be referred to as “ice fishing”. We have that here and many folks do enjoy it. I, on the other hand will be discussing fly fishing in moving water. Yup, some creeks and streams are frozen from bank to bank. Some are not, and even better, are our “tail-water” fisheries. Rivers down-stream of a dam. The beauty of a tail-water is controlled volume year round, gin clear most of the time and water temperatures that at best, allows a little shelf or bank ice to form. Sure, further down stream you will see pack-ice as the river gorges, but within a few miles of the dam, it looks very much like summer.
First of all, winter fishing (at least for me) is some of the very best of the year. There are very few anglers out there, so we have virtually the pick of any spot on the river. The scenery is soft and spectacular. Tracks in the snow show all sorts of critters unseen with out the white stuff.
I am a “streamer junkie”, so hucking big-ole chunks of meat on two-handed rods at somewhat lethargic trout through out the cold months is simply fantastic. You just got to know how to pick a fishing rod. For those of you who shy away from streamers, this is THE time of year to give it a go. Slow and deep presentations. Fish move much less, while trying to conserve energy. The surface water is colder than the bottom temps. They are living in those deep, dark, almost non-moving pieces of water. Water you would almost always walk by in the warm months. Concentrate your efforts with streamers or nymphs in that type of set up. Occasionally, we do see fish rising to the surface, but that is just too sporadic to switch to a dry until good numbers of winter midges show themselves. Use a sink tip for streamers and tungsten weighted nymphs to get down there. Fish do not hibernate like grizz, but their metabolism does slow considerably due to much cooler water temps. No matter if you are slipping down-river in a drift boat or testing your toughness in waders, slow and deep will hook many more that frantic and hap hazard.
How do Mike, Brad and myself stay warm? Pick a day with sun, little or no wind. LOTS of layers, upper and lower, and a Stormy Kromer as your topper. If you are in a boat, it’s easy to take luxury items along. Elk or pronghorn pepper sticks, followed by generous amounts of Pendleton with a PBR chaser does it for me. It is always a good idea to take a look at the day’s forecast before heading out. A few weeks ago we started “swinging” streamers at 36 degrees with great success. We moved down river several miles and the truck thermometer dropped like a lead zeppelin. We stepped out at a brisk 7 degrees and because we are “guys” each of us just headed to the water. NOT GOOD. Everything was frozen stiff quickly. One half hour was all it took for us to come to our senses and thank goodness we opened our wading boots immediately after getting out of the water or they would not have come off.
Sure, a person has to put up with a few inconveniences fly fishing the winter months, but “trust me”, it is SOOOOOOOO worth it. If you need any advise. Fly suggestions. Or go-too beverage thoughts, come on in the shop or call.
I’m here to help……………….Jim Stein……..Director of Schools