We do most of our trout fishing in Missouri, and that will be my frame of reference in this article. Having grown up in Alaska and lived in Colorado, I am well aware that some of the advice to follow will be a challenge for fly fishing these kinds of northern environments. However, in almost every state, there are waters that remain free-flowing throughout the winter months.
Why drag yourself out into the cold to fish during these months? Well, it is pretty simple… you will fish water that other times of the year are elbow to elbow with fly fishermen, the fishing can be fantastic, and if you prepare and have the right gear and choose days that are not brutal, the fishing can be quite pleasant.
What I would like to do here is cover three key things you can do to have the best chance at having a great winter fly fishing experience, as well as have some “tight line” fishing. Trout fishing is quite variable from place to place, so this article is not about which fly works best in the river or stream you do your trout fishing.
Fly Fishing Gear for Winter Conditions:
By and large, the normal fly fishing gear you use the other three seasons is what you will be using during the winter months. The primary difference you will want to account for is in the clothing that you wear.
We typically write for folks that are budget conscious, so the advice I give here will be through the filter that we do not want to spend a small fortune on gear for the few times we are going to brave winter fly fishing. The good news is that it does not need to be a break the bank matter.
Good waders and boots are clearly going to be paramount. If you realized during the Fall that your waders had a small leak that seemed OK, you will want to do some repairs before you head out on your winter expedition. Our experience, as far as insulated waders go, is that this factor is not as important as you might think. For our area for example, the trout streams are spring fed and typically in the low 50's F, even when the air temperature is in the single digits. If you are fishing water just over freezing, you might want to pay a little more attention to this.
In addition to waders and boots, dress in layers and use wool. We like to wear fingerless rag wool gloves. If it is really cold, wear a pair of warmer gloves over the top of the fingerless gloves. When you have to retie or something else requiring manual dexterity, take off the outer pair of gloves. Obviously a good hat is a must, as your head is where a major amount of body heat is lost when uncovered.
Fishing Basics in Cold Weather
Here is the most basic trick that you will need to know. When the temperature drops below freezing the eyes of your fly rod will fill with ice. The line will not feed through for casting, so as often as necessary, dip your fly rod, and if necessary reel, into the water. The ice will be washed right out of the eyes and reel.
Obviously, the colder it is, the more often you will need to perform this task.
Choosing the Right Fly
Although hatches are at a minimum different during winter's cold, do not abandon the idea that there may be some hatches occurring. You will just need to be observant as to what your options might be. Beyond this, very often nymphs and streamers are going to be the best bet. Keep in mind that you want to keep your presentation slower than usual as fish do slow down in the colder weather.
So plan a day for when it looks the weather will be as favorable as possible. You will see your favorite stream in a whole new light.
by Paul Marsh