Saturday, November 28, 2009

Change tactics for winter fly fishing

There is no such thing as bad weather when it comes to fly fishing … just bad equipment.
It’s a lesson mostly learned the hard way but it’s one that’s never forgotten, because winter fishing can hurt. It can get bone-crushing cold along the banks of my favorite little trout streams. But with the proper accouterments and layers of fleece and wool, the avid winter angler can spend a quiet afternoon casting flies in relative comfort.
Think layers, and I’m not talking about chickens.
The report today is there is no snow on the banks. I won’t have to worry about slipping on ice. And the sun is expected to warm the air.
Still, it’s the time of the year to switch to winter fly fishing mode.
Over the years, I’ve learned the best times to fish in winter are during the middle of the day, preferably with some sun out to warm the water a bit and kick up some dry fly action.
Trout slow down their dining habits during the cold months; they still eat, but their metabolism slows way down and they don’t eat that much. Bouncing a nymph on a big trout’s nose will entice hits. The fish are unlikely to chase a fly any distance, so fish those nymphs slow and deep.
I try to find spots of slow water warmed by the sun, then swing a heavily-weighted fly through the deepest water. During the winter the trout will be hanging out in the deeper pools, leaving the riffles and pocket water for the spring and summer, so it helps to be more selective about where to cast.
The ideal temperature for trout fishing is 63 degrees in the summer. As the thermometer approaches that magic number, feeding activity increases. If it gets hotter, the fishing slows.
The water is not going to get that warm again for some time now that winter is just weeks away. According to the Web site, if the water temps get below 38, the fishing will be very slow. Above 42 degrees, and activity increases.
Fishing a wooly bugger or streamer like a nymph, letting it drift naturally into a deep, is one good cold-weather tactic. I use a 4X tippet and fish with little line out so I can feel the soft hits better without a strike indicator. Using dry flies as strike indicators usually works most of the year, but the fly doesn’t always get deep enough.
Another thing to keep in mind is that stocked trout don’t slow down as much as wild trout during the cold months; I find myself hooking into fish more regularly on the Delayed Harvest rivers than on the little wild waters. No one has a scientific answer for this, but subscribes to the theory that stockers continued to seek out food when the wild trout know it’s just a waste of time since there are no insects floating around.
The No. 1 way to improve your winter trout fishing is to add split shot to the tippet, usually 6 to 8 inches from the fly. It is the hardest lesson to learn for fly fishers, especially those of us who revere the dry fly to almost religious status. Most of us hate using such weight, but that soon disappears when we hook into a big trout.
I use a 4-weight rod, so slinging flies with heavy shot on the tippet can be awkward, or even dangerous. I mash the barbs on my flies, so if I do hit myself in the back of the head slinging heavily-weighted nymphs, I can get the hook out of my ear with relative ease. On my last excursion, I pinched on a split-shot the size of a marble and could barely get it out into the current. Switching to a smaller size, I compensated by casting upstream with a lot of slack in the line to get the fly deep in the water. It works.
And, if with the sun in your face, have some fun catching winter trout.

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