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The reason we fish when it’s snowing and it’s so cold our ears are numb and our fingers hurt, is because its fun and worth it. You’ll be blown away the first time you witness a massive Blue Wing Olive hatch in a full on snow storm or 50+ large trout rising to size 26 midges in temperatures below freezing. The key to doing well in these situations is first, as we’ve already discussed, dress appropriately. Then you need to adapt your fishing style to small fly patterns and light tippets. Then have patience.
A crucial part of fishing small flies and light tippets in any condition is casting within your fishable distance. Judge yourself and your abilities realistically. Accurate presentations are key. Can you make that 30 foot cast, land the fly softly and present a drag-free drift to that fish? If you can, great! If you can’t you need to get closer to your target. Most flyfishers cast more than they fish by simply being too far from their target.
Fishing small flies in moving current creates a conundrum that every angler must overcome: micro-drag. Drag is the bane of all who flyfish and it rears its ugly head most when fishing dry flies. The smaller the fly the more apparent drag is and the less natural your fly looks to a feeding fish. Repositioning yourself in order to present your fly to the fish with less chance of drag is always a better alternative than trying to make a ‘hero’ cast. The more efficient way to fish a dry fly is to present your fly directly upstream or about a 30-40 degree angle downstream from where you are standing to a rising trout or your target. These positions provide you a better spot to cast, your fly will be more visible, and they make it easier to manage micro-drag.
Whether fishing dry flies or nymphs, fishing a tandem rig will increase your chances of hooking up. Since your flies are size 20 and smaller, doubling up your chances with two flies is a good tactic. Using a very visible fly and trailing it with a more realistic pattern trailed off the bend of the hook is a good way to increase your chances. When fishing two flies on or below the surface it is important to remember that these rigs can and will tangle if you try to rush your cast or get lazy with your presentation. To avoid this we recommend the following advise: slow down. We can’t stress it enough. Patience is a virtue in fly-fishing.
To get started take your time selecting a fly, tying your knots correctly and making sure your tippet and leader connection is solid. Using a leader and tippet length that you feel comfortable casting will help present the fly correctly, increase your accuracy and minimize your potential for drag. Again, it is vital that you remember to slow down and scout the water before you enter the stream or make a cast. Your potential for spooking fish in cold, clear low water is high. When you get a trout to eat let them eat the fly! Your hook gap on most winter flies is very small so waiting until the fish completely engulfs the fly is the only way to embed that hook in the fish’s mouth. One way I get my clients to wait is to tell them to say their favorite saying as the fish eats their fly. This prevents them from missing fish (most of the time) and results in getting a solid hook set.
To have consistent success in winter fishing you have to make sure you study the water, the bugs, and the behavior of the fish before you make a cast. These three tips will help you identify what the fish are feeding on sooner and will result in more fish to hand. In the end there is no better resource than consulting a stream entomology book in order to help you understand what and why fish are feeding on the prevalent bugs in the local fishing hole. Do your homework, pay attention, it will pay off when you are on the water.
Blue Wing Olives, Psuedocleons, and Midge hatches are among the heaviest emergences of the year, yet another reason we fish the off season. These prolific hatches depend on weather conditions and only last for short periods of time, but when the weather conditions are right both trout and insects go nuts. The amount of fish feeding during these emergences will blow you away. Staying focused on a general area or a singular fish will help dial in your presentation and success. Take your time and make your casts as accurate and easy as possible. Pick a nice fish, examine the rise form, figure out what he’s eating, position yourself correctly and make your cast.
When it comes down to fishing in the winter you just have to grin and bear it. Check the seven-day forecast, pick appropriate weather for the hatches that are coming off. Call in a sick day. Similar to hitting a good powder day on the slopes, if you hit the right day on the river it is going to be good. Yes it’s going to be cold, and yes somedays it’s going to be wet, but if you prepare for the worst and have your tactics dialed in, you will be the only one on the water surrounded by feeding trout. We completely understand if fishing the cold season is not your thing. But, when you come into Western Rivers FlyFisher and hear how good its been in January, we can help you weather the storm.