I know fall has only just started but before you know it winter will be bearing down on us before we know it. Fly anglers tend to pack up their gear and hang their waders for the season once this harsh colder weather hits. I can understand the reasons for taking a break in the winter but the reasons are never good enough for me not to fish despite the weather. I have often found that fishing in the winter has helped me catch some of my best fish and most memorable times fishing. If you want to brave the cold and and have a successful fishing season through winter then here are five tips to help you do that.
It is Okay to Sleep In
This may sound a little different from tactics in the late spring and summer seasons. Due to lower water flows, colder weather, and water temps the fish are acting differently then they are in the warmer months. Like many things in life winter time is all about energy conservation and just eating enough to make it through the season. Large fly hatches are not happening and small fly hatches usually happen later in the day when it warms up. As the water and weather warms the fish will become more active and you will most likely have more success.
I have found that trying to get on the river in the early morning does not usually help my fishing. Rather it ends up making me colder and more likely to not be as patient that day of fishing. Some of the times I go out earlier on a winter day is usually to try and get a popular spot that I feel other anglers would be trying to get later in the day. Over all if you wake up and feel like pressing the snooze, that is fine during the winter season.
Dress in Layers
This is a given. Once you are awake and getting ready to head out into the cold, plan out your layers. It will be cold but the water will be just as cold. There have been many time where my waders would freeze while walking to a new spot or back to my truck. One of the most important parts to take care of are your feet. I usually wear two layers of socks. One of them a thinner sock and then on top of that a thicker wool sock. You do not want it to be too snug once you put you wadding boots on because then your feet will not be to stay warm. You want a little bit of wiggle room so your feet can stay a little warm. They will inevitably get cold though.
Long Johns are a must as well. Make sure that these are not cotton but either wool or a polyester material. Cotton does not wick away moisture very well when compared to the wool and polyester. A benefit of wool is that it can still keep you warm even when damp. When fishing in the cold you will work up a sweat with the many layers you will be wearing. The sweat will cool you down too fast and too much if not managed well. Make sure you wear jackets that can zip down all the way so you have the option to keep it unzipped to cool off or remove it easily. Dressing in layers will make the weather that is thrown at you more tolerable and keep you focused on the fishing.
Gloves and Hand Warmers
I have found that while fishing on the river your hands are always exposed to the elements. Whether it be sunlight, water, heat, or cold your hands will always be exposed. Winter is no exception. The hands and feet are the most important parts of your body to take care of while fishing in the winter. Some people shutter at the thought of fly fishing with gloves I know what you mean I was one of those people as well. I have found though, just like anything else, as long as you fly fish with gloves on long enough you will find that you get use to it. I developed a system to just take my gloves off when I caught a fish, dry off my hands, and then put the gloves back on.
Hand warmers are good to have as either a main way to keep your hands warm or a back up. I always carry a few handwarmers on me while fishing in the winter. Not only to keep my own hands warm but to hand them out to other anglers if they need them as well. One way to use the hand warmers is to put it in the chest pocket of your waders and just have a place to put your hands that you know will be warm. I do this periodically even when I am wearing gloves. I tend to get into the zone while fishing and not realize how cold my hands can be while fishing and knowing I have hand warmers ready to go is always comforting.
Reading the Cold Water
Changes in water temperature and water flows can make it challenging to find where the fish are in some rivers. It is not as challenging as you may think. It just takes time and patience to find the fish. You will find that the lower water flow has pushed fish into pools and slower moving waters. The water temperature has a role in this as well. The colder water will make the fish not want to use too much energy getting food. So in colder water you will find most of them in slower deeper pools of water. If the water warms up then the fish may feel comfortable moving into faster water. This is why keeping a thermometer on you is a very essential tool to finding fish.
By measuring water temp and reading the water level you can find fish quicker. Finding them quicker allows for more fishing time and fishing time in cold winter weather is valuable
What Flies to Use
Winter season, just like any other season, sees a change in available food for the fish. You will find that using wet flies like midges, streamers, nymphs, and egg patters will be helpful getting down to the bottom where most of the fish will be during this season. Streamers can catch fish but most likely in warmer temps when fish are willing to expend the energy to do so. I have found the most success with nymphs and midges. I usually tie them onto a double rig and put the heavier fly on the point so it can bring the flies down through the water column quick. You will find that fly size will be smaller. About 16 to 20 even 24 size. I have not gone any smaller than 18 and have had great success.
That is not to say that dry flies do not have a place in winter fly fishing. There can be small hatches as well as top water feeding fish that will be tricked into taking them. One of the best patterns to have in you winter fly box is the Parachute Adams. The Parachute Adams has been around for a long time and has made a name for itself because of it. It is a tried and true pattern in winter fishing that when presented in smaller sizes, 20-24, can catch active top water feeding fish. Keep an eye out for hatches happening later in the warmer parts of the day and watch slow moving tail waters behind riffles. These are usually areas where fish can be found sipping the water surface during these hatches.
Winter fly fishing may seem odd and intimidating to any angler. It have found it to be one of the best season to be out on the water. It has taught me many different techniques and skills that help me during other warmer seasons. I have found that taking my time, dressing warm, taking care of my hands and feet, and having the right gear and flies winter fly fishing is just as fun and successful as fly fishing any other time of the year. So instead of hanging your waders up layer up in warm clothing and get your fly rod and throw a few flies. You will be pleasantly surprised what the river has to offer for a willing angler during the winter.