Winter is a different animal when it comes to fly fishing. If you insist on heading to the river on a winter day in the United States north of Interstate 80, here are five more hacks to keep in mind. (I already offered seven in a previous article: Winter Fly Fishing without Losing It)
1. Don’t snap ice off your rod guides
It’s so tempting, but this can easily result in a broken guide. Simply dip your rod into the water. This will dissolve the ice because the cold water is still warmer than the air temperature.
If you’re into preventative measures, try coating your guides with lip balm. Some fly fishers like Carmex because it is not petroleum-based. The jury is out on whether lip balm with petroleum can damage your fly line. I suspect, though, that the risk is minimal. Another option is Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste which your local fly shop may carry.
2. Focus on deep pools as well as shallow water
Here I’m pushing back a bit on my earlier suggestion that you focus on shallow water rather than on deep pools. That was Bud Lilly’s suggestion. He observed that trout in shallow water will feed more aggressively than trout in deep pools. The reason is that the sun can trigger insect activity of even the metabolism of a sluggish trout in a shallow riffle. This is true.
However, the opposite can be true as well. It depends on the conditions and the particular river you are fishing. Tom Rosenbauer, another veteran fly fisher, notes that fish tend to “pod up” in deeper pools during the winter. So look for deeper, slower water if you’re not seeing or hooking trout in the shallows.
3. Get your nymphs deep
This is always good advice. However, it’s especially critical if you’re fishing a deeper pool in the winter. The fish may be deeper than usual. Besides, the current runs the slowest at the bottom of a river or stream. Slow is better on winter days when trout don’t move as quickly. So use more weight than normal.
How can you tell when your fly is deep and slow enough? Watch your strike indicator. You’ve hit the right depth and speed when it moves than the bubbles on the surface of the water.
4. Make a few more casts than usual
Trout do not feed as voraciously in the winter as in the other three season of the year. This means the feeding window for a particular trout is smaller than usual. So make more casts than normal to insure you’ve drifted your nymph through every possible window in a run.
5. Stock your fly box with Midge patterns
Mayfly hatches are almost non-existent in the winter. The same is true of terrestrials. So you want to take along plenty of midge patterns—both in nymphs (such as the Zebra Midge) and dry flies (a size 18 Parachute Adams works well for this).
Winter fly fishing doesn’t appeal to every angler. If it holds enough appeal to prompt you to venture out into the cold, stay safe and stay warm. Perhaps one of these hacks will make your day a good one to remember.