The time has come once again (and doesn’t it seem to come more quickly every year?) when we must either resign ourselves to staying indoors for the next four months or put on our cold-weather-fishing game faces.
It’s no secret that long segments of our favorite streams are designated for year-round, catch-and-release fishing, including most of Kayaderosseras Creek, the upper ends of the West Canada Creek and the Battenkill River, the no-kill zones of the West Branch of the Ausable and Beaverkill rivers, parts of the branches of the Delaware River and, of course, the Salmon River and other Lake Ontario tributaries that receive runs of steelhead trout in winter.
Most anglers don’t bother exercising their legal right to fly-fish in the cold weather. It’s not because we believe fish don’t bite when the water is cold; we all know that trout and other species are caught and pulled through auger-drilled holes on frozen lakes all winter long.
More likely, most of us don’t feel like dealing with the discomfort of the cold and the slow catch rate of winter stream fishing. So we put the winter weekends to use tying flies and catching up on chores.
This year, however, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to get out trout fishing at least once a week, as long as the weather is reasonable — which is to say, at or above freezing with little to no wind. I’ve got a good year-round stream not far away (and a couple of mediocre ones closer to home), and that’s where I plan to spend my Sundays.
I’m going to keep a few points in mind. The first comes from Tom Rosenbauer, the writer and Orvis Co. executive, and it relates to the kind of water where trout can be caught in winter.
We all know trout aren’t as active in cold weather as in the summer, so in winter, we’ve come to expect them to avoid fast water where they would have to battle the current. But Rosenbauer points out that they may not be in the slowest, deepest holes, either.
“Water that is nearly still does not bring food to the fish,” he writes, and it’s a good point. Current delivers things like insects and fish eggs to the trout. Since there is much less of that stuff available in winter, being near the current is even more important. A gentle run two to four feet deep, with a few rocks or logjams to sit next to, is probably ideal winter habitat.
Another point comes from a pair of great fishing writers, Eric Leiser and Robert H. Boyle, in their book “Stoneflies For The Angler.”
“On streams that are open to winter fishing, imitations of either the nymph or the adult can be
lethal,” they wrote. Stoneflies are the insects trout are most likely to find drifting along the stream bed in winter, and they’re easily imitated with any general nymph pattern in brown or black, sizes 12 through 16.
(Of course, midges hatch all year round, and a lucky angler who takes the trouble to go fishing on a mild January afternoon might even find fish rising to them. This is a gift from the fish gods to those anglers who, as they say, “put their time in.”)
The last point I’ll make is one I thought of myself: Fish where you know there are fish. Winter is no time to check whether there are fish in this or that spot. The odds are already against you. Fish a spot where you have had success in the past.
Winter fishing is a low-percentage game that requires patience and persistence. It bears little resemblance to spring and summer and fall fishing, with their comfortable weather, pretty trees, hatching mayflies and rising trout.
But it also bears no resemblance at all to being stuck indoors, and that’s reason enough to give it a shot.
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