Fly-Fishing: Icy water can do a number on tackle, flies

Ice is nice in cocktails, but in the guides of a fly rod, it’s a big pain in the neck. It will do a

Ice is nice in cocktails, but in the guides of a fly rod, it’s a big pain in the neck.

It will do a number on flies made with long, soft materials, too.

I was reminded of these facts on Sunday, when I visited the Ken Lockwood Gorge, a 260-acre wildlife preserve along 2.5 miles of the South Branch of the Raritan River in northwestern New Jersey. The river has a reputation as one of the better winter fisheries.

Sunday was certainly wintry — nice and sunny, with very little wind (at least down in the gorge), but quite cold. Temperatures never rose above the mid-20s, and that’s cold enough to cause ice to clog the guides of your rod and form little rock-candy-like deposits on your leader.

The problems these conditions pose are obvious. If your line is frozen in your guides, you can’t cast. Your rod could even break if you hook a good-sized fish and it tugs hard enough on a line frozen to the rod. The ice on the leader makes it feel as though you’re trying to cast ice cubes, which you basically are, and even if you do manage to get your line on the water, your nymphs won’t sink because the ice tries to float.

A time-honored strategy to keep guides ice-free is to spray them with a cooking oil spray like Pam. I’m not wild about the idea of spraying cooking oil on my tackle, and I hear it doesn’t work that well, anyway. I do use the most commonly recommended product made for this purpose, Stanley’s Ice Off paste by Loon Outdoors, and it works pretty well for a while, but requires fairly frequent re-application.

I’m told — by the guy who sold me the Stanley’s, in fact — that ChapStick works, too.

By the end of my time on the river Sunday, I concluded the easiest way to deal with ice in the guides was simply to snap it off with my fingers whenever it builds up.

The ice on my leader was trickier to deal with. I tried holding it in my hand to try to make it melt, and then even put it in my mouth (which I regretted greatly when I drove home and saw about 300 geese sitting in the river a mile upstream of where I was fishing.) Neither worked; ice takes surprisingly long to melt when you’re impatient to fish.

But what does work is to lay the leader on a hard surface and lightly strike the ice with a small rock. The ice breaks apart and falls right off the monofilament.

Flies with soft, wavy stuff like marabou feathers or strips of rabbit fur have great action, but they freeze solid quickly when lifted from the water — and once they do, they’re done for the day. There’s no choice but to snip off the fly and use a new one. And be careful with the frozen fly — I broke the brittle tail off a woolly bugger, the same fly that had given me my only excitement of the day, when a trout I could see and had been casting to for a half-hour followed the fly for a few inches before deciding not to bite.

Maybe the best strategy for sub-freezing weather is to stay home and tie flies until the temperature gets above 32 degrees. A January thaw is forecast for today. If you’re able to get out and enjoy it, tight lines.


Alex Cerveniak of Clifton Park, the content director for the excellent Hatches magazine and Web site (, will be the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, 1228 Western Ave., Albany. The meeting begins at 7:30 and is free and open to the public. A fly-tying demonstration will precede the meeting at 6:30. Visit for more information.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]

Categories: Sports

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