If all has gone according to plan, by this morning I’ll already have the first trout outing of 2014 under my belt.
A New Year’s Day fishing trip is kind of a no-brainer. For one thing, there’s nothing else to do the morning of Jan. 1, since most of the world is sleeping in after celebrating the night before.
But a New Year’s fishing outing is satisfying on several levels. It’s a gesture of defiance of winter, a sacrifice of comfort to the fishing gods in hopes of good luck when the real fishing season starts, and a dose of quiet sanity after the hectic holidays.
In other words, it’s as good an excuse as any to hang around a creek and toss some flies.
Winter fishing can be downright pleasant when the temperature is near or above freezing. No such luck this New Year’s, I’m afraid. The forecast predicted morning temperatures only in the teens.
That’s usually cold enough to convince me to find something to do indoors instead. But the New Year’s trip is a special occasion. I planned to take my time getting to the water and figured on fishing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., by which time the mercury should have reached the more-or-less comfortable upper 20s.
Comfort is perhaps the most important single factor in winter fishing. If you’re miserable, you’re unlikely to stick it out as long as you should and equally unlikely to fish carefully and thoroughly.
Fortunately, unlike the condition of the water or the willingness of the fish to bite, comfort is something over which I have a pretty good amount of control. You know the advice — layer up (not too tightly), and choose wool or polyester instead of cotton.
Wading shoes provide outstanding support and allow wading comfortably and confidently, but boot foot waders are simply warmer, and that’s a trade I’m willing to make.
Besides, I wasn’t planning to wade all that much. My favorite winter fishing stream is of modest size, probably 30 feet wide in most places, and there’s simply no reason to go sloshing around in it when all I need to do is pitch a weighted nymph into pockets and seams.
In fact, there’s a case to be made for limiting winter wading as much as possible. My winter stream has a decent population of
wild trout, mostly browns. I’d hate to unknowingly stomp through a redd and destroy fertilized eggs (and I’ve never been any good at spotting redds in the streambed.)
Conventional wisdom encourages fly-fishers to observe the water before deciding which fly to use, but that advice applies mostly to spring, summer and fall, when there are likely to be various aquatic insects hatching, with fish responding in various ways — feeding at the surface, feeding near the bottom, etc.
Now, it’s possible to encounter a hatch of midges and even have rising trout during the winter, and if that happens, it’s a good idea to fish to the hatch. But for the most part, a standard bead-head nymph is a good choice in the winter. The trout are holding down deep, so a heavy fly is the best way to reach them, and since there’s not a lot of food around, the fish aren’t very fussy about pattern.
It may be the case that a Size 18 midge larva is more effective than a Size 12 Hare’s Ear, so a limited amount of experimenting may be in order. But generally, if your fly looks like a real bug — or even if it arouses curiosity — and can be intercepted without too much effort, the trout might just be willing to check it out.
All in all, New Year’s Day 2014 had the potential to be a nice day on the water, with only a light breeze and no snow (fishing in the snow is fun; driving to the fishing in the snow, not so much.)
Who knows, maybe I’ll have not only my first fishing trip on the books by today, but my first fish of the year, too.