1: No crowds
This should come as no surprise. That little bit of solace we seek while fishing might be easier to find during the winter. Connections to our natural environment and witnessing the transformation it undergoes with the seasons, can be one of the greatest benefits we stumble upon as anglers. Have you ever walked down to the river’s edge to find it completely void of people? Not to say that people are bad. I’m a person after all, and although my character can be called into question at times, I am not inherently bad by nature (fish might feel otherwise). But when our senses are left to take in the setting and the organic doings within, then it’s possible we foster a better understanding and are better able to concentrate on the task, should it be called upon.
Not to mention: you fish where you want to fish. Want to cast a line over there? Well, go and do it! There’s nobody standing on that rock, and that juicy, meandering seam over there lies entirely void of artificial temptations. Yeah, over there; that girthy, lurking trout hasn’t seen a fly in months! Why not be the first to reintroduce a fly to a fish that has quite nonchalantly let her guard down? Now, that’s what I’m talking about.
2: The magic of the Midge and the occasional Blue Wing Olive Hatch
Maybe it’s time to realize that while you are hanging on the couch, stuffing your belly and possibly watching nauseating daytime television, fish may be eating flies, at or near the surface of the river. This is a very real scenario and one that should be contemplated while planning your day. True, the windows of opportunity are a bit narrower, but if you catch it right, it just might do battle with your fondest angling memories. Midges hatch throughout the year, however many tend to only hatch in rivers during cold weather months. Trout get very excited about these teeny tiny morsels, so we should too. They’ll eat them as nymphs, emergers and yes, they’ll even dine on floating adults, which can often nudge a so-so day into the banner category.
The Blue Wing Olive Mayfly can be another dear snack. Although they are most abundant during late fall and early spring, they do hatch during the winter if temperatures warm up enough. Have you ever been out there, all alone, hooking one fish after another on dry flies? Again, this occurs during the winter; where you see the snout come up and you hook it, and then you look around for someone to take notice, only to find that it is just you out there, and so your attention doubles back to where it should be.
3: Winter offers a plethora of swing water
It’s no doubt a swell event to have a fish take your dead-drifted fly from the surface. In fact, there are anglers who will not fish any other way! However, if you have yet to hook a fish while swinging a fly – either a streamer or an emerger style fly – then you should give it a whirl. The take is different. There is immediate tension. Whack. The jolt travels up the fly line, through your fingers and just maybe goes all the way down to your toenails, if you let it. This is the take that so many steelhead anglers speak of. What is it they say, The Tug is the Drug? Yes, you’ve likely heard that one before.
So here’s what happens when river temperatures cool: Fish migrate into slower currents in order to conserve their energy. Their metabolisms slow down, as do their movements so as to make it through the long winter. So, your target water changes in the winter! Now all these long and slow pieces of water – water devoid of much definition – become really important. Typically, this water is located in the lower half of the run, some distance down from the riffle where it moves along at a slow walking pace. Low flows typical in winter certainly increase the availability of this type of water.
Sure, you could cast dries here if there was any surface activity. You could also nymph this water; however, dead-drifting nymphs in slow water that has little definition can be exceptionally boring. As it turns out, this water is perfect swing water! Tie on your favorite little Midge or BWO emerger and swing away. The takes can be really electric and overall, it can be very effective. Typical swing presentations go as follows: Ninety degree cast across the river; upstream mend; fly sinks; line comes tight in the feeding lane; line slowly swings towards your shoreline. If you want to stay shallower, cast further downstream. Deeper? Cast further upstream and increase mend size. Continue to work the water downstream, taking a couple steps between casts.
Here’s where light action Switch Rods with Scandi style lines can be really effective as two-handers because you can cover so much more water, with little effort. If you have yet to try one of these, winter flows lend the perfect opportunity! Although Scandi lines can handle larger streamers, it is more difficult than if you were using a Skagit Short or a Skagit Switch; but overall, Scandi Lines will lend a bit more versatility, especially for swinging small nymphs and emergers or tossing the occasional dry.
What’s my point? Well, I think winter opens up tons of swing water and getting out there sure beats hibernating at home.
Have a good time out there,
Duffy & The Gorge Fly Shop