As fall draws to an end and the holidays approach, the trout streams here in the Southeast are occupied with fewer fisherman. This is when my family chooses to fish the delayed harvest trout streams during the winter. With two kids that like to throw rocks downstream of me, it's common sense to wait until other fisherman clear out due to the colder weather. However, just because it's cold outside does not mean the fish stop biting.
The angler who chooses to fish this time of year may be greatly rewarded by their effort, big fish need to feed all winter to keep their size up. By making a few minor adjustments in clothing, time of day you fish, and fly selection will have even the most beginning angler fishing year round.
Putting on more layers during the winter may seem like a no-brainer, but timing is everything. The wise and warm angler will wait until they are standing beside the stream and out of the warmth of the automobile to gear up. Otherwise, after the first hour of fishing the cool water temperature will work its way through the outer layer of clothing and leave you freezing, especially if you have any condensation or sweat on your skin. Many hikers have heard the term “cotton kills” and switched to synthetic clothing material that wicks moisture away from the skin, I would advise fishermen to do the same. Cotton holds moisture, and no amount of layering will keep you warm for long after you sweat in cotton base layers.
One of my favorite cold weather fishing accessories are hand and foot warmers. These come in all shapes and sizes and many different types. I like to stick the disposable foot warmers to my socks and carry a hand warmer in my waders. After the first fish is caught or you have been fishing streamers all day, your hands will be wet. After a couple minutes warming my hands in my wader pocket, I’m good for another round with a monster trout. Fishing gloves are also a nice accessory to have to keep hands warm. Simms has a pair of fingerless gloves that have a pocket for a hand warmer in the wrist. The downside to gloves is that having wet hands from stripping line after several hours can get pretty cold.
Another consideration winter anglers take into account is the time of day fish are most active.
The sunrise may be beautiful, but the water is going to be the coldest first thing in the morning. Trout are the least active when the water temperature is below 40 degrees and may even stop feeding briefly. My family typically starts fishing around ten o’clock during the winter to allow the water to warm several degrees and maximize the time we can spend on the water without getting too chilled. So sleep in, let the kids watching morning cartoons, and then head to the river.
Since fish are less active in general as the water temperatures dip, fly selection for winter months needs to be more particular to what’s hatching in the water. Put the hoppers away until next summer, and learn how to nymph. The fish are slower in colder weather, so we like to fish midges and eggs this time of year. Weights play a big part in success for us in the wintertime. If the nymph doesn’t get down to the depth of the fish, the fisherman has very little chance of being successful. I tell my kids that if the fly isn’t bumping along the bottom, it's not deep enough. To maximize my kids success, I rig their line with a strike indicator that looks like a bubble. They know that when the bubble goes underwater, set the hook even if they are unsure whether there is a fish or debris on the end of the line.
Cold weather can slow the trout bite down when compared to the high action of hopper and dry fly fishing in summer. However, that doesn’t mean the angler needs to hang up the ole fly rod until spring. By adjusting your layers, carefully selecting time of day to fish, and tweaking the flies and presentation anyone can be successful in the winter months as well. Keep your lines tight, stay warm, and keep fishing!
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