Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
Catching fish during winter is not for the weak. The cold, wind, and snow combines for a concoction that means trouble for the fly angler. It can be a type of bone chilling shiver that stays with you for days on end. No amount of coffee, soup, or extra logs on the fire can fight it off. Even though the snow and wind can sometimes create some unpleasant conditions, it's the slush or ice on the water that threatens to derail our winter fishing the most.
On a steelhead trip a few years ago, I walked up to a particular spot I know to be productive during cold water conditions. It's a deep pool that funnels in from a bend in the river accentuated by a massive submerged log. The spot is picture perfect in terms of what you would look for to find holding fish. After peeling out some line and wading in a few steps, I started to methodically cast into the main gut of the run, where fish will typically hold during winter. There was enough weight on my rig that I half expected to get hung up, and thus I was surprised when the first half dozen drifts didn't even yield a bump of the indicator to suggest I was near the bottom.
On the next cast I decided to try and focus in on the flies instead of just my indicator that was dancing down the current. The pink sucker spawn and bright orange egg were easy to spot as they barely sank four inches before getting caught in thick slush that was building in the water column. There are few water conditions that derail us quite like slush. It's almost impossible to combat and frustrating to no end, unless you remember these few tips!
There's something wired into our brains that suggests every fishing trip needs to start early in the day. Sometimes that is to our benefit, but definitely not during winter! Water temperatures are at the coldest just before dawn, which spells trouble for those morning folks. If we want to avoid the slushy early morning water flows, sleep in a bit. Take a little extra care in getting gear together, have another cup of coffee, run a few errands, and then hit the stream. Allowing an extra hour or two of sunshine to burn through can make all the difference in the world.
It's not just about when to fish, but also where to fish. Take notice of the water that ices over or produces slush first. The slower the water, the quicker slush will accumulate. Even though fish will congregate under the icy flows, it's much for efficient to focus efforts on the faster water. Fast riffles will be some of the last spots to ice over and have that slushy mess in the water column. Even if it only buys us a few extra hours of fishing, we can turn a skunked day into a productive one!