When entering the deep winter like we get in January and February, it is important to plan ahead. There are several factors to consider before making your next outing onto a trout stream. Things like your clothing, thermals, socks, when will the trout be feeding, does my wading gear leak, what if my guides begin icing, and will the old truck crank in the morning. Yes, it is a bummer to get out at 5 AM only to have your vehicle to go click. It’s even a worse situation when your vehicle will not crank and you are several miles inside the National Forest…did you say flashlight???
Last month I spoke about how to dress for success during cold weather. Here is only a brief about it because it is too important to leave out. Cold water will drain the life out of you…period. Dressing correctly will keep you warmer and out longer. Use a good set of thermals and use an upper with a long back to prevent it from riding up and causing a cold spot. Socks are very important. Use two pairs, one a wicking style and the second a heavy wool style. I personally like using merino wool. Have a set of insulated fishing pants with stirrups (again to prevent ride up). For your upper body, use whatever it will take to stay warm. You can always shed clothing but cannot add if you do not have it. Wind causes the majority of heat lose. A wind breaker can really help and even that thin rain jacket will do wonders. Use a solid cap, hat, or toboggan. For the hands, half-fingered wool gloves can be the ticket.
Wading gear is essential on stream and especially during the cold months. Bring your gear inside to warm overnight. Get dressed into your gear before leaving home. You just cannot imagine how much heat you lose while getting dressed at stream side and especially if your gear has been outside the entire night. Wet boots will freeze overnight and are as hard as a brick the following morning. If you get caught in this situation, simply take the boots and dunk them into the water to thaw. If your waders leak, it is important to repair them before hitting the stream with the water temps in the low to mid-forties this time of year. Leaking waders in the winter time are useless especially if they leak from the knee downward. If you cannot repair them then head to one of the local fly shops for a brand new set. They will appreciate your business and may tell you a good place that just had some fresh ones dropped in!
How’s the old truck battery doing? Has it been cranking sluggishly lately? Is the battery over three years old? If so, take time to go and get it tested. Many auto parts stores will test it for free. It is no fun working outside in the cold on a vehicle. It’s even worse having to walk out to the nearest house at dark because it would not crank.
Flashlight? Just because it works in the house doesn’t mean it will last over five minutes while outside in the cold. Change out those old batteries for new ones. It is worth the few dollars to have a working light to walk out by if you forgot about the old truck battery and it decided to die on you!
Cold water temps force trout to become lethargic, but trout still have to eat. Timing can be crucial to getting takes. As the water temps continue to decrease, trout get to where they will move very little to consume. They also get down on the very bottom to stay out of any current. Winter time hatches usually come off around 1 to 3 pm. Many anglers don’t head out until around 10 or later. These allows the sun to get up high and warm things up a bit. That little bit of warming can trigger a hatch and turn the trout on for a short time.
Slow down on moving so much and become an angler that fishes tight lanes. Position your casts no more than 6 to 8 inches apart to cover the entire width of the stream. Fish thoroughly to catch more fish or at least get more takes. Keep in mind that lethargic trout do not chase food. You may have heard of hitting them on the nose with your fly. Well, I believe that the closer you get your fly to their mouth the higher the chance of them eating. If you can get your fly within a six inch radius of their mouths, you’ll catch some fish.
Weight, weight and more weight! Be systematic about how you use weight and your leader length to find where the fish are feeding. Short leaders are great but do not allow your flies to get down deep. Lengthen your leader and allow those flies to get on down to where the trout are. A rule of thumb is you should be sticking the bottom on every few casts. If you never touch the bottom, your takes will be minimal. Having your leader two to three times the length of the water depth from the indicator to fly is a good rule to follow. Don’t shy away from using weight. There is an assortment of shots and wraps on the market. Grab some up and try it out. I like to use shot because each additional one I use will be the same size and I get additional drop or distance from the surface each time with the exception of if casting into the fastest currents. My reasoning is this, after making several attempts with different amounts of weight, then and only then do I move on; you are now being a thorough fisherman. What is actually taking place is every time you add weight you are getting your flies to come through a deeper lane and presentation in the water column. After making several presentations and continuing to add shot until you hit and/or stay on the bottom, you have now covered the entire depth of the stream. What you will learn by doing this is at what depth the trout are feeding.
Wintertime fishermen are persistent in their fishing methods. And in a way, it’s kinda like giving Novocain, keep giving in small amounts and it will eventually work! Bottom line is use weight and long leaders to get those flies down to where the fish are.
Reel’em In Guide Service is based out of beautiful Ellijay, Georgia. James Bradley and his team of pro-guides have been offering their services to fly anglers since 2001. Their service is a Permittee on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, they offer 7.5 miles of private trophy trout waters across North Georgia, and they offer western-style drift boat trips on the Toccoa River and Tuckasegee River in North Carolina.
Contributed By: James Bradley
Reel’em In Guide Service