Like many anglers, one of the major satisfactions that I get from fly fishing is being out in the wilderness or on a stream with nothing but flora and fauna in sight. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case in the winter. Winter poses many obstacles for fly anglers who don’t let snow and frozen rivers keep them at home. Knowing how to manage your gear through wet, cold conditions is typically only half of the battle. Finding water that’s not completely iced over or lined shoulder-to-shoulder with other passionate anglers can be an even bigger challenge.
I personally look forward to taking long hikes to remote waters compared to fishing some of the more pressured tailwaters that are known for big fish but often compromise in the winter months. Finding a balance of productive fishing while still avoiding crowds can be a challenge. Following a few general guidelines can help expand your fishing opportunities and lead to new crowd-free experiences.
In many states, angling opportunities are limited in colder months due to many freestone rivers and smaller tributary streams icing over. Spring creeks and tailwaters present the best options for the angler looking to pursue trout in the winter months. The most well-known and easily accessible stretches of water are bound to be flooded with anglers year-round and even more so in the winter.
While I’m generally interested in online fishing reports to identify the most productive fishing at any given time, in the winter I use the information in those reports a bit differently. Rather than heading to the rivers that are fishing the best based on fly shop reports, I’ll pick a different river that isn’t as “hot”. In a world where so much information is at your fingertips, it’s important to remember that everyone else has the same information.
Choosing a location that isn’t producing as many fish based on forecasts can lead to more water for you to explore and target fish that haven’t been as heavily pressured in recent days or weeks. This may mean fewer fish, navigating ice flows, and trudging through the snow but thinking outside the box is a great way to find some solitude even if you risk getting skunked every now and then.
We all know a fair-weather angler or two. The ones who wait until jackets aren’t required and the hatches are consistent. Don’t be that angler, especially in the winter. As a weekend warrior, my angling is typically limited to Friday through Sunday and I’ll often choose to go fly fishing on the worst weather days. Cold, cloudy, snow-filled days have produced some of my best fish without any other angler’s insight on what would otherwise be a crowded stretch of water. Cold days can add extra complications like iced over guides and frozen leaders but if and when you do find some willing fish, the reward will be that much sweeter.
Timing may be an obvious aspect to consider when planning a fishing trip but it can be even more important in the winter. Throughout the winter, fish are less likely to feed in the early morning as they become lethargic with plunging overnight air and water temperatures. Cold overnight temperatures paired with early sunsets decrease the prime fishing window to a few hours in the afternoon.
This is information common to many which is why many rivers are typically swarmed between 11 am-3 pm throughout the winter. Getting out early in the morning or late in the evening can still produce fish with far fewer crowds. Don’t be afraid to vary up your fly selection and tactics if you’re fishing at less than optimal times of the day in order to draw reaction strikes from the fish.
Finding Your Solitude
Long drives, early mornings, and less-than-ideal weather typically sum up my winter fishing experiences. I’m willing to spend more effort getting away from convenient local streams and often risk being less comfortable on the water in favor of avoiding crowds. Targeting foul-weather days, fishing at less than optimal times, and fishing stretches of water that aren’t as “hot” are a few surefire ways to find some solitude while fly fishing heavily pressured waters throughout the winter months.
Article by Evan Garda, he is on the Content Team here at Fly Lords. He can be found chasing trout throughout the west with his trusty fly rod. Check out his adventures at @evangarda.