Winter weather can mean cozy weekends spent inside watching the snowfall from your living room window. However, it can also provide opportunities for the full-season angler to escape the crowds, layer up, and hit the river. Winter fishing, while not for everyone, can lend itself to being some of the best fishing year-round. With opportune cloud cover, low angling pressure, and ideal temps for big trout; if you can bear the frosted fingers, it’s more than worth your while to try your hand in the winter weather. Here, Pro Skier and Tincup Whiskey ambassador, Tatum Monod, teamed up with Alberta guide, Paula Shearer, to put together some tips for your next winter outing.
1. Read The Water and Adjust to New Behavior
In the winter, trout tend to be a little more stagnant. They stay hunkered down in deeper holes and drop-offs. They may be opportunistic and eat if something drifts in front of them, but they aren’t going to expend much energy to go out of their way too much to eat your fly.
That’s why reading the water is so important. Look for the drop-offs at the tail end of riffles and target these areas. Also, look for long slow runs maybe with some boulders where trout can find holding water. Cast upstream and let your fly drift into the zone naturally. Sometimes a twitch or even skating a big bug across the surface a little bit will entice them. Depending on the temp, a well-presented indicator dry fly might just be too much for them to resist…
2. Presentation is Still Everything
While with cloud cover overhead and cold temps testing patience, remember to keep to the golden rule: presentation is everything. How you present your fly is all dependent on what rig you’re using. Here, we were fishing a combination of nymphing and dry fly fishing (in other words hopper to a dropper). If utilizing a rig like this, after casting you’ll want to immediately mend your line upstream so the fly gets a nice, natural float without drag. Remember that it takes a few seconds for the nymph to sink so it’s not really in play until a few moments into the drift. You want that nymph to be ticking along the bottom and hopefully right along the snout of a big brownie! Remember you have to adjust the length of your dropper to suit the depth of the water you are fishing.
3. Utilize Your Resources: Link Up With a Guide!
I wasn’t too confident that we would be able to hook any fish given that we had a week straight of stormy weather on the Bow River, but when I called up local guide, Paula Shearer, she confidently said “no matter what, I can guarantee we catch something.” Her enthusiasm immediately fired me up and the crappy weather turned out to be a bonus, because we were the only people on the river! I took advantage of being with Paula on her home water by asking a million questions and learning from her. It’s not every day you get to fish with a guide, so if you have the opportunity to – keep your ears wide open.
4. Find Ways to Stay Warm!
There’s nothing that will shut down your day faster than getting cold on the river, I wear as may layers under my weighers as possible. If it’s a really cold day I suggest a pair of heated socks. Gloves are also helpful to have on you. However, I recommend fingerless gloves as I enjoy having the connection to the fly line and maintaining dexterity. Here are a few items from my ski arsenal I use to stay warm and keep dry on the water:
Go to long underwear: Arc’teryx Rho AR Bottom
Puffy Jacket: Arc’teryx Cerium LT jacket
Heated socks: Lenz Lithium Batter Heatable Socks
Pro tip: A splash of Tincup Whiskey is the perfect way to warm up from the inside out on a snowy day
5. Remember, It’s the Experience That Counts
While it can be great and offers different excitements outside of just catching fish: remember that wintertime fishing can sometimes leave days on the water feeling slow. Take time to slow down on days like this, have a fire, warm up and enjoy the experience. There’s no hatch going off, the fun is what you make it. Swap stories and experiences, enjoy the company you’re with. After all, that’s why they call it fishing not catching.
In summation, winter fly-fishing is just like any other day on the water – plus a few extra layers. It’s a great excuse to get out and spend time with friends outside, and an even better excuse to go play in the snow. Remember to be safe, and to always be aware of your surroundings. There’s nothing that kills fun quicker than an unintentional dip in frigid water. If you’re going to enjoy some whiskey out there, make sure to bring along someone to get you home safe, and always enjoy responsibly.
Photos by: Amber Toner