For those of us who have unquenchable desires to fish, this quote by the late Stephen “Salty” Saltzman, fishing guide extraordinaire in Argentina, says it all:
“Don’t pay attention to anyone who tells you when is the best time to fish, my friend. The best time to fish is when you’re fishing.”
Perhaps the ones that agree with this sentiment the most are those who own fly fishing lodges that offer year round opportunities for fellow fishing aficionados. Few things beat the experience of coming back after a brisk afternoon of fishing to a warm, inviting lodge, enjoying delicious hot food, and swapping stories in front of a fire.
To find some of the best lodges open in the winter for fly fishing, visit Gene Kilgore’s Fly Fishing Ranches and Lodges. Many of the lodges listed here either offer both excellent lodging and fishing, or are located nearby rivers that can be fished year-round. Three of the finest offering winter fishing are: Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana, and Falcon’s Ledge in Utah. Staying at one of these lodges is the ultimate experience in winter fly fishing.
Seasons and Mother Nature herself have to be extreme to keep devout fly fishers from finding a way to tie their flies and throw their lines. There are ways to work around cold weather and plenty of places where the fish are biting.
It may take a little more clothing, time and technique, but nothing beats being out on a clear, crisp winter day in total solitude in the midst of some of the most beautiful and serene natural surroundings that exist.
The most important element for winter fishing is staying dry and warm, especially feet, head and hands. Experienced year-round anglers will have winter waders that are a size or two larger than normal, and will layer extensively underneath with loose fitting warm socks, toe warmers between the layers, fleece pants and jacket, and hand warmers and gloves.
Although scientists debate to what extent we lose heat through our head, ski caps and beanies make a marked difference in staying warm and are highly recommended. In addition, it’s essential to make sure the outer layers are water-tight, as wet conditions in winter can turn lethal quickly in extreme cold. Along those lines, packing an extra change of clothes, blankets and light provisions can also be useful if traveling by car. Attire aside, a thermos full of a hot beverage or soup never tastes quite so good as when it’s 32 below outside.
Timing & Technique
Unlike in the warmer seasons, the best time to fish in winter is late morning to early afternoon, when the winds are down, water flows are up and the temperature is warmer. Fish do feed in winter, but are likely to be found in different locations than in other seasons. Likewise, they will be moving much slower and biting less aggressively.
The best technique for fly fishing in the winter is to fish deep, use fishing nymphs or bait that imitates food sources in the region, use two flies smaller in size (one as a dropper, usually wet versus dry flies,) and be extremely patient. For best bait and pattern recommendations, ask around locally as the list varies according to location and month.
Fish aren’t as active so don’t expect the same kind of hits- not only will they be less in number but the bites can be so gentle it’s hard to know whether you have a fish or the bait is merely bumping lightly onto rocks along the bottom.
In addition to fishing deeper and slower, another helpful winter technique is to cast your line much shorter and more measured in an area where you see or suspect fish. In the winter, fish will tend to group together along the best and warmest areas of a stream, often in pockets along the sides and banks. The shorter line may help reduce the lines and guides from freezing up as well, or use Ice Off Paste. When all else fails, simply dip the rod in water to get it moving again.
Those faint of heart may ask if it’s worth weathering winter conditions just to fish. Long periods of concentration and extreme attention on the line while standing in the freezing cold in hopes of catching even one fish. For true fly fishermen, Salty’s words quoted above say it all: The best time to fish is when you are fishing – and for die-hards who love to fish, the waters call and going without due to cold is simply not an option.