If you thought fly fishing was a summer sport, put on your thermal underwear and guess again. Winter fly fishing calls for a little more preparation and planning than in milder weather, but the reward, as any fan of fly fishing knows, is the day on the river, plus the quiet and solitude of a man- (or woman- ) versus-nature adventure.
Start with appropriate gear. Winter fly fishing clothing has improved significantly in the last few years. Layering is key: don several layers of silk underwear under a layer of fleece pants. User sock liners, silk if possible, under thick winter socks (ski socks work just fine). Fly anglers who are really into winter fly fishing sometimes use a larger pair of wading boots to accommodate the sock bulk. Breathable waders get high marks from a number of professional fly fishermen, but neoprene can provide ample warmth and dryness as well
While ski gloves do the trick making the walk from your car to the river or lake carrying fly fishing equipment for the day, fingerless fleece gloves will allow you to feel your line and flies. Maybe it’s a blessing, but fish bite more gingerly in the cold water so rigorous setting of the hook isn’t necessary. As in any winter activity, a hat keeps the body heat in
The key to productive winter fly fishing is an understanding of the river levels. Sudden meltoff can make a river unfishable. Three or four days of steady rain almost guarantees you won’t have a bite. Moreover, you have to consider the light - not just the shorter days but the dimmer light that will make it more difficult to see below surface when seeking out fish, and places to make your next step.
Winter fly fishing is, for the most part, a sub-surface experience. Because both fish metabolism and insect activity slow in winter, fish are most likely to stick to the bottom out of main currents. So fish nymphs deep! Trout's owner Tucker Ladd recommends using several heavy split shot, both to slow the drift and get the flies down. He has winter angling success using San Juan worms, Disco Midges and Wd-40s. Streamers like Woolly Buggers, Muddlers and Mickey Finn’s can also produce action. Nevertheless, dead drifting nymphs is the most popular method, with swinging streamers coming in a distant second. As mentioned earlier, fish won't strike as hard, so you don't need to either - let the fish do the hook setting. Also, take care that the fish is 100% revived before release. They may need a little extra care because of the cold water.
A thermos full of hot beverage, and an extra change of dry clothes back in the car are additional worthwhile items to pack for your winter fishing. Fish with a friend too – they make for good conversation, and can help get you to those dry clothes should you take a spill in the cold water.
Take care, have fun, and catch those winter fish!