As we move into November, most anglers along the Front Range begin to eliminate Colorado freestone rivers as places to fish for the next four to five months. The term "fair-weather angler" gets used often around this time of year. Let’s be honest, are there going to be times in the next few months when it makes absolutely zero sense to be fishing these places? 100%. Call me "fair-weather" but, what can I say? I prefer to fish in...well, fair weather. However, for every day we chalk up not fishing to bad weather, those high of 20 low of 10 degree days, there will be a series every now and then of warmer more favorable weather. Those brief windows of opportunity are the ones you should keep an eye on as an angler. Especially if you want wintertime success.
This is the most critical part of winter fly fishing on freestone fisheries. It's a safe bet to assume that most blogs viewers have smartphones or access to a computer that gives you access to weather forecasts. UTILIZE IT! Very rarely are fishing trips unplanned. If you know that you will be fishing next Tuesday, start checking the weather a week out. I hate to give this little tip away for free but, the BEST way to look at weather and weather patterns down to the minute is by using THIS.
Personally, there are three things to look for in the weather forecast this time of the year:
1. Stretches of warm days sequenced together
2. Sudden temperature changes.
3. Overnight Lows (The most important)
These three things are crucial because rivers generally run about a half-day to full-day behind what the actual weather is doing this time of the year. So, why do I look for a sequence of warm days? If I see that the weather conditions have been consistent for a few days or more, I know the river has stabilized. This means bugs will be active, which means fish will be active. Now, you might wonder why I keep an eye out for sudden temperature changes. Remember, the river runs behind the weather. Let us put on our imagination caps for a moment.
Suppose, I am wanting to fish on Tuesday and the projected temperature will be somewhere around the high 50’s. However, on Monday the high only fell somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees. The outcome?, I may be able to get away with wearing a long sleeve shirt but the river will be full of ice and lousy fishing conditions.
Remember, the river runs behind the weather.
Lastly, it is vital to watch the overnight lows. This weather event hugely impacts what time I want to be on the water the following day. If you see milder overnight lows, that means the water will warm up quicker than when you see frigid overnight lows, even when the next day’s high is projected at the same temp. This time of the year, any advantage you can give yourself on the water will go a long way, so take a little time and do your research before you head out.
This time of the year, finding fish is a relatively easy task. Due to low flows and colder water temperatures, trout will stack in runs that provide consistent food during winter. Remember that trout are kind of like people. They want to use the least amount of energy possible to get a meal, even more, true when it is cold. This means shelves of deep, slow pools and tail-outs. The most challenging part about locating fish in these runs is the depth at which they are holding. If you land a few fish at a certain depth, chances are there are plenty of additional fish in the run. Change depth, weight, and patterns at least 3 or 4 times before moving on from that run.
Nothing I hate more than carrying two rods around with me during the spring, summer, and fall. Laying one rod down on the bank, working up through a stretch, then going back to retrieve the fly rod left behind is genuinely more work than it is worth. That isn't the case during the winter. As I mentioned above, fish will be stacked, so my emphasis on covering water this time of the year isn't as important. This makes bringing an additional rod less of a hassle. The rigs on my rods this time of the year are really simple when fishing these freestones. One rod will be solely devoted to nymphs. My nymph rig will undoubtedly be a small stonefly, trailed by a baetis and a small midge below that. My go-to Stonefly patterns are Pat's Rubber Legs, Twenty Inchers, and attractor patterns such as Hare's On Fire and Purple Prince Nymphs. My favorite baetis are Mercury Pheasant Tails, Juju Baetis, RS2s, and standard Pheasant Tails. Midges are even more straightforward of a selection; Black Beauties, Juju Midges, and Pure Midges are about all you'll find in my box this time of year. My second rod is going to be a wildcard. Most of the time, it will be devoted to streamers. However, it also fills the void when you find yourself in a surprising BWO or Midge hatch. The last option for the second rod is to have a different nymph rig setup, whether it's various bugs, set for different depths, or even an extra size tippet. This can save you some time when you are trying to get things dialed in.
When it is all said and done, Colorado Freestone streams should still hold a spot in your mind when answering the "Where should I fish?" question. There will be days where it does not make any sense to leave the house, let alone your bed, during the wintertime. On the flip side, there will be sunny and warm-ish days over the next five months and it is your job as an angler to capitalize on them. Or, you can join me as a "fair-weather angler", there's plenty of room at the bar top for you.