Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday 1/5/18- "Snowmaggedon 2018" & Midges

Snowpocalypse 2018 is behind us now, I'd guess we got 8-10" at the shop. A handful of us ventured out on Wednesday when the temps crept into the mid/upper 20s and it wasn't windy at all, everybody except me picked up some fish, mostly on #16-20 Midge patterns tied on short shank hooks (so more like #18-22 in terms of body length). Mandy did pick up this extra pretty 15" rainbow on a big Mop fly though. During early to mid afternoon, I saw grey/black adult Midges on the water, they were tiny at about a #28. There were even 2-3 nice trout cruising the edges in a foot of slack water, sipping them in off the surface. Riverton was the only fishable section (due to ice/slush), I recorded a water temp of 35 degrees there (not bad all things considered). The dam keeps the upper 2 miles of river ice/slush free no matter how cold it gets due to slightly warmer water releases from the bottom of the reservoir above. Don't forget to purchase a new 2018 CT Fishing License! They tend to check people for licenses in January. 

We are almost out of the woods on the crappy weather that has dogged the northeast. Pretty darn cold through Sunday, and then highs in the 30s and low 40s starting Monday/Tuesday, with lows averaging in the 20s. Gonna feel like a heat wave after all the below zero nights we've had recently. This warmer weather should hopefully open up some of the water below Riverton back up to fishing. It's pretty much been locked up solid with ice/slush once you get much below the uppermost river.

Total flow at 8am this morning was medium-low at approximately 200cfs in the permanent Catch & Release (C&R)/TMA (140cfs in Riverton, plus an estimated 60cfs from the Still River- the USGS Still River gauge is frozen up & not reading). Depending upon the day, time of day, and distance from dam, water temps have ranged from low 30s to upper 30s. The warmest water will be coming out of the dam in Riverton, and mornings will see the lowest water temps. Sunny days will see the biggest water temp spikes, with peak temps occuring in mid/late afternoon. Most days this time of year the better fishing is late morning until dusk (higher water temps). The majority of the water is coming out of the dam (plus water from tribs like the Still River), which helps to moderate the water temps and keep them a little warmer and more trout-friendly than on other streams.

Here are 12 tips for fishing when it's extra-cold outside:
1) Don't start early. Late morning through mid afternoon is not only the warmest (least cold? haha) part of the day, but probably also the best chance to catch some trout on a brutally cold day. Rising water temps increase both trout metabolism & insect activity.
2) Try to pick sunny days. Sunshine will raise water temps more than anything else, and that in turn get the trout & bugs more active. even on truly cold days. If it is sunny outside and there is morning slush, the sunshine will often melt it by the afternoon (but not always).
3)Try to fish a fixed length of line to minimize ice-up of your guides. Short-line nymphing & swinging streamers will both allow you to not have to constantly be retrieving line in & out of the guides. Give your streamers additional action when desired by jiggling/twitching your rod tip rather than stripping line. For nymphing, a 10-11' rod will greatly assist in managing your line. Loon Stanley's Ice Off Paste will also delay your guides icing up.
4) Make sure your wading shoes don't fit tightly. Many people size there boots for a perfect fit with thin socks during mild weather, and then when they put a nice thick, warm Merino wool sock on for the cold weather, they have to cram their foot in the boot. Now  you cut your circulation off, and the result is ice cube feet. An oversize pair of boots for winter fishing is a great idea.
5) Wear a good pair of fingerless gloves. If your hands get really cold, that can pretty much be a day-ender, or at the very least make fishing an unpleasant experience. Half-finger gloves with exposed fingertips will give you dexterity, while still promoting blood flow to your fingers/hands. 
6) Expect to fish subsurface. While I have seen trout rising well to Winter Caddis & Midges on some super-cold days, that is the exception during extra-cold snaps. It usually greatly slows down the bugs, making nymphs & streamers the way to go. But by all means, if you have risers, match the hatch.
7) Expect hits to be extra subtle. Cold water = slow trout metabolism. As such they don't need to eat much at all, and they won't move much to eat. Even when swinging streamers, you often feel nothing more than your fly stopping, you think you snagged up, but when you pull back there is something wiggling on your line. With nymphs you almost have to hit them on the nose, and those type of strikes can be very subtle and hard to detect. If you are using a strike indicator, it might only hesitate, slow, faintly twitch, or just rotate. Look for any slight change and set the hook. If you are tight-line nymphing, your drift might just slowly stop or even just slow down slightly- set the hook! Some hits are undetectable no matter what you do.
8) Be patient. I often have long periods of no action in the winter, and then all of a sudden I'll have an hour or two of good fishing. It's not 100% predictable when a "bite window" will happen, but even on really cold days there is often a period when trout put on the feedbag (typically in that late morning to mid afternoon window, but not always).
9) Locate the fish. Trout drop out of faster water when water temps are in the 30s, and they tend to pod up in softer water with some depth. Where you find one, there are often many more nearby. 
10) Go smaller with your nymphs. Most of what trout actually feed on in the winter is small, so your nymph size should reflect that. Think #16-22 on average, with some exceptions (like #8-10 Stoneflies). Midges are a primary winter food source, and patterns imitating the in #18-24 are often the ticket. Play with colors, flash/no flash, hotspots, etc., until you figure out what triggers a response on any given day.
11) The warmest water on cold winter days is up in Riverton, in the 2 miles or so above the Still River and up to the dam itself. Truly cold weather can cause shelf ice & floating slush below the Still River, but if you go above that it NEVER freezes or slushes up. Water is densest at 39.2 degrees, to the water coming out of the dam runs slightly warmer on the coldest days. That does not necessarily mean the water coming out of the dam is 39 degrees, but it is always at least a few degrees above freezing. This can save your ass when you drive to the Church Pool, only to discover it is iced up bank-to-bank or has so much slush coming down that you cannot fish it. 
12) Read the water carefully, pick what you think is the highest percentage water, and fish it thoroughly. Much of the water is vacant of trout in the water, and they will pod up in the better spots, but they won't move much at all to eat your fly. As such, fishing only the best water and fishing it methodically with multiple drifts covering every inch will put the odds in your favor. Fish the pools, deeper/softer runs, and gentle riffles that have some depth. Skip the fast water & pocket water.  In the winter, I'll often re-fish the best spots several times using different flies and/or different tactics. It'a a totally different ballgame than in the spring through fall when the trout are spread out all over the river, their metabolism is in high hear, and lots of bugs are hatching.

Unless you have risers to Winter Caddis (AM), Blue Wing Olives/BWOs (afternoons), or Midges (afternoons), slow & deep with nymphs or streamers is the order of the day. I'd expect the bigger fish to get fooled more often by subsurface tactics. A dead-drifted nymph fished near the river bottom is easy pickings, and a slowly & deeply fished streamer represents a lot of calories to a trout.

Don Butler's 2nd Beginner 2-Day Fly Tying course on January 6th & 13th, 2018 is full now. Click on "Classes, News & Reviews" in top website toolbar to see detailed info on it. Call store at 860-379-1952 to get on waiting list. Fly tying is a fantastic winter activity.

Blue Winged Olive (BWOs/Olives) are probably near the end, with trout eating them on the surface in the 1-4pm time slot. Some have been as big as #20, but expect to match them with patterns ranging from #20-28, with #24-26 being more typical. FYI fishing subsurface with BWO nymphs in #18-22 just before & during the hatch will typically net you bigger fish than the dries will (big trout would rather suck in the small nymphs drifting at eye level than swim to the surface for a tiny snack). The morning Winter Caddis hatch continues to be good most days- it is typically an early to mid morning deal with #18-24 flies- make sure to have both the pupa and the winged adult. Sometimes they start later and hatch into the afternoons too.  The "perfect storm" for this hatch is a cold night followed by a sunny day without too much wind. If you venture out in the AM and don't find risers, be prepared to go subsurface with streamers & nymphs. The late fall/early winter post-spawn brown trout streamer bite has been good so far, just make sure to fish them deep and slow down your presentation (olive has been a hot streamer color). Nymphs should be dead-drifted near the stream bottom, and expect strikes to be subtle so pay close  attention. Using the smallest indicator you can get away with will help you detect light bites, and if you are tight-line nymphing pay close attention to your sighter and do a small hook-set on any light tap or line hesitation/stoppage.

Early winter is typically a good post-spawn streamer bite. and we continue to get good streamer reports. Water temps are in the 30s now, so make sure to slow down your streamer presentations and use some form of weighted flies/split-shot/sink-tips/sinking leader/sinking lines to get your streamers down deep. Water temps in permanent Catch & Release (C&R)/TMA & upriver have averaged mid 30s the past couple of days, with slightly higher water temps in Riverton (from the dam to just above the Still River). Swinging & slow stripping are typically the way to go with streamers in cold water, but make sure to try a faster strip too, as sometimes even in the winter they will respond better to that some days (but day in, day out, slower is normally better when it's cold). Also, play around with colors, it can make a big difference. Olive has been good, but also try black, brown, white, yellow and combinations thereof. Many good fishing reports from the nymphers too, just make sure you have enough weight (either in your flies, split-shot, or both) to get down in the slower water near the stream bottom. Seeing some good dry fly fishing the past few weeks too. 

New Stuff:
Simms new 2018 version of the G3 wader is here now- 190% more breatheable (!), 30% more puncture resistant, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets with side zips, a velcro docking station for a fly patch, and a G4-style reinforced seat/butt area. And the best part: NO price increase! They are now better than the G4 Pro Wader, but at a much lower price than. We also have their new redesigned versions of their Freestone, Guide & G3 vests. And last but not least, their new super-warm heavyweight Guide Thermal OTC Sock. FYI the old style Simms vests in stock are on sale at 40% off.  

In addition to trout tying materials, we have a very good selection of materials geared toward Steelhead. We have 12 colors of the deadly & popular Eggstasy Egg Yarn on the wall now (it works great on trout too). Just tie it in and take 2-3 wraps and then tie it off, easy peasy. Put a tungsten bead on it too if you are a Euro Nympher. Plenty of good strong hooks for from Tiemco, Mustad, Gamakatsu & Daiichi. We now carry Adams Built landing nets, including a collapsible handle model sized well for Steelhead. 

We  have the new Hardy Zephrus Ultralite 9' 9" series of rods, from a #2 up to #5. Think of them as a Crossover tight-line/Euro nymph rod that will also do a very nice job with dry flies, killing two birds with one stone (rod). Antoine Bissieux ("The French Flyfisher") loves the 9' 9" #2 version of that for light tippet French style nymphing.

5x flurocarbon tippet should be about right, depending upon fly size, with 6x for the smallest nymphs. If you haven't yet tried it, the Cortland Ultra Premium Fluorocarbon tippet is amazing, by far the strongest out there with the most abrasion resistance, stretch, flexibility & clarity. Total game-changer, and an extra-good choice if you like to nymph with lighter tippets. Use patterns like BWO Nymphs #16-22, Midges/Zebra Midges #16-24, Egg Flies #10-18 (yellow/pink/orange),  Squirmy/San Juan Worms (pink, red, worm tan), Caddis Larva #14-16 (olive to green), Cased Caddis #8-16, Mop Flies #8-12 (various colors, especially cream/tan), big Stoneflies #6-12 /Pat's Rubber Legs #6-10, Antoine's Perdigons #16 (various colors), Attractor/Hot-Spot nymphs #14-20 (Pineapple Express, Frenchies, Triple Threat, Egan's Red Dart, Rainbow Warrior, etc.), Quasimodo Pheasant Tails #16-22, and Fox Squirrel Nymphs #12-14.

Cold Weather Strategies:
A big key to fishing this time of year is dressing properly so that you are warm. Synthetic thermals for a next-to-skin base layer, layered with heavy fleece and a shell to break the wind are all key. Complete this with fingerless gloves, a warm hat, and a pair of heavy Merino wool socks. Make sure your wading boots don't fit tightly- if you sized them to fit perfectly in the summertime with thin socks, make sure to get a winter pair that are a size bigger. Tight boots = cold feet. 

The colder late fall/early winter air & water temps are here now, so an adjustment in tactics is required. The warmest water by far will be coming out of the dam, and it will get colder as you move downriver during colder weather. The Still River will be coming in significantly colder than the dam water. As such, if you start early after a cold night, begin in Riverton to hit the best water temps (unless you are looking for the morning Winter Caddis hatch, in which case I'd recommend the high percentage dry fly pools in the permanent C&R such as Church Pool & Greenwoods), and wait until late morning/early afternoon for the water temps to rise before heading downriver. In general during cold weather, the strategy is to focus on late morning until dusk when air & water temps are highest- it's the most comfortable, and the trout & bugs are most active. The one exception to this is the Winter Caddis hatch. When they are hatching, you need to be on the water in early/mid morning to catch it. Other than that, no need to start early. Subsurface with nymphs has been some of the more consistent fishing lately, and we are getting some good streamer reports, and there have been windows of good dry fly fishing too.