After a very cold start to this winter, it looks like some much nicer weather is here to stay, with temps ranging from normal up to the high 40s. No more single digit highs and below zero nights. This should slowly but surely unlock some of the frozen areas of the river. Lately we've been limited to the upper 2-3 miles of river, downstream in the permanent Catch & Release (C&R/TMA) and below- it's been mostly frozen bank to bank and/or slushed up in the areas of open water. Pictured is a cold weather beauty of a brown caught by Steven Stepina of Farmington River Rod Company- he also builds beautiful bamboo rods with all sorts of tapers. While subsurface tactics with nymphs & streamers are the most consistent in the winter, especially for bigger fish, don't rule out dry flies. When I was out last week, even with temps well below freezing there were a few trout swimming & cruising for Midge adults & pupa in shallow water as shallow as 6-12". Their pointy snouts would poke up 2-3" above the water each time they ate a Midge adult. And the Midges were tiny, no bigger than a #28 with black/dark gray bodies. There was virtually no current where they fed, so they were constantly moving around. Think long 7x leaders with tiny flies on #2-4 weight rods if you want to play that game.
Local guide Pat Torrey is doing a class on "Tying Wet Flies & Soft-Hackles" on Saturday 2/10/18 from 9am-3pm, cost is $80. These style flies are some of the oldest flies in existence, and there is a reason they are still around hundreds of years later: they catch fish! There has been a resurgence of interest in them in recent modern times, and people are learning there are ways to catch trout other than dries & nymphs. At moments, a properly presented soft-hackle/wet will vastly outfish any nymph, dry or streamers. And also, they are just plain a lot of fun to fish. Call shop at 860-379-1952 to sign up. Pat is also planning on doing a follow-up clinic this spring where he will teach you how to fish these flies.
Afternoon update: At 9am the MDC reduced dam release by 28cfs (127cfs down to 99cfs), which will bring total flow down to a moderately low guesstimated level of about 155-160cfs. Look for a flow increase later this week due to warmer temps melting snow, combined with rain on Friday/Saturday.
flow at 8am this morning was medium-low at approximately 180-190cfs in
the permanent Catch & Release (C&R)/TMA (140cfs in Riverton, plus an estimated 40-50cfs 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- look for future warming trends to bump this up a little.
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, which helps to moderate the water temps and
keep them a little warmer and more trout-friendly than on other streams.
Curious about Euro Nymphing but have no idea where to start? I (Torrey) will be doing a FREE 1 hour "Crash Intro to Euro/Tight-Line Nymphing" at 10am on February 3rd. All are welcome and there is no sign-up, just show up at the store with a pen/notepad and some questions to ask me. I'll cover as much as I can about the basics in one hour, and I welcome your questions. Go to our "Classes, Events & Reviews" page to read a detailed description of what this quick intro is all about.
Midges are one of two main hatches currently, mostly dark colored (black/gray)
and in the #24-32 range- if you are nymphing them subsurface with
patterns tied on short-shank scud hooks you can try flies in the #16-22
range. They normally pop during the mildest part of the day, typically
in the afternoons. The
morning Winter Caddis is typically an
early to mid morning deal with #18-24 pupa & adult imitations.
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.
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. Blue Winged Olives (BWOs/Olives) are probably just about done, with trout
typically eating them on
the surface in the 1-4pm time slot when they are on the water. 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). If you venture out in the AM and don't find risers, be prepared to go
subsurface with streamers & nymphs. The early winter post-spawn brown trout streamer was good, 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.
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
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.
The winter streamer bite can be good, but with water temps are in the 30s now, 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. 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. Don't rule out winter dry fly fishing, it can be surprisingly good at moments.
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
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
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
(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),
#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.
Winter is in full effect, and along with colder air & water temps 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 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.