At a point the weather pattern shifts and the app on your phone says it’s going to be cold for a long, long while. The sunny and 75 is long gone and eventually you’ve wandered into the monotonous stupor of endless overcast and too many days at the tying desk. Time to add layers until you feel like Ralphie’s little brother in that famed Christmas classic and head out to the local run.
Winter has become one of my favorite seasons to fish. Along with the warmth most of the anglers have long since gone and the fishing pressure with it. Runs can be empty even on the weekends and that wary brown that you missed in the cut bank on a hopper back in August may be laid up in inches of water sipping size 20 blue wings without a care in the world.
Winter offers up some great fishing though on the surface it can be sporadic. Midges, BWO’s, and little winter stones dominate your bug spectrum this time of year. In the mornings and evenings you are better off dredging the bottom. Pick apart your deepest water. Fast or slow, fish will congregate in these lies when the temps are at their lowest. It may be your 13th drift before you hit your first wily ‘bow of the day so don’t be in a hurry to move, the fish aren’t in a hurry either.
Even with temps in the mid 30’s you can find lots of activity. Add some extra layers and grease up your guides with mucilin line dressing to fight off icy build up and work your gentleman’s hours. Starting late and finishing early keeps you away from the hypothermic shiver and focuses your efforts on the warmest part of the day. As it warms look for fish moving into shallower water to feed. Keep a patient pace and take advantage of these low-pressure opportunities to work on some sight fishing. A majority of the nice trout I have caught in the winter I have seen first by scouting from a high bank or a good vantage point.
By mid afternoon on a typical southern trout stream start looking for those dimples on the surface. This is usually the peak time for activity. Look for blue wings or midge hatches but don’t forget about those little black things crawling on your waders. Here in the Davidson river area of North Carolina our winter stonefly hatches can show us some of the most bugs we’ve seen all season.
If all else fails don’t be afraid to throw that pink san juan or that big rubber legged stone literally chilling in the lost corner of your nymph box, or whip on that olive conehead bugger for some fun. Sometimes it takes a different approach to get fish moving.
Its better to be on the river, even when your feet feel like concrete galoshes. Some of my most memorable days are not the ones filled with fish, but the ones spent working a familiar run with banks blanketed in snow really learning how to appreciate sunny and 75.
Ken Hardwick is an experienced fly fishing guide with over 5 years of guiding clients for Davidson River Outfitters in Brevard, NC. Ken has fished many Southeastern waters from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennesee, South Carolina, and beyond. He has spent time fishing in Alaska while guiding for Great Alaska Fish Camp on the Kenai River and Alaska West Camp on the Kanektok River. You can book your next trip with Ken on the Davidson River or other surrounding area rivers by sending him an email at Khardwick@davidsonflyfishing.