Well, it seems that we all made it through the holidays. As crazy as Christmas and New Year's can be, we do hope that you found some quiet time to catch your breath and to take a moment to be thankful for the blessings in your lives and to be optimistic about the new year ahead of us. This is our first “real” blog of 2024. The last couple were short holiday issues, but now I hope to get into some serious (and fun) fishing subjects.
Our hope is to give you more and better information on a range of subject matter and to choose subjects that will help us all become better fishermen. If you have a topic or question that you would like us to delve into, please let us know....we're always looking. Every blogger wants to provide content that keeps the readers engaged, so please send us your comments, questions, and suggestions. It's what keeps me going! And, as a reminder, the blog is going out now every other week.
Our head guide, Jim Kukorlo, starts us off with his tips (and the inside scoop) for winter fishing. There are some things here that you may not have thought about before. As always, thank you, Jim.
Matching the Winter Hatch – Winter Tips
Jim Kukorlo, Head Guide
It's that time of year when sitting by the fire tying flies sounds pretty good; but, we are having a pretty mild winter so far, and even during the hard ones whenever we get a break in the weather, it's an opportunity to get out and spend time on the stream. At this time of year you can have the best spots to yourself, the fish are in great shape, and it's nice to get outside. Just like any other time of the year, knowing what trout are feeding on, and what to adjust in your presentation and technique, will give you an edge. Let's start with taking a close look at the winter diet for a trout which is made up mostly of midges and stoneflies. These insects continue an active life cycle through the winter months, making them a main source of food.
Midge nymph patterns are my go-to first choice in the winter. My favorites are midges in hook sizes 16-22, with tungsten bead heads that will get the fly down quickly. I like tungsten heads because I can eliminate split shot that can crimp the tippet. I find, too, that these smaller flies and clear winter water call for 6x fluorocarbon tippet.
I have a lot of success with midge patterns such as the Rainbow Warrior, Zebra midge (black, olive, brown, red), pheasant tail nymphs, (flashback, orange hotspots, crystal flash) and euro nymphs.
Another source of winter trout food are stoneflies. Because stoneflies have a two year life cycle, they are in the water in all sizes all year long. Some of my favorite stonefly patterns, tied in hook sizes 10 and 12, are Pat's rubber legs, Prince nymphs, Early black stoneflies (hook size 16), Rubber legged Copper Johns, variations of the pheasant tail and Sexy Walt's Worms, just to name a few.
Eggs & Sucker Spawn:
Two old, reliable winter flies are the egg and the sucker spawn. Not sure what fly to use in the winter? Use an egg. Why do they work so well? I believe the trout know that fish eggs are a great source of protein and they don't hesitate to eat them.
I tie my eggs and sucker spawn without weight. Trout know that eggs don't swim, they just drift along the bottom with the current so I like to add a split shot 6 inches above the fly, heavy enough to get the fly near the bottom. My sucker spawn are either yellow with orange thread or pink with red thread, tied on a size 12 & 14, barbless egg or curve caddis hook. I don't find color to matter a whole lot. I stick with light pink, yellow or orange eggs. Troutbitten shows tying a sucker spawn very similar to what I do.
I prefer 5x and 6x fluorocarbon carbon depending on water flow, water color or riffles. It's important to be alert and ready, when fish take the fly in the winter it is always soft and subtle and even more so when fishing an egg.
Streamers: Time to change up tactics
My first choice in winter fly fishing is nymph fishing with small midge patterns, then changing up to larger stoneflies, flashy nymphs, eggs, and spawn. Then, or when I can't feel my feet anymore, I start moving and covering more water with streamers.
Streamers can be very effective in the winter months. Once in awhile a trout will chase a fast streamer strip, but more often it's a series of jigs and short strips that keep the streamer moving along the bottom that is effective. I consider wooly buggers, Cathy's Super Buggers, and jiggy flies all in the same class as streamers. These are great flies to slowly jig along to imitate a dying bait fish. As the fly drifts through the water, I lift the rod tip to give it more movement while retrieving the slack line with your hand and always being ready to strip set on a strike.
Heavier streamer flies calls for heavier tippet. You can cut back your leader to 3x, or consider changing to a 71/2 ft 3x RIO VersiLeader. If water conditions are high and fast, it's best to also switch to a heavier 6 or 7 wt rod with a RIO streamer tip sinking line. These lines come in different lengths and sink rates for different water conditions. I like a 10 ft medium sink tip for average water flows and a 250 grain 24 ft sink tip for faster water flows. To that I will attach the Versileader, or use a 7 ft piece of 20 lb test monofilament.
When fishing streamers I keep moving down stream making a cast or two to each likely spot that might hold a trout. I change it up from time to time by fishing two streamers in tandem, or tie on a egg and trail a streamer about 8 inches behind the egg to make it look like a baitfish chasing an egg. Streamers can be very productive when fished slowly and carefully and I know several anglers that only fish streamers in the winter months and are very successful.
Blue Wing Olives & Midge Hatch: Look for Rising Trout
Whenever I'm on the water my eyes are scanning for rising fish. I get excited when I see risers in the winter. Blue-winged olives and midges are standard winter hatches here on Fishing Creek. More often than not the rising fish are small trout, but that's ok, I'll take it. Fishing to rising fish on a wintery day is just plain cool. It's a short hatch window, occurring during the warmest part of the day, so when you see it be sure to switch over quickly to dry flies.
My favorite midge patterns are in hook sizes 18 to 22. Trout can be selective, so switch flies often and step down to 6x or even 7x as the flies get smaller. I like a 9 ft monofilament leader with an 18 inch fluorocarbon tippet. Fluorocarbon will sink just enough to make the tippet harder for the trout to see.
Early black stoneflies crawl out of the water to the stream bank to hatch and become adults. The adult insects mate out of the water on the stream bank, and then the female crawls back into the water to lay her eggs. When this happens you could see some rising fish taking the females, but for the most part early black stoneflies offer some good nymph fishing.
Euro nymphing is my personal favorite technique throughout the season for fishing nymphs. In the winter months it has several important advantages over other nymphing techniques. I prefer my 10-1/2' Redington Strike 3 wt. Euro rod and a Sage ESN fly reel with a mono rig setup. Mono is thinner then a euro fly line and will help to keep ice from forming in your guides. When ice does form on the line it seems to drop quickly as the line goes through the guides.
With a good tuck cast, your flies will get down quickly into the strike zone. Getting the flies down fast is always important, but more so in winter fishing. If you don't have a Euro rod you can use a 10 ft section of RIO 3x, 2-tone, indicator tippet tied to directly to your fly line. To that attach a 2mm tippet ring and finish by attaching 4 to 6 ft of fluorocarbon tippet to which you tie your flies. With this setup you can tight line nymph fish by using the high stick nymphing technique. I always fish two nymphs, either in tandem or drop tag setup. If you're not getting hits, change the fly combination to entice a strike. For example a small flashy Rainbow Warrior as drop fly with a heavier Pat's rubber leg nymph as your point fly. Experiment. Start small and go big.
When Nymphing with a regular fly rod (not ESN), your leader length should be 12 to 14 ft. I start with a RIO 9 ft. 4x mono leader, and to that add a 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon carbon tippet. Using a double surgeon knot, make the drop tag 6 to 8 inches long. Approximately 20 inches below add the point fly. The point fly should be the heavier fly to avoid tangling. Using longer leaders will help you keep the fly line off the water which will help eliminate drag. A small indicator will keep the flies just off the bottom and in the strike zone. I like a Pat Dorsey, or Australian wool, indicators because they land softly and are more sensitive to detect a winter strike.
Winter nymphing will test your fishing skills. Be alert, set on anything that is unexpected or any suspicious action. Set the hook more often and guess less.
Where to Find Trout:
Generally speaking slower flats and pools can hold winter fish. Fish deeper and slower. Winter trout also hold in the same riffles and run that they do all season long. Cast behind rocks, along the edges of the riffles, near banks, undercuts and in the bubble line. Target areas like this rather then casting broadly to increase you changes of finding feeding fish.
My goal was to give you an idea of what winter hatches you could expect to see and some of the flies you should carry in your fly box. Many anglers don't realize that winter fly fishing offers a chance to use different techniques to catch fish.
Winter blues and cabin fever can set in quickly, so why not get out on the water for a few hours on a winter day. It's good for your soul.
Fly Fishing Only Show
The Edison Fly Fishing Only Show is January 26, 27 & 28, 2024. There is a lot of buzz in the industry about show season. A lot of big names in manufacturing are coming back to the shows and we are told it's a sold out venue.
Don't miss Barry's fishing presentations, Cathy's casting demonstrations, and something new – be sure to see them Sunday morning (8:30-11), for What's in the Box, a very audience-interactive opportunity to learn and ask about anything tackle-related that Barry & Cathy use, from little to big, and everything in between. Bring your coffee and your questions. We'll see you there for a fun and interesting morning discussion. (Registration is required.)
Check out the show schedules, times, costs, location and mark it on your calendar!
Winter Guiding Special
We are offering our winter guiding special from now until March 1, 2024. $75 off each guide day, whether one or two anglers. Our calendar is wide open and dates can be easily rescheduled if the weather turns nasty, but with the mild winter continuing, we think there might be plenty of pleasant winter days to spend on the stream. It's a perfect opportunity to work on euro nymphing!
One angler/one guide $320, two anglers/one guide $375. 9:00-4:00. Includes lunch. Come and see for yourself our beautiful winter trout! Call or email to schedule: 570-925-2392. email@example.com.
That's all for this week. We'll be back on January 25, with the next blog. That's show weekend, hope to see you at Edison, NJ! Thanks for following.