Planning a Day of Winter Fly Fishing
By: Harlan Kimball
The notion of fly fishing in the winter may be baffling to some people, but don't let cold temperatures and winter weather deter you from spending a day on the river (skiing is just as cold people!). Fly fishing in the winter should come with a different mindset when judging whether you had a "successful" day or not. Sure, during the warmer months I'll be bummed if the hopper fishing or caddis hatch wasn't what we thought it would be, but in the winter, you should go into the day with lower expectations. The lower the expectations, the better time you'll have out on the water. The best way to be successful is to know before you go. Plan ahead and be prepared for anything.
Planning for winter weather
Where to start... Let's begin with the fact that weather in Colorado is never a given. The weathermen here can be 100% wrong and still keep their jobs. So, when planning a day of fishing be ready for rain, hail, snow, wind, tornados, tsunamis, you get the point. The best advice I can give is to look for days with temperatures above freezing. I'll pull up my weather app on my phone and focus on the warmer days. Although, that's not where I make my final decision. Next, I'll look at wind speeds. If it's a balmy 40 degrees and the wind is howling, you can expect the air temperature to feel more like 20 degrees.
Another thing to think about when planning a day of winter fly fishing is DON'T RUSH! It's no question that waking up before the sun and getting to the river at the break of dawn is sometimes what fishing is all about. I have a hard time breaking this habit and will automatically wake up at 5 am in the winter to only realize its -3 degrees. Don't do what I do. Sleep in, sip that cup of joe, organize your flies, or stare at the thermometer till it's time to go.
My main point here is DONT FORCE IT! If the weather doesn't look right, stay home, tie some flies, or plan a summer trip. The fish arn't going anywhere.
What to wear?
Simms Merino Wool Socks
Typically, I'll bring two pairs of socks with me winter fly fishing. The first is for the drive to the river and the second is to put on once I get there. The reason being is that your feet tend to perspire while driving in a warm car and once you step into the cold your feet will freeze up. Having a fresh pair of socks to put on before you fish will keep you warmer and more comfortable.
Simms GORE-TEX Gloves
I've heard people say, "I don't wear gloves in the winter." Personally, I feel like these are the same people that refuse to wear pants in the wintertime. Why not wear gloves? Sure, it might make stripping or rigging a tad bit more difficult but in my mind the pros outweigh the cons. (Tip: Remove gloves before handling fish. This will allow for a safe release and warmer fingers)
Simms GORE-TEX Waders
If you're looking the best pair of winter waders, you don't have to look very hard. Simms GORE-TEX waders are the powerhouses of the wader world. They'll keep you cool in during the warmer months and warm during the colder months. If I had to rank the best GORE-TEX waders from great to really great it would go like this: Simms G3 Stockingfoot, Simms G4 Stockingfoot, Simms G4z Stockingfoot Wader, and last but certainly not least the Simms G3 or G4 Bootfoot Wader. Bootfoot waders are not the most popular waders but in terms of keeping in warmth, nothing really compares.
An inexpensive way to keep you out on the water longer. I typically keep my handwarmers readily accessible in either my wader pockets or jacket pockets. Fingers get chilly, hold handwarmers for a couple minutes and get right back to fishing.
Where to go?
Blue River Tailwater - The Blue River in the Town of Silverthorne holds some hefty rainbow trout that are best caught sight fishing. Small flies, light tippet and a good pair of polarized sunglasses is the name of the game here.
Williams Fork Tailwater - This short tailwater section is great for getting away from all the hustle and bustle in your life. A short hike is required to get to the river so make sure you bring enough water and snacks. Like most tailwaters this time of year make sure you have small baetis and midge patterns to fool the selective trout that reside here.
Dream Stream - Although this section of river can see a lot of foot traffic, the fish that live in the Dream Stream can be worth working for. Scuds, leeches, baetis and midges are going to be your staple patterns to tie on.
Upper Colorado River - The Upper Colorado near the town of Parshall is an easy access winter fishery. This section remains ice free due to the Williams Fork tailwater that flows into the Colorado. Don't be surprised to find pods of fish rising in the middle of winter. Prolific midge hatches are common on this stretch.
Eagle River - Sections of the Eagle River remain open due to the warm water being pumped in by water treatment plants. Take a drive down I-70 and keep your eyes peeled for sections of fishable water.
Arkansas River - The Arkansas River goes through a region referred to as the Banana Belt. This area around Salida and Buena Vista is generally warmer and drier in the winter than the rest of the state due to downsloping winds. When its 35 degrees in Summit County, you can bet that its almost 45 in Salida. The Arkansas river is loaded with stoneflies and caddis larva. Make sure you have a box full of Pat’s Rubber Legs, Pheasant Tails, Hares Ears and obviously, midges.
Thanks for reading, so long!