Winter Doldrums - by Nick Freeman

Surviving Winter as a Fisherman

The deep of winter is the slowest time of the year to a fly fisherman.  Gone are the warm days of summer and nothing to look forward to except snow and ice for the next 2-3 months.  Perhaps if you are lucky you’ve prepared for bone fishing in Belize or the Bahamas or Permit off the Florida Keys.  But even if you haven’t, there are things you can do to get through the worst of it. Here are some of the coping mechanisms I use to keep me sane.  Please let me know if you have advice on getting you through the winter months!

  1. Fly Tying – While I am by no means an expert, I have a few go-to patterns that I enjoy tying.  Even if they are simple, you can experiment and even invent your own fly. It’s pretty satisfying to catch a fish on a fly you tied yourself.  It can be pricy to get started because of all the specialized equipment, but this is a hobby that can be relaxing and creative at the same time.  

  2. Reading – Norman McLean, Thomas McGuane, Jon Gierach, James Babb and many more.  There is a whole slew of talented, poetic and hilarious authors who write in magazines or books about fly-fishing.  Reading authors like these is a great way to learn and relax on a cold winter evening. Greys Sporting Magazine and Trout Unlimited are some of the magazine productions that are always educational and entertaining.

  3. Ice Fishing – yes. Ice Fishing is definitely something that you can do. Dillon Reservoir has a rebounding brown trout population in addition to the mysterious arctic char.  The state record was caught this past summer. Not everyone can say they’ve caught a char, so this might be a great time to give it a shot. The ice is pretty much set, but be sure to do your research before going out on the ice.

  4. Organizing and repairing – if you are like me, the tools and equipment in your sling pack or vest start to move around and find themselves in random pockets or missing altogether.  I try to go over my inventory, organizing flies and equipment and making sure I haven’t lost anything. I usually find out that I both have too many and need more flies at the same time.  Frustrating? Yes – but a quick stop by Cutthroat Anglers will take care of any missing or damaged equipment. I always recommend giving your waders a good looking over to see if you can do repairs.  It’s the worst feeling in the world to feel a leak on your first trip back.

  5. Fly-fishing! – YES, there are places you can still fish even in the dead of winter.  Spillways below dams are always a good idea as the water temperature is maintained there.  You’ll find crowds at all the famous ones, but there are big fish to be had. You can always drive a few hours to find warmer weather and open water if you have a whole day or weekend to dedicate.  Tiny midges, slow moving streamers and egg patterns are the go-to flies; but each area is different, so don’t forget to do your research. Quick tip – you can use petroleum jelly on the line guides to help prevent them freezing over. Quick tip #2 - Bring a thermos of coffee or a flask of choice whiskey to help prevent YOU from freezing over.

  6. Fly Casting – you don’t have to be over water to cast.  You can practice your cast anywhere, and it’s the best way to improve because you can work on the motion without having to worry about brush or your footing or wind etc.  You can focus on different techniques like double-hauling, roll casting, or with heavy weight to make your next trip on the water even better.

  7. Dreaming/Planning – this is what I do most.  Looking at maps and researching when the hatches are happening and the ideal style of fishing certain water at certain times.  To time it right and to have the right equipment set up takes careful planning and time. Now is the time to start figuring out what your itinerary will be and how to take advantage of the best hatches.  This goes hand in hand with your equipment reorganization. Make sure you have the right flies for the hatches you want to hit up.

  8. Join a group – there isn’t a fly fishers anonymous group that I’ve heard of, but there are plenty of TU chapters out there and now is the time that most of the meetings occur, since the guides are not working as much in the winter months.  There are helpful talks from biologists, state officials and local experts to get you ready for the next year and meet like-minded people. Typically, these groups use funds to donate or volunteer for conservation goals. Projects like reintroducing the native greenback cutthroat or reclamation on the Snake River are some of our local issues, but every chapter will be doing different things.  

Winter Fly Fishing

There you have it.  I wish I could have a “Top 10 List” but even I struggle with “the doldrums” in subzero temps and snowbound banks.  Mind you, fish always need something to eat so you can be successful no matter what the conditions. I’d recommend bundling up and getting some specialized equipment – check in with your friendly neighborhood fly fishermen at Cutthroat Anglers for the best advice on dealing with the wind and cold.  Thanks for checking in and as always – tight lines.

Sign up for our Newsletter

* indicates required