Every winter boat ramps across the country clear up, access points lose a few bootprints, and fish go unbothered for months. The cold weather is tough on us all, but few anglers realize just how rewarding winter fishing can be. You likely won’t put up big numbers of fish, but you’ll have less rust to knock off once spring arrives. So this winter, use these three tips to help you get your feet wet, and put a few more miles on your wading boots.
The best part about winter fishing is having the water to yourself. Even if you do run into other anglers, they will be few and far between. Now is the time to take advantage of that solitude and learn your local waters like never before. Start by scouting maps and looking for new areas to explore. Mark them using the My Places feature, and add photos and notes as you check each one. The more information you record, the more prepared you’ll be on your next visit. This is also a good time to hike and scout over long distances. Take a rod with you, and bounce from hole to hole while covering as much ground as you can. You’ll likely find areas you’ve overlooked in the past, and it’s an easy way to discover new beats on water you’re already familiar with. Scouting is a skill that many anglers neglect, and now is the best time to put it into practice.
Speaking of practice, this is also the time to work on new skills and sharpen old ones. Few anglers go out on their first trip of the year and finds instant success. You’ll have casting trouble, wind knots, and drag in your drifts. The best way to keep these mistakes from creeping into your game is by getting on the water and building on what you already know. Muscle memory is central to fly fishing proficiency, and when those muscles forget, mistakes happen. Continue to work on your current strengths, and carry that growth into spring. You can also take the winter to learn a new skill like spey casting or streamer fishing. You should have large sections of water at your disposal to throw fly line all over, and no one will be there to judge your mistakes. So let loose and have fun with it. Winter is a great opportunity to experiment with new techniques and make ugly blunders. As long as you’re on the water, it’s time well wasted.
Are you the angler that shows up at the access point and turns around when you see more than a few vehicles? Then you’re going to love winter fishing. The same places that get overrun in the summer will sit relatively empty during the winter months, and there’s no better time to find some peace and quiet on the water. While fishing will be tougher due to low water temperatures and fish metabolism rates, angling pressure will be way down. That means when you do find fish that are willing to eat, you’re probably not going to have much competition. Spread out, work a lot of water, and enjoy the beauty of solitude on the river.
You may get cold feet, and cold fingers, but when you finally hook up using that microscopic midge pattern, it will all be worth it. Winter fishing isn’t about putting up numbers of fish or catching record hogs. It’s about becoming a better angler and reconnecting with the outdoors.