Do Fly Fishers Hibernate During Winter?
It is just past the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the shortest episode of warming rays of the sun, the beginning of winter, a time of holidays and merry making. Winter is a time of family gatherings and conversations by warming flames.
It is also a time for roving barren gravel bars recently washed by deluges of rain and scoured by roaring torrents filled with abrasive volcanic sand. Upon close inspection, you see skeletons of dead, spawned out salmon are mixed with bits of fallen leaves that have been ground into dark specks amongst the grit. Less apparent are the individual molecules leaching from this biomass that nurture the smallest unborn. Meanwhile, gulls and bald eagles patrol the air constantly in search of bodies that are still intact enough to offer bites of flesh large enough to sustain them. Sets of tracks from a cougar, a black bear, several black tail deer, beavers, and an otter are incised into the barren sand bars disclose that larger game is also afoot. Everything survives by consuming something else, yet is consumed and recycled as well. Leaves of the maples, alders, cottonwoods and willows are all fallen. The nude body of the Earth Mother is starkly revealed through the cold, clear air, only to disappear within veils of drifting fog.
Western Oregon gets its largest runs of steelhead during the months of December through April. The Sandy and Clackamas are at their best during winter, as are all the coastal rivers in the Pacific Northwest. During December, you can expect cold, gray, silt laden rivers to fill and then recede with the pulses of snow-melt floods and freezing east wind. By mid-January, the weather is starting to mellow, and by mid-February, daytime temperatures are in the high forties.
Many humans move indoors to escape the harsh climatic change that happens around the Winter Solstice. Rivers and lakes are nearly abandoned everywhere, and can offer solitude that is available at no other time of year. Anglers equipped with insulated, waterproof, breathable clothing can be totally comfortable, while recreating along these deserted waterways. A few early winter steelhead are available, but not enough to attract attention from anyone except the solitary hunters who, like most apex predators, are willing and able to cover large territories to become successful.
Winter is a great time to take one of our two-day Steelhead Spey Schools. Fishing with two-hand fly rods is a traditional, productive, fun approach to catching large anadromous fish such as steelhead and salmon. Our Schools will provide you with a basic skill set, and are taught by friendly, professional, experienced instructors in a breathtaking setting on the Sandy River. All the equipment is rented or provided. The local community has lodging that is perfectly suited for the travelling angler. Experienced professional steelhead fly fishing guides are usually available on fairly short notice for floats down our local rivers, but it does pay to make reservations far in advance to get the top guides.
During December, the Deschutes and John Day Rivers are full of steelhead. The canyons are empty of anglers, but full of Big Horns and Mule Deer. It is a great time of year for the big-game photographer. It can also be a great time to fish for trout in the lower Deschutes River as well as the Metolius and Crooked Rivers. Hatches occur during mid-day periods. No need to get up early. Fishing days are short and relaxed. During calm days, Lake Billy Chinook can offer some great winter fishing around the mouths of tributary rivers.
December, January and February can be great months for fly anglers to travel south to Florida, and many parts of the Caribbean. Bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook are active all winter in Belize. Patty and I have spent more than one hundred fishing days in Belize since 1984. The national language of Belize is English. In 2008, Belize passed laws that protect its fisheries from over harvest, and the fisheries are very healthy. If Belize is on your bucket list, we can help you make it happen. Cuba has some of the best tropical fly fishing in the world, and is finally opening for recreational fishing to U.S. citizens. We visited Cuba in 2014, and were some of the first citizens to do so legally on a People to People Exchange licensed by the Ocean Institute. If a visit to Cuba is in your future we can hook you up with the best available.