Fishing Nymphs During The Winter
By Mark Bachmann
There are several advantages to fishing in winter for trout. Fly fishing can be great consolation for winter blues. Outdoor exercise is a great healer for the soul. In many rivers and lakes trout that have fed heavily during summer and fall are in peak condition during winter. Of course there will be times when cold weather and ice make fly fishing impossible, but these times will be short in Oregon. Spring creeks and tail-waters will have the most stable flows and temperatures.
Another advantage to fishing during the winter months is that trout are most active during peak water temperatures (late morning through early afternoon). These so called banker's hours give an angler about three to four hours to fish, right in the middle of the day.
Plan your fishing with the weather and water conditions in mind. Make plans in advance, but be ready to modify plans based on water flows and weather reports. A certain amount of higher flows can be to your favor, since catastrophic drift can stimulate trout feeding. However, high winds or freezing rain are never helpful.
During winter months there is usually a lack of competition from other anglers. Rested fish usually bite more aggressively and can be less selective feeders than fish that have been pressured. They often are positioned in softer flows closer to the bank. Colder water also contributes to this situation. The water in cold rivers can be very clear. Be observant an be very careful with your wading. Many fish can be caught without wading at all. Casting froma dry land position becomes even more critical during run-off periods when rivers become cloudy with silt.
Be prepared to use strike indicators or not. Most naturally drifting live nymphs stay very close to the streambed. Using strike indicators or dry/dropper setups can be a productive approach when fishing water that is comparatively shallow, but strike indicators are a nuisance when fishing deeper water. There are many situations where using the Euro Nymph or lobbing split shot will fish deeper with less drag on the fly. A pack of Twiston Lead Strips will fin tune the depth your flies will fish at. Don't forget to carry a couple of different sizes of Split Shots as well.
Don't forget to capitalize on egg drift. In the Pacific Northwest there are many fish that spawn during the fall/winter/spring months. Pacific salmon, brook trout, brown trout and bull trout spawn September-December. White fish spawn December-February. Cutthroats spawn January-March. Rainbows, including steelhead spawn November-June. So there is egg drift in some rivers from September through June. It is not out of the question that a Glo Bug could be one of your key flies for 10 months of the year. Fishing two, or even three flies at a time can tip the odds in your favor as it increases the likelihood of having the right fly in front of a fish every cast. In these multi-fly casts, it is to your advantage to fish a glo bug closest to the bottom of the river.
Learn behavioral drift cycles. Behavioral drift is a way that aquatic insects redistribute their populations on the bottom of a river. Caddis larva and stonefly nymphs are prone to behavioral drifts during winter months. During these phenomena every member of each insect family might turn loose of the bottom and drift down the river for a distance. Insects that are normally hidden in the streambed are now exposed. These drifts can trigger aggressive feeding activity from fish. Behavioral drift normally happens during low light periods, but during winter they can also happen during the warmest part of the day.
There are often steelhead in trout streams during winter that have access to the ocean. They are prone to eat drifting nymphs and egg egg flies, a situation worth consideration when selecting tippet sizes.