A Goodbye To Winter

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photo by Louis Cahill

photo by Louis Cahill

By Johnny Spillane

God Damn its cold.

I have been standing in 38 degree water for almost 4 hours, the temperature is 15 degrees and the wind-chill is brutal. My fingers stopped working a while ago; the upper legs on my waders are frozen solid and I’m struggling hard to tie on a size 26 midge. Why the hell am I still out here? I’m here because fish are rising. Everywhere.

Here in Steamboat Springs CO, we fish year round, rain or shine and some of the best fishing can be during the winter, especially in March and April. While countless people are buckling into their skis, the few hardy folks that brave the elements are having the time of their lives with a fly rod. Fishing during the winter is a different experience then what we are generally used to. During the summers, we get away with 3x and big stoneflies, but the winter is a whole different ball game. Midges and fine tippet are on the menu, with the tippet size sometimes being more important than the actual fly.

During the winter, we get folks that call in looking for a guided trip based on the weather. I often get asked to check the weather report and look for the warmest, sunniest day of that week. High sun+winter conditions=tough fishing. As soon as the sun comes out, the fishing gets tough. We want those overcast days when it’s slightly snowing because the fish are much less spooky and more prone to rise. If it is sunny, the fish might move onto the sandy spots and you can sight fish for them fairly easily, but you generally will be throwing smaller flies on finer tippet and you have to be careful about how you approach the water because a lot of times the fish are right in close to the bank and if you don’t approach with caution, you will blow out the hole.

One of the other benefits to winter fishing in cold weather is occasionally the rivers freeze over and the fish get a break from the anglers. It also freezes and thaws in different places at different times and when it opens back up, the fishing is on. Keep your eye on the weather report and if you see a few days in a row of higher temps, get ready to gear up and head out because it can be lights out.

Back to the fishing. We are standing in front of a pod of 30 rising fish all between 16” and 20” and they are coming up fairly regularly. I’ve got on a size 18 Parachute Adams followed by a size 20 black Pablo’s Cripple. If you’ve never fished a Pablo’s Cripple you’re missing out. Its creator Paul Russell, is one of our guides and he ties this same pattern using different colors and hook sizes to imitate just about anything. But for some reason the fish are kind of ignoring it.

I immediately remove the Adams and start getting a few more strikes, but nowhere near the amount I should be getting with this many fish up. I switch flies to a #24 Brooks Sprout Midge. Nothing happening, yet the water is still boiling. Time to try some 7x tippet. It’s been years since I fished 7x. I’m not even sure I can tie it on, as my hands are basically worthless blocks of ice attached to my arms.

After a little struggle and a fair amount of swearing I’ve got a #22 Cripple with no floatant tied to greased 7x so that the fly will hopefully sit in the film. The only downside to this is I can’t see the fly and it becomes a bit of a guessing game setting the hook. But it works and 30 minutes and 10 fish later, I’m walking back to our truck with a big smile on my face. Happy that I choose the river over the ski area.

Tight lines,

Johnny Spillane

Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “A Goodbye To Winter

  1. Good read. I haven’t tried winter fishing but it seems cool. I love fishing but I usually do it during normal seasons. I might try it differently next time though. Fly fishing in Terrace, BC is always hard and fun during summer, it gets really crowded.

  2. This article is perfect to welcome winter, we are getting our first snow in town today in Breckenridge. Cant wait till the rivers clear out when winter really hits. Good article as always keep up the winter articles (my favorite).

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