Cabin fever has gotten the best of me this year. I’ve passed much of the time learning to tie fly patterns and reading different blogs and watching lots of videos, but there comes a point that I can no longer live vicariously through Youtube videos. This led me to a stocked trout stream about 20 minutes outside of town on a cold (25 degrees) Sunday afternoon in February.
Regardless of whether or not I’m catching fish when I go fly fishing, I try to take something away from each experience. Considering my hours spent to fish caught ratio, this is a very good thing! Last weekend I attempted my first winter fly fishing outing and it was both a win and a loss.
The couple of hours on the stream was a loss in that, despite being stocked 2 days prior, I was new to the stream and was not sure where to start, so I ended up not catching any fish. I also learned that fishing in sub-freezing temperatures is nothing like fishing on a warm summer’s eve. My leader became stiff when I lifted it off the water and I was continually fighting ice buildup on the tip of my rod. I finally resorted to a sort of “high sticking” technique that didn’t require stripping the line. I’ve read articles by fisherman talking about ice building up in the rod guides and the products to combat it, but experiencing it firsthand is quite a different story.
However, the trip was a win for a couple of reasons. First, it was good to get outside for a while, despite cold weather and snow cover. I think it was more about experimenting in cold weather angling that it was about actually catching fish. To address my ice problem, I now know that on days like that, I need something that will help to reduce the buildup on the rod guides, or I know to stay at home and wait for a warmer day. Lesson 1 learned.
Secondly, I wasn’t sure what to expect clothing-wise on my first winter fishing trip. This was probably the most helpful lesson. I wanted to error on the side of caution since I was by myself on a new stream, so in some ways I overdressed. I had a pair of long johns on my bottoms, as well as a pair of fleece pants and then my waders. For my feet I wore a pair of thin polyester liner socks, then a thick pair of wool socks over those. I added a chemical heat pack under each instep and then pulled on a pair of neoprene wading socks before slipping into my stocking foot waders. This kept me warm and I hardly noticed a difference in temperature when I waded through a knee deep pool. One thing I will do differently, however, is to put the chemical packs on top of my feet instead of underneath. I have fairly fussy feet when it comes to shoes, and having them under my arches was not comfortable for long!
For my upper layers I wore a close-fitting polyester workout shirt with a mid-weight fleece on top of that. For a shell I wore a soft shell jacket and stayed warm for the couple of hours I was out. I also wore a pair of fingerless gloves and a beanie that completed my ensemble. The only times I got cold were when I changed flies and noticed my finger dexterity deteriorate quickly. Next time I’ll probably throw a second pair of chemical warmers in my pocket to slip into my gloves from time to time.
All in all I had fun even though I didn’t catch any fish. I was surprised at how remote the stream was, despite being only 20 minutes from Morgantown. Although the stream gets a lot of pressure from non Catch-and-Release anglers, I’ll probably go back once it warms up and explore some of the less-trafficked holes.
If you’ve never done anything outside in the winter (i.e. ski, backpack, or hunt), being in water in subfreezing temperatures is definitely something to be approached with caution, but with proper preparation and gear, can be a rewarding time to fish with fewer people on the water. If you’ve tried it before with success, what piece of advice would you add/change about what I did or offer to other readers?