I hate driving, with a passion. In fact I don’t much care for anything that is motorized really. Its just not my speed. My speed is foot speed. A good 3 mile an hour pace with a pack on my back, a fly rod in my hand, and a good pair of boots. Headed farther up the trail to secret fishing spots and undiscovered riffles and pools.
My speed is more around that of the river. A slow but powerful churn, that can be swift when needed but calms and ebbs just around the bend. More my speed indeed. The speed of a drift boat and a strong back row for one more cast, feels more right than most.
While most around the river enjoy the winter from the back of a snowmachine. I never cared for snowmobiling in the winter months. Far louder and too fast to enjoy the outdoors properly in my opinion. You miss the softness of the winter. The quiet fall of the snow, the light babble of the low river, the lack of wildlife noises opens a world of solitude and silence. I for one, find it utterly refreshing,
I found that the winter months were better spent skiing or snowshoeing into the woods and discovering the wonderfully different side of them, This winter has made that rather difficult but I have fond memories of past seasons. Winter also offered me something even more desirable and just as intoxicating.
The river typically goes through the winter with little angler presence. The few die hards and anxious trout bums like myself will venture out when conditions line up, or even when they don’t. Sometimes just being on the river casting a rod to troublesome and sleepy winter trouts is all that is needed. The winter brings a stillness, peace, and absolute quiet that cannot be found any other time of year.
I have always enjoyed the lonely winter months along the banks of the river. A nymphing rig set up on a fast rod, a double haul with a big open loop, a 30 foot cast to the top of a deep trough, and that sweet sight of an indicator going down, the powerful tug of a hungry trout at the end. I have never been much of a streamer angler. While I love to strip flies for bass, and occasionally when the time of year or conditions demand it for trout, but I have a deep love for nymphing. A high stick drift, over the cross currents into that small soft spot between the boulder and the seam, the trouty place that only a large winter trout would hold in, ya…thats the stuff.
Tricking the quarry of an angler on the nymph requires patience, determination, and damn fine mending skills. A small bit of insanity is also needed. While dry fly fishing is…well dry fly fishing, nymphing is a game of fine tuning and dialing down to the result of tricking the trout. A proper dry fly placed in the correct lane with a excellent drift will entice a strike. A nymph through the fishiest water 300 times may never produce a thing and you would never know the difference, and miss an opportunity at the pod of 12 fish 2 feet deeper below your rig. An understating of current and hydrology helps immensely, spending time observing fish feeding on nymphs with a snorkel also opens up an entire world of enlightenment to the nymph angler.
Studying how the nymphs run through the water column and how they react to water temperature, air temperature, pressure, and the time of year all factor into where the trout will hold in order to feed. Try fishing the Salmon Fly Migration before the hatch, so many fish are left uncaught by the dry fly fisherman because they are full on nymphs. Some of the larger smarter fish as well. During the winter this process becomes a slightly tougher game mostly because less fish eat and fish need to eat less.
Trout slow down and almost hibernate during the winter. Typically in pods in deep slow water, trout hang out and literally chill while the winter months pass along. The fish all eat, but depending on the day they may eat just enough, not eat at all, or eat very little. This means anglers must pay close attention to temps and flows as well as sunlight. Warmer days with warm nights keep the water temps up which means fish need to feed. The greatest thing about winter fishing, especially on the Yakima, is that the larger fish are much easier to catch during the winter months. This is because the biggest fish need to eat more. The little fish may only need a small helping of nymphs to keep their energy levels at nominal for winter time. Larger fish need to eat, and therefore are easier to target.
During the regular season fish will gorge themselves on naturals, mostly because they require more energy to keep up with higher water temps which fuel their metabolism and they expel enormous amounts of energy during faster currents. Factor in fattening up for spawning in the spring and holding for the winter; and the regular season fishing is fairly straight forward. Winter fishing is an exact science surrounded by absolute frustrating chaos within the mind of an angler. A process of whittling down the sections of fishy water until the river takes the win or the angler gets a chance to prove oneself.
The typical single and double nymph set ups work just fine. I find myself light line nymphing with midge and pheasant tails frequently, but a large stonefly nymph and a zebra midge usually will result in success during the winter. I enjoy taking a piece of water and working it out fully. Picking lanes 6 inches apart from each other and casting through them, adjusting my depth every few casts looking for that sweet spot where the trout are holding.
Hitting them on the head is the best method and if you have ever seen trout feeding under water during December, let me tell you, they move very little most of the time, even for food. Working and entire section of water patiently and methodically will usually result in a proper winter trout. Winter nymphing is a matter of working all the variables out until you get that trouty result. You may only get one shot at a trout in the winter. Mostly due to time, the window for good fishing most winter days is under 3 hours. Fine tuning and finding the trout can take up most of that time but an ambitions angler with a good mind set can get the job done.
I spend the winter months tying and chasing the larger 4 and 5 year old fish that live in the deep pools and runs of the Yakima. The river is peaceful, and nothing is better than a soft snow and a quiet river. The silence being broken only, by the sound of a reel slowly fighting against a deep pulling trout.
Our destination is only a couple hours now, I look forward to a change of scenery, a different river, and a new quarry.