I have been fishing for a while now. I have spent many a winter day knee deep in frigid water rolling and chucking nymph rigs with big pink bobbers on, ridiculously long drifts patiently waiting for the indicator to drop. That rush of adrenaline warming your bones and making the heart flutter…only to learn its a dirty whitey getting you all hot and bothered for nothing. I would catch a handful of decent sometimes rather large trout and that would be enough to keep me going through the cold months. As I have gotten older and more seasoned in my angling the allure of winter trout fishing has lost its luster. Its not that I won’t venture forth riverside to chase a trout in the winter…its just…well….I have done it a lot….and I get bored.
If you have fished with me, especially on a guided trip you know that I am high energy. Above most other anglers and guides I meet. The winter time fishing is more geared to those that just need to get out, don’t have a lot of options, or when the cabin fever is unbearable. Its also a younger anglers game in my opinion. That is not a slight on younger anglers or older, its just the majority of people who send me photos and ask me questions concerning winter time fishing are younger less experienced anglers. Winter time trout fishing is easy. For a handful of reasons, trout are sleepy and they don’t move very much. They are settled into winter lies and holding water, slow, deep, easy to spot and even easier to fish. Winter fish aren’t very hungry, so when they do eat it is typically whatever is in front of them. How many anglers catch fish on the dirty san juan worm in December compared to June? The options for trout are limited in the winter months and they are not near as picky when the buffet of food is churning down river during the regular trout season. Winter fishing is typically two things…slow swinging streamers….and nymphing.
Now I rag on nymphing a lot if you’ve been in my boat. I’ve done it all, the Euro, Czec thing, triple rigs, sinking lines, the turd worm combo, the 13 split shot depth charging that deep hole everyone talks about. Done and tried it all and have had plenty of success…and that’s why I don’t particularly care for nymphing. I have watched thousands of indicators drop, had plenty of tags and grabs on a slow swung streamer at the bottom slow tailout of the run. After a while…it just gets boring to me. I know how to do it, can put clients on it, and can teach it, but for me personally…its kind of a been there done that mentality. Plus when the regular trout season is in full swing, nymphing becomes less of a necessity and more part of the arsenal. Breaking down hatches, fishing the pre hatch, the migrations, and targeting fish that are keyed up on nymphs is a much more fun application of the technique. But that requires water temps to be optimal for bugs and fish to be moving around and percolating. I will admit, nymphing the pre March Brown hatch is still one of my favorite things to do, there is just something classic and intoxicating about dropping a pheasant tail through a three to four foot riffle tailout and hooking into a big ass fish taking the easy food before the bugs start popping and the trout start topping off their tummies with the adults mayflies. Or the swung PMD soft hackle in the early summer mornings as the river wakes up and a quick and nasty cutty swipes it hard and jolts you awake better than the quad shot you downed at 6 am.
Nymphing has its place for me personally as an angler, and every time I grab that nymph rod I either slay the shit with it…or literally come up empty. I cannot tell you how many times I have nymphed a run at different depths with different rigs and come up empty…then throw a dry in the right spot with a good drift and produced. As I have gotten older and more experienced it happens more often than not. Guiding nymphing is a teaching tool and I never use it as a time killer. Too many times, and when I would work for outfitters, I would be told to use nymphing to kill time when you know the fishing will be slow. I just stopped guiding when the fishing was consistently slow or consistently nymphing. If its gonna be a nymph only kinda day, I will be upfront about it and to be honest…I don’t really want your money on days like that. Nymphing to kill time is a shit game and it usually ends up with too many flies lost to rock fish and logs. When I know nymphing is gonna produce because the bugs are moving around as well as the fish…that’s when it gets done in my boat. But if a fish will take a dry…I will probably have you throw that instead…and just about every angler I take…like 97%, appreciate that. Nymphing is easy compared to dry fly fishing. Because nymphing you have gear and rigs taking a lot of the work out of the equation. Dry fly fishing is where skill, technique, and experience prevail.
So when I get asked why I don’t do a lot of personal winter fishing, or wait until late February to March to start guiding the simple answer is I just get bored nymphing. Guiding in the winter is cold, slow, and typically six to eight fish or less kinda days, especially with less experienced anglers. The science, river, and trout, are all working against the angler in the winter months. Trout metabolism is related to water temp, so when that water temp is barely touching 38 to 40 degrees….trout just ain’t that interested. When that water temps starts pumping up to 42 and above, those few degrees making all the difference, that is when you start seeing me out there. There is also the added time I take in the early season to get back into shape, work the kinks off and get the stank off before I start guiding. I am a professional and I won’t take trips if I feel I personally am not ready to take on all the things that make a good guiding day. From the people, to the angling, rowing, to the teaching aspect, of a guided trip…I am just not willing to sacrifice my service level for a handful of cold weather trips…plus the older I get the less I like the cold.
But that cabin fever…I understand it gets to us all. Those of us who have had a good number of years working through it, experiencing the winter fishing, can handle it a bit better. Our tolerance for lack of fishing time is higher. I haven’t touched a trout since October, but the winter time is also the time I get to take a break from that part of my life, enjoy my family, binge on Netflix and Video Games, and spend time tying. There is also the added part of fish needing a break just as much as I do. I fished over 200 days this past year, and guided a huge chunk of those, more than I thought after getting tax shit in order. Those trout need a break from my beardy face. When you put that much pressure on fish, especially on one river, I just see it as the respectful thing to do giving the river and fish some time off. As I have become a more developed and resource conscious angler, allowing the river and trout time to rest, grow, and just be trout without invading their world seems like the right thing to do. Also expanding to other fisheries in the winter time is something I have focused on this off season. Researching the southern salt and warm water species, looking at how I can make that a staple of my guiding career in the 5-10 year phase of my business, doing homework on warm freshwater species to give more variety and less pressure on the trout that I fish, and looking to new trout waters in other states to broaden my guiding career to more than just the Yakima. I am working on places in Idaho and Montana, as I enter my 5th year of business. I will no longer be working for Washington State guide outfits or businesses, just my own business. Last season put a nasty taste in my mouth with too many in the Yakima guide community as our industry battles climate change. I also like money and to be honest…I make more working less days for myself than working for others. Leaving me time to work on expanding to new fisheries and giving me more time to fish for myself without sacrificing income. Plus I camp and guide for long periods of time now and days in between guiding this year I will be traveling and adventuring for myself more. I have spent more days than I can count on the Yakima River system and its not that I am bored or have fallen out of love with it, but its not enough, I want more and with the change to being a mobile operation…that is possible.
I am so looking forward to getting back into the game anglers. The Cabin Fever is starting to get to me I will be the first to admit that. I have even taken a look at the map for Silver Creek here in South Idaho and am waiting for a window of good weather to entice me riverside for some streamer and midge fishing chasing big browns. I am also starting to get into research and homework mode, watching videos, retooling my arsenal with new techniques and checking out new products. Learning more about new fish and rediscovering warm water fisheries like bass and musky. Getting back up on my trout stuff too, reading the same books and watching the same tutorials and videos I have for the past several seasons. Tying…gotta fill the guide boxes up for the year, I have a few thousand flies to get tied up for myself and clients to use as I would like to get through another season with only buying a few dozen flies. Plus watching the weather forecasts, snowpack charts, and river flows and reservoir levels, all that starts to become routine now. And blogging more than a few times a month to get the angling juices flowing and get clients and angles all hot and bothered about what is coming in only a handful more weeks. Its that time of year for me now. Where I slowly come out of hibernation and start getting back into that trouty fly fishy rhythm again.
Hope to see you out there this season Anglers. Trout YO Self 2019. Taking reservations for spring trips and I have 9 Open dates for Bass fishing the first part of April. Time to start getting ready. See ya riverside anglers.