Thursday, December 8, 2011

Winter Fishing-(Repost from 2011)

I don’t do it nearly as much as others.  I have nothing against it, but the cold. 
I have never fished below 10 degrees, and as I see it, I probably never will.  I don’t think any fish is quite that important to be out there in freezing, freezing weather.  I fish in the winter months of November through February.  Now, I added November in there because it can be pretty cold during that month.  In the last few years, it seems like both November and February have been pleasant.  Or at least I think they were.  We often forget how cold and how hot it was once a new season rolls around.  I was out a couple of weekends ago on the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Co.  I was a bit over dressed with my rolled down waders and Patagonia Cap. 3 long sleeve shirt.  I expected a cool day, but with the temps pushing 70 degrees, it didn’t feel much like winter, except the low angle of the sun.  
With colder weather and water temps, it is important to dress appropriately, even on a “nice” day.  I start off with a base layer of moisture wicking pants and a shirt.  Simms and Patagonia offer some of the best.  Next, a fleece layer to add warmth, especially on the legs help to keep you warm.  On the feet, I use the same system.  A liner, then fleece, then a neoprene booty, and then my waders.  I have to have a bigger boot to fit all these layers in them, but it is worth it.  If your feet get cold, it’s over.  I have had days, were I couldn’t feel my feet, but everything else was warm and the fish were eating.  Can you guess what I did?  Yea, I quit.  I actually suffered a touch of frostbite in my younger days with leaky waders, cold water and feeding fish.  I won’t make that mistake again.  For the upper part of your body, again a base layer helps wick away moisture from your body so you don’t get cold and clammy.  Next, I like a thin fleece layer, depending on the weather and then maybe a heavier fleece layer.   I like to use a 100 series fleece as a light layer.  It can come on or off as needed and make a huge difference.  If you don’t need or have a waterproof shell to help brake the wind, a windproof fleece is a great investment.  Most companies offer great products, but both Simms and Patagonia offer some of the best.  A lightweight down or Primalot jacket are a great addition to the mix.  I always carry different jackets with me to use and once I hit the water I can decide what I need.  For my head, I like to use a windproof hat. There is nothing worse than having a warm head but when the cold wind blows, it slices through you like a hot knife on butter, but only it’s cold…..really cold.  I'll bet you know what I mean.  A hood also helps when the wind blows, but so does a nice warm vehicle.  To finish up the outfit, make sure you have some gloves.  Again, Simms offers the best ones, which is a foldover mitten, with fingerless gloves underneath.   You just have to try them to appreciate them. 

Fly pattern selection is crucial during the winter months.  Gone are the days of throwing # 14 Humpies and #8 Chubby Chernobyls.  Midges are the name of the game.  Attractor flies also work as do mayflies, but for the most part, its midges.  On the South Platte River tailwaters, it usually size 20-28.  Some days the fish are eating #26 midges.  Other days, it’s a #22.   Having some popular patterns in a few different colors and sizes helps to be prepared.  Some of the most popular patterns include a Mercury Black Beauty Midge, Black Beauty, Rainbow Warrior, Juju Midge, Miracle Midges, Top Secret Midges and Brassies.  

Some of my personal favorite midges are KF Midges, Biot Midges, UV Pearl Jam Midges, Bling Midges, Johhny Flashes, Foam Back Emergers, and Floss Back Emergers.  Other patterns I don’t want to be without are small Baetis patterns like a Mercury RS2, regular RS2, Sparkle Wing RS2, Sniper Baetis and Splattes.  Eggs and worms are also always with me, just in case.  I also carry some adult patterns just in case I see fish eating on top.  I always have Griffiths Gnats with me, as well as a pattern I call the CDC Shucker Midge.  Basically, it’s a black RS2 with a longish white wing and an amber shuck.  It has proven to be an excellent pattern when fish are eating emerging adults.  I like it in a size 20-24.  It’s easy to see on the water, despite its small size.

The best time to be on the water is generally 10-2, depending on where you are fishing.  In the canyons, light on the water is dependant on the stretch you are on and which direction the water is flowing.  A trip to a tailwater can include a warm breakfast on the way, possibly followed by a late lunch or an early dinner.    Some of the best fishing can be when it is gently snowing.  Most people are at home, the temps are not too brutal, the wind may not be blowing and the fish just might be rising to midges.  Tie up some midge patterns, gather up your layers and find a good breakfast joint to stop at because there is no need to be on the water until it has warmed up a bit.  Winter fishing is fun as long as you are prepared for it.  Make it a point to get out this winter and enjoy some of the water that is open and enjoy those fish, which are still eating.  

Mercury RS2--Must Have!

Rojo Midges

Foam Back Emerger

The smaller, the better!

Make sure to keep a well stocked fly box.  You never know what the fish will want.


  1. I tried winter fishing last year. I fished the Arkansas and caught several trout. The temps kept the fair weather fisherman at home. It seemed I had the river to myself. I have to agree with being prepared. I took a spill and my shirt sleeve got wet. I only lasted maybe 20 minutes after that. It was cold that day, and I was miserable. From then on I always bring extra clothes with me fishing. Enjoyed your post

  2. Juan,

    Great read. Thanks for the tips. I always and I mean always carry backup fishing clothes during the winter (socks, hat, mittens, base layer, mid weight and heavy weight). The shell dries pretty quick. I really like the puff ball and lower bulk fleeces because they pack smaller. If I'm fishing further away from my vehicle, the backups go into a waterproof pack and go with me. A fall in the winter can bring hypothermia on very quickly. A thermos and side flask help too;) Nothing beats the solitude of winter time fishing.

    How about some winter midge pattern recipes?

    Thanks again.

  3. Winter fishing takes some patience and I think you are spot on with your clothing analysis. Layering is a good thing and staying warm and comfortable is essential.


  4. Great post Juan - right up my street... look forward to winter trip reports over the break.

    Hope you're well.


  5. A good report on layering. You can always take it off, but if you don't have it, you can't put it on. I have a kind of reverse thing. I leave home in a parka and end up fishing a lower lake in a t-shirt. You just never know.


  6. Good post! I would add one comment - layering is good for warmth, but if you get too many layers and make your waders tight you cut off circulation, especially in the boot/foot area. It's the blood that really keeps all the "underwater" parts warm.

    I'm also a HUGE fan of down and not synthetic for my jacket. So nice and toasty!!!

    I've spent many winter days on the Taylor River (the only spot in Gunnison that isn't a block of ice in the winter) C and R stretch. People will laugh, but I typically wear a single pair of wicking socks and just one thermal layer of pants, some layers on top and a puffy down jacket (hat and gloves of course). I've stayed toasty fishing in 0 degree weather that way. Keep your heart warm and it will pump warm blood to the extremities!

  7. Love the midges!! I have a variety of them too and this is a great time to use them. In fact, I just sent off a bunch of them to a fly swap that I signed up for.

  8. Greetings from Phoenix. It will be a sunny 68 tomorrow. I will be on a local lake looking for bass on the fly rod. It will be cool in the morning, upper 30's or so.
    I like the article on layering. A good breakfast is a must. I like to bring a small optimus crux camping stove and some mountain house meals. Nothing like taking a break to enjoy the day with a hot meal and a cup of coffee.
    I also like some of the chemical pocket heaters. They are very in expensive and work well.
    Have a great night and tight lines.

  9. Hey Juan, What is the fly that is the third in the set of unlabeled three at the beginning of the article? I don't think I know that one. Looks very interesting. How about a picture and recipe for the CDC Shucker? I am constantly searching for adult/emerging midge patterns that I can tie and see when fishing. It looks like you speak from a lot of cold weather experience. I don't like cold weather fishing, but I do get the urge in the latter parts of winter. Are you and John coming up for the Fly Fishing Show? Interested in a little breakfast and talk before? I'll be organizing soon. Jerry

  10. Hey thanks guys for the responses. I might do a part II, to cover some things I left out or forgot such as a spare set of clothes! Thank you guys for taking the time to comment and give feedback. I really means a lot to receive that and to see people are reading this stuff!

  11. Hello Juan:
    Very good Site, photos and flies.
    Greetings from Madrid (Spain)

  12. Jerry, That is the Splatte, tied by Shea Gunkle. It is a great little pattern. Shea will be tying this year at the FFS. John will not be tying at the show this year. I would like to do another breakfast. i enjoy that.

  13. I will organize the breakfast after Christmas. It is always fun and it gives me a chance to talk to you guys before the show. The crowds at the show make it difficult to ask questions. Have a great Christmas!! Jerry

  14. This is really a great article about fishing.I love fishing.I spend my holidays fishing on beautiful lakes.
    Fishing Rod