On the Fly: Winter is coming, but the fish still eat every day

Local angler Kara Moore on the Roaring Fork
Shannon Outing Photography/Courtesy photo

As we prepare for the winter season in the fly shop by putting gloves, jackets, capilene base layers, and hand warmers back on the shelves, it brings back fond memories of last winter.

Winter fishing is pretty special around here, as most of you are well aware. Crowds are thin to nonexistent, the fish pile up together in the deeper runs and pools, and those warm and cloudy days can often feel just as “buggy” as summer days do. The added distractions of saltwater trips, deer, elk, and duck hunting make this season one of our favorites.

The challenges we face on the water during winter aren’t that tough, if you know how to prepare and know what to expect. Fishing during these lean water times teaches you to “hunt” your fish, much like you would a turkey or deer. During summer, big water disguises our footfalls and false casts. Now is the time to go slow and be sneaky. Stay out of the water completely if possible, downsize your indicators, flies, and weight, as well as use the low water levels to your advantage and seek out the biggest fish in the run.

Staying warm and dry is another obvious challenge through the winter but easy to deal with when you plan ahead. If you live here, get dressed and rigged at home if possible. Putting on waders and rigging a rod in the wind and cold isn’t so fun; keep those waders and rods in your garage or mud room. Utilizing the many rod vaults available for your vehicle saves time and frustration, too. Get dressed and rigged at home, grab that rod out of the vault when you get to your spot, and go fish.

Two sets of dry gloves, a small towel, and perhaps a few hand and toe warmers can make or break your day when it’s cold. Timing changes in the winter – jokingly referred to as “Noon Patrol” – we focus on the warmest parts of the day. One good piece of advice is to keep an extra set of base layers in your vehicle in case you fall down in the river; there’s no shame in being dry and comfortable after a mishap. Finally, choose your battles out there. Go fishing when the weather works, and take advantage of the best temperatures the week has to offer when you can.