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3 Ice-Free Fly Fishing Spots

You don’t have to fly fish in December, January, and February.

If you choose not to get out, you don’t loose your angler credentials. There might even be some benefits in taking a few months’ sabbatical. And let’s face it – it is cold and the fish aren’t terribly cooperative.

But if you want to get out, that is another thing. There is nothing saying you can’t fly fish in December, January, and February. As long as local regulations allow it, and you can ethically pursue fish, you aren’t limited to drilling a hole in lake ice if you want to get after some trout.

Here are three spots you can target if you want to optimize your cold-weather angling. They vary from amazing to, well, odorous. Irrespective of the scenery, all three of these spots attract fish and should attract fly fishers:

Spring Creeks

If you live close to a healthy spring creek, you’re in luck. Regardless of winter weather, you’ll have steady flows, consistent water temperatures, and prolific insect life. Trout, along with some other species, thrive in these environments. Having a legitimate spring creek nearby is a wonderful thing that can easily extend your fly fishing to twelve months.

Yet not all spring creeks are spring creeks. Not every body of water that is influenced by a spring is going to look like the prototypical, calendar-worthy spring creeks of Montana or Pennsylvania. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good, fishable spring-fed waters nearby. With a little bit of research (which might mean noticing some chilly water on your bare legs while wet wading in the summer) you can find stretches and spots in your local waters that might hold fish  – and stay ice-free – longer.


Although they are not as natural as spring creeks, they are more readily found across the country. Whether it be the giant dams of the TVA or a spillway for a local reservoir, the  water below an impoundment generally  provides prolonged angling opportunities.

Massive hydroelectric systems often mean wide, long trout factories. These are present in places, southern states in particular, where trout wouldn’t otherwise occur in such abundance. Smaller dams also are worth targeting. Bottom releases can mean warmer water infused into the river below. Even top-release spills can provide some fast-moving water that will take longer to freeze. In either instance, dams push a high quantity of food into a small space. Predatory fish seize this opportunity, and move into a targetable stretch in the winter.

Warmwater Dischages

If spring creeks are idyllic and tailwaters are grandiose, warmwater discharge sites are… utilitarian. I’ve fished behind power plants. I’ve fished under wastewater treatment facilities. I’ve smelled smells and I’ve seen things. But I’ve caught fish.

These unnatural elements might appear offensive. In generations past, they most certainly always were. These days, many public agencies and private corporations are doing their due diligence to eliminate pollution. Ideally, there wouldn’t be discharge. But when there is, and it is processed properly, the fish love it. Warm water draws in forage, big fish, and even bigger fish. These spots exist everywhere, and chances are a lot of people know about them. Perhaps because of the stigma, fly fishers often ignore them. If you need to get out, you might want to break that barrier.


  1. JZ says:

    “I’ve smelled smells and seen things.” Just what does this mean Mathew, laugh? This is a fishing blog. A down to earth and water family kind of show, right (laugh). In all seriousness, that’s a great line, tremendous in the sense that we’ve all seen things while casting a line. But hey, that’s life, its not always pretty. A little dirt here and toxicity there and its all good, right? Wrong, sometimes were reminded of our industrial past in a way that’s more visual than what we’ve been told. That scum line that bubbles and collects in the eddies, turns your pretty white/tan fur, feather or dubbing black, is not natural. Although, it bends the notion to how far we’ve come in cleaning things up. I’m all for keeping places tidy and green. Clean water, air and land are what responsible patrons should be for. So happens, I’m an advocate for the fish and the environs they live in. Guppies to some, the not knowing, especially when you cant see them. I know they exist and know what there plight is if we don’t care. Yet sometimes in the throws of winter, we fish through the margins. Marginal in the fact, that all water isn’t treated equally. There was a time when people weren’t either, glad those times have been reversed. Perhaps someday, the smells you’ve smelled and the things you’ve seen will get a little rosier. I like the roses Mathew, not the thorns…lol.

  2. SwampTrout says:

    Remember…the fish deserve a break too! I enjoy vertical “nymphing” through holes in the ice during the winter. The same flies that catch fish on a fly rod work during the in season just as well on a short 36″ fiberglass rod tip modified for use on the ice. Even the high end jigging reels look just like fly reels now.

    • Matthew says:

      I haven’t ice fished since I moved to NE (go figure), but I loved doing it in PA. It is on the other end of the spectrum from fly fishing – and I love it for that reason!

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