Home » Fly Fishing in the Winter: Enduring Deep Nymphing

Fly Fishing in the Winter: Enduring Deep Nymphing

As the “humor” tag insinuates, this is a satirical look at the pessimistic perception out there among many about nymph fishing. If you want a more serious perspective, head over here.

It’s wintertime, which means that your trout tactics have to change. Across the country, most fisheries will see a significant decline in hatches as the air and water temperatures decrease. So out with the boxes of dry flies, and in with the nymphs.

Let me be the first one to express my condolences.

But the real wrinkle that gets thrown into your angling plans has to do with where the fish will be. Nymphing in the summertime might include an obligatory dropper under a big, puffy hopper. In the fall, you can send chunky stoneflies tumbling over shallow boulders. Not so in the winter. Come December, you’ve got to get deep.

Real deep.

“How am I even supposed to get a fly down that far?” you ask, incredulously.

Good question. I don’t think that it is possible for mortal fly fishers playing by the rules. However, if you’re not nymphing you’re not trying – or something like that. And deep winter nymphing requires thinking outside of the box to hook up with fish that really aren’t hungry to begin with.

Here are three suggestions for getting your bug deep enough to trick some poor, seasonally depressed trout into eating its feelings:

Split Shot

Ready to take your gloves off in frigid temperatures? Looking forward to dropping a lot of microscopic and expensive non-lead pellets as you fumble to crimp them on your leader? Then split shot is the name of the game. There are some fancy tables in fishing books that tell you where to put shot all up your leader in order to achieve a drag-free and deep drift. Or, you can do as I do: spin that little plastic divider over to the biggest shot you have and crimp three or four a couple feet above your fly. Boom: deep. As a bonus, walk at a brisk pace with split shot and you’ll sound like you have a maraca in your vest.

Sink Putty

This stuff is great in the wintertime. If you live in a tropical climate and/or have the Brookstone Premium Heated Fly Fishing Vest (this product does not exist). What is mildly difficult to manage in the best of conditions becomes downright useless in the cold. And say the stuff seized up while in contact with the lid? Forget about opening it. Maybe you carry handwarmers, or rig up in your car, or have the ability to bend steel with your frozen fingertips. If so, and you like playing with silly putty, sink putty is for you.

Fancy, New-fangled Fly Line

Lead-core line isn’t just for downriggers anymore. You can go from spinning for walleye at 100 feet to casting for brook trout seamlessly in the winter. Heaving the million-grain rope out towards a deep hole, you dredge every rock, branch, and unsuspecting sculpin up as you probe for fish. Spey casting is necessary, as the requisite momentum is akin to that of an Olympic hammer throw. On the plus side, reeling your line in feels like you’ve got a trout on every time.

***

Winter. Welcome to fly fishing in the upside-down.

No delicate casts, gentle mends, or regal Catskill-style patterns allowed. Just big stoneflies, wire-bodied robot-looking nymphs, and ounces of weight. If you want to play the game, you’ve got to know the rules.

And wear lots of long underwear – that is important, too.

3 comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    I absolutely love winter fishing, I love the challenges it presents. Not sure why nymphing stirs such negativity for you, nor do I appreciate the fact that you make it seem like such a downgrade from surface fishing. I grew up fishing limestone streams with fluctuating conditions and unpredictable hatches. Nymphing is a passion of mine and a major component of fly fishing all year for me. Catching trout in the winter on nymphs requires much precision and patience, obviously much more than elitists like yourself can manage. Writing at any level requires immense perspective and I recommend you keep your day job.

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