Just because winter is here and the mornings are frosty, you shouldn't hang up the waders and put away the rod. Winter fishing affords you less crowds, quiet rivers, respectable hatches and hungry trout. Here are a few tips on how to take advantage of our winter opportunities.
1. Concentrate your focus on midday.
On many rivers in Central Oregon and beyond you are best served to sleep in, get some chores done around the house and have an extra cup of coffee. This is not the season to put in marathon grind sessions.
The water warms up a bit as the day progresses and a small move up in water temperature gets the bugs and the trout moving. This is important as trout get pretty dormant in winter but the brief windows of bug activity alert the trout its time to get some calories. Generally 11am to 2pm is the best time to trout fish in our area with some opportunity starting earlier on very warm days. You can linger a little longer on the warm days also. The very cold days are often just an hour of good feeding activity. Around 1 pm will be the peak often on those days.
If you are fishing for larger trout such as Bull Trout or Brown Trout, especially the meat-eating variety. You may still find it beneficial to fish lower light periods. Dark and cloudy days are great, higher water is good and if the fish are pressured you may need to arrive well before the hatches begin. Large predators are still light sensitive in the winter and you may be best served fishing the big streamers early and switch to nymph presentations as the fish eat some bugs through the day.
2. Lighten it up. Slow it down.
On many rivers in winter, flows are lower and colder and bugs are smaller. Midges and Blue Wing Olives are the mainstays. Downsize your flies a bit, downsize your tippet to 5x and 6x and control your presentations with short precise casts and drifts. Move quietly when approaching feeding fish especially in lower flows. Our New Zealand Indicators are indispensible in low flows and work really well in smaller rivers where fish seem to be put off by a splashing plastic indicator. Most importantly, the bites are often subtle in winter as the fish won't travel very far to eat a small insect.
After nymphing to start the day you may find some fish starting to rise as the hatch builds. If you are going to start headhunting it might pay off to be patient before casting. When fish are moving up the water column you will often see smaller fish start to rise before the bigger fish. If you get all excited and start to cast (and hook) the smaller fish in the run, you may put down the bigger fish that were patient. Patience is a virtue! Don't wait too long however as rising fish are a nice treat in the winter and the window of opportunity is often 30 minutes to 2 hours.
3. Pick your battles.
First, always be prepared for worse conditions than you may expect. Have an extra full-set change of clothing with you. The little tumble that you take in July (that was pretty refreshing) becomes a lot worse a mile from the car in a freezing January day. Wear synthetics or wools that keep you warm when wet. Good insulation layers and a good shell/rain jacket make you much more comfortable in wind/rain/snow. Gloves that you can fish in can make a big difference and don't hesitate to bring a second pair.
Second, if the weather gets really snotty and driving conditions are bad, it's OK to call a trip off. The fish will still be there the next time and so will you. All of us that have been doing this a long time have put ourselves in places that we were lucky to come out of. It's just fishing and even though we all love to fish its important to know When to Say When. Tie some flies, read a John Gierach book, nerd out on a new knot or technique on You Tube. Plan the big trip. Stop into the fly shop and shoot the breeze.