Winter brings our lowest and clearest water, and this can cause trout to become spookier and more selective. Stealth and accuracy become ultra-important during low-flow months, as the fish can see movement and feel vibration more than they do in the high water levels of summer. The skimpy insect menu of smaller midges in winter is dramatically downsized from the summer buffet of large caddis, stoneflies, mayflies, hoppers, craneflies and so on. This doesn’t mean the fish go on hunger strike, but feeding behaviors change and sensitivity to predators takes center stage. I would argue they have to eat even more, since the available insects are smaller. This should play in our favor, right?
There are a few tricks you can employ during these skinny water days to increase your success. First off, lengthening your leader and tippet (especially on dry flies) will exponentially increase your chances with paranoid fish. Most trout (regardless of time of year) don’t tolerate fly lines slapping the water anywhere nearby, so a longer leader will help out in these cases. This leader takes a while to unfurl in the current, resulting in longer, drag-free drifts with your fly. Downsizing your tippet and even the weight of your rod adds a bit of finesse also. A three or four weight rod will land flies on the water much more softly than your six weight.
Being on the “right side” of the river really pays off in winter; keeping your shadow away from the water is a great way to sneak up on wary trout. False casting should be kept to a minimum this time of year. Find your fish, discern if it has a feeding rhythm and present your fly once or twice at the appropriate moment. Casting over and over tends to put winter fish off their tea. Cast rarely, and when you do, make it count. The fishing here in the Valley is superb right now, especially if you adapt and get a little sneaky!
This column is provided by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374.