Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What We Want is Free

Brown Trout on a Cold December Day
A few years ago, one of the climbing magazines published an article about the climber's perpetual dilemma - "work vs. climbing."  The author compiled data indicating the average 5.14 climber earns between $8-10,000 per year, while the average 5.9 climber earns about $60,000 per year.  I found this very interesting.
While the concept isn't discussed as frequently within fly fishing circles, I will go on record to say this is, unequivocally, the fly fisherman's dilemma as well. I want to fish at a 5.14 level, but I have a family to support and that mandates a 5.11 lifestyle. Fortunately I've got a good wife who "gets" my addiction and a business that affords a tremendous amount of flexibility. 

I will, however, save my personal social theories regarding the leisure class and conspicuous consumption for future posts, because today's topic is winter fly fishing.  Specifically, how to raise slabs without risking life and limb.

A few people have asked me for some advice on winter fly fishing.  Let me start by saying I am no expert on the topic.  No, an "expert" is someone with a proper website and recurring visitors.  I do, however, spend a heck of a lot of time fishing in below-freezing temperatures and I've acquired a few nuggets of wisdom over the years:

Slow and Low, That is the Tempo - Everything slows down in winter, especially trout and their forage.  Slow down your retrieve and fish deep.  If you are chucking streamers, add a pause between every 2-3 strips.  Work the runs thoroughly with multiple casts - many times you will need to place your fly right in front of their nose to trigger an eat.

Find a Ledge - Winter trout love a drop-off where water flows form a bottleneck.  This allows them to catch prey as it spills over into the deep without expending a lot of energy.  Find a ledge, shelf or some safe shelf ice and work the edges.  Fish a small nymph rig or sink-tip streamer line beyond the ledge or along the ice edges and hold on.

Spike the Boots - I can't emphasize this enough.  You absolutely should not be on the water without spikes on your wading boots.  You can either purchase fancy sole spikes or simply drill sheet metal screws into your soles, but some type of cleat is a "must have" item for winter fly fishing.

Get a Longer Landing Net - Nothing is sketchier than having to put yourself out on the edge of an ice shelf to land a fish.  Get a mid-length or guide-length net for landing fish along shelf ice ASAP.

Layer It Up, Layer It Down - The coldest I have ever been on the water was after a long hike where I neglected to remove my jacket.  Sure, it was a nice warm hike, but all that trapped heat produced moisture - which froze once I stopped hiking and started fishing. I was on the verge of hypothermia and shivered uncontrollably.  Trust me, it sucked and I learned my lesson. 

There are other more obvious winter tips (the buddy system, gloves, storing warm haggis in your waders), but these are some of the "not so obvious" tips I've found helpful over the years.  

Yes, winter fly fishing is well worth all the discomfort and trouble - so get out there.


  1. How bout your feet? Liner with wool socks? I'm just wondering because that has been my dilema for while. I think people that climb 5.14 make that kind of money because most don't have a lifespan long enough to make anything more than that. I'd imagine you'd have to climb all the time to get that good. It's hard to find a full time job that requires that. It is nice to watch those movies of people fly fishing all over the world. Most of those people don't look like they are married. I wouldn't trade my wife and family for some good fishing.

  2. Hi and thanks for the compliment.

    Sounds like you made a good call, because -11 would be unsafe, period. Personally, I don't recommend fishing with a fly rod unless the temps are at least 15 degrees or higher. Below that, your rod guides are constantly iced up, your extremities may become numb, you can get frostnip in your fingertips and it isn't much fun.

    As for rods, I suspect they can handle the cold much better than we can. I've never broken a rod guide from the ice, but the ferrules could freeze, which could become a problem.

    I hope your son is keeping up with his fly tying.

    Take care,