Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter Truchas

I want to fish in the snow. When grey blankets of clouds stratify over the mountains and white, powdery flakes begin angling across the horizon and sticking to the long, leafless branches and piling up on the shoulders of my jacket, I feel the same yearning to hunt for trout as I do in late-summer. I may need a little more scotch in January than I do in July, but I can buy more scotch. 

It intrigues me to think that no matter the weather above the river, the weather within remains relatively constant year-round. Insect life revolves around the four seasons, water levels and clarity varies as well, but the temperature itself, the aquatic atmosphere, the relentless flow just doesn't change much from season to season. And so many newbies often ask me, "Can you fish for trout in the winter?" Which I usually answer with something like, "Trout don't care about snow -- they can't make snowmen."

However, snow fishing may require a subtle paradigm shift before it becomes enjoyable, as I've found it. One must dress adequately enough to remain alive, though comfortable enough as not to mimic a grilled sausage about to burst. Footing and safety become paramount. As if it's not dangerous enough already treading upon wet, moss-laden stones, adding the element of ice or snow intensifies the treachery. And removing ice from the line and guides every few casts eventually thins even the most patient angler. And then there's the flies.

You think threading tippet through a #22 midge hookeye is tough under normal circumstances? Try it when your digits are popsicles, with gloves on, when your breath is fogging up your lenses, warm snot is glistening in your mustache, and the stream is so clear you can see your next 22' rainbow hovering in a four foot deep pool just waiting on you to finish your knot. Keeping your cool (bad expression) will help your success rate.

Finding places to fish in winter can be tricky as well. We tend to stick to our favorite spring-fed streams or tailraces. In northern New Mexico, that would be the Red River below the hatchery, the Rio Grande, Rio Pueblo de Taos, Costilla, Chama, Cimarron, and a handful of others. In southern Colorado, we might fish the Animas, or a number of Conejos streams, lower La Jara, San Juan (upper and tailwater), Taylor, South Fork of the South Platte, South Platte, SpinneyMile, Arkansas, and a slough of others. But I'm not gonna tell you the others because I don't want you to go there without me.

The key in wintertime will be fly selection, and fly size. Tiny Midges, Mayflies and a variety of worms make up the majority of what you'll be imitating. I still resort to a common dry-dropper rig -- a Stimulator trailed by a #18-20 red Copper John seems to work in many spring-fed winter streams. I know a trout ain't takin' that Stimmy in winter, but it works well as an indicator. Otherwise I use a Thingamabobber and a number of weighted nymphs like beadhead Hare's Ears or Pheasant Tails.

Microscopic Midges and mysis shrimp are essential flies on many tailwaters. When shrimp inhabit the reservoir above, that's just about all a trout will take below. Know your water, your bugs, and experiment a lot.

If I want to go dry fly only, I stick to smaller Parachute Adams or similar natural-looking bugs that a trout might have fed on a month or two before rather than attractors or terrestrials.  Presentation is often less important in winter -- fish, although more sluggish due to less direct sunlight, trout are feeding more frequently since their meals (insects) are so much smaller. Frequent, repetitive casts into dark pools and deep runs is how I typically score big in the cold. And scoring in the cold kicks ass.      

Don't put your gear away just because it's getting frigid. Trout still feed. And the liquor store still sells scotch. You just have to find out where, and get a buddy to go with you (to the liquor store first, and then to the stream). I couldn't think of anything more dangerous than fishing in winter, alone.

Good luck. And whatever it is that you're in search of... here's to that!        <," ))))) >< ~~~~~~

About Mac

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I am W. Chad McPhail. I'm an outdoor/travel writer, book author, former English teacher, and Amarillo native. 

I spend my spare time traipsing around the mountains and streams of the southwest in search of wild trout with my family, friends, various freeloaders, and other flotsam and jetsan. I used to teach English & Creative Writing. These days I am a Right of Way field agent with Coates Field Service, representing Sharyland Utilities during the construction of a 345 megawatt transmission line from Hereford to Panhandle, Texas. I love exploring the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and yes, writing outdoor and travel books and pieces. I am a field writer of flyfishing, backpacking, camping, and kayaking articles for Suite101.com. I have written many articles for magazines such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Texas Fish & Game, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish, ESPN.com, and more. I have co-penned three books with fishing buddy Mark D. Williams; Colorado Flyfishing: Where to Eat Sleep Fish, 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado, and An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout.