Soft Hackle Olive Prince Nymph

It was the 19th day of the season. It was my first on the water…………

I parked the truck on the country road just after noon. Temperatures in the valley were below 20 degrees and the hoar frost brought about by the morning mist was stunning. Everything was painted on a canvas of stark white. The forest appeared black and white, reminding me of a photo from my childhood.  I was surrounded by brightness, yet the sun was cloaked by a thick cover of clouds.  There would be no melt-off today, and in an hour or so the high temperature for the day would be reached. I imagined my timing was perfect to catch the trout during their mid-day feeding. As I stepped from the driver’s door of the truck, I was pleased to see only one set of tracks meandering through the farm field and into the wooded edge next to the river. Examining the tracks more closely revealed that a crust layer below the surface would easily break when walked upon, causing an angler to drop at least 12 inches into the dry, slippery, powdered snow lurking below. Clearly, the angler that had traveled this route days before had fallen more than once on the hundred yard walk to the river. I smiled as I pulled the snow shoes from the bed of the pick-up and laid them on the ground. On this day, I would at least catch a good bit of exercise even if the fish refused to cooperate.  Rigged and ready, I trekked through the field and woods, crossed the river in my snowshoes and arrived at my destination.

The little pool, quiet and secret, appeared refreshed and alive. The summertime scars of steep eroded banks were now masked by the snow drifts of winter. On the up stream side of the pool, the creek is constricted by rock formations. This feature causes the water to move faster and thus excavate the stream bed down stream of the constriction during episodes of high flow. Current, during the winter, flows slowly through the center of the pool and dissipates at the half way point from its exit at the down stream end. The body of the pool is calm and dark, whispering to anglers of the potential life that exists in the stillness of its depths. Only those who listen closely and remain patient may reap the rewards.

As I slid down the high, snow covered embankment, digging in my ass and snowshoes, in alternate fashion, I plowed my way into casting position. I removed my snow shoes, inserted them in the snow bank, and braced my feet against the rock formation on my side of the creek. I placed myself on the upstream side of the pool and planned to roll cast downstream, feeding line out, to allow my indicator to dead drift through the pool. First, I cleared the area of all grasses, overhanging brush and dried goldenrod remnants. This is always an important step. When winter fishing from the sitting or kneeling position, which is often the case in the upper Midwest, a wise angler will take the time to prepare BEFORE fishing, rather than experience the headaches and frustration associated with tangling your line around every obstruction. Losing flies, tying knots and replacing leaders can be kept to a minimum with just a little preparation.

A short, tight, roll cast followed by a down stream drift, and feeding of line, enable the flies to enter the fishes window first. This method put little drag on the system, allowing for good presentation. The targeted water was NOT the center of the current lane, it was the slow edges and seams on either side of the current flow. Most times the indicator would NOT be in moving water when the bite came.

The bite was sooooo subtle. I can not stress this enough. Many times the best time to set the hook was when there was no movement to the indicator. Occasionally, when the indicator stopped in the still water, I would throw a mend or twitch the floating ball to impart movement to the two fly rig. Sometimes there was a fish on and there was no discernible movement of the indicator that would alert me to strike. Set the hook often when winter fishing! Scrutinize every movement and non-movement.

I caught fish on 8 different flies yesterday. The patterns included; Bead head olive Prince nymph, Bead head Bloody Prince, Hares ear, Tan Scud, Pink Scud, Kinni nymph, Pheasant tail soft hackle and caddis larva. The point is that I think success may be based on location, presentation, water temperature and sun light at this time of year more than specific fly patterns. If there is big hatch, then fish behavior may change to “key in” on a specific insect, but mostly I think the fish are just hungry. I fished two pools yesterday and spent about 4 hours on the stream. The stream crossing necessary to return to the truck was mistakenly routed by yours truly along the edge of  the largest silty pool existing on that section of the river. Although snowshoes have a great surface area advantage on snow, I was reminded of their disadvantage when sinking in silt. It was close, and I learned my lesson……again…….for the last time…….I hope.

Each year, as I embark on my first winter outing, I am reminded of the beauty of the area in which we live. Along the way to my favorite winter fishing destinations, my mind marvels at the starkness of the landscape knowing full well that the spring green-up is just around the corner. Change is a part of life in the North, and adapting is a prerequisite for existing during the extremes of our weather.  All life, including our smart little elitist trout, change their behavior during the winter. The chance to grow our knowledge base and be successful at catching, hinges on our ability to think, adapt, and to try new tactics. Occasionally we can teach ourself a new trick. And live to try it again.