I layered up yesterday afternoon and headed to the Yellowstone River to make my first casts of the brand new year. It was warm but somewhat windy in the Paradise Valley, so I drove up above Yankee Jim Canyon, where it was just mildly breezy and there was a bit less shelf ice. Not seeing any fish rising to the few midges that were flying about, I stuck to indicator nymphing. In about 2 hours of fishing, I pulled out 4 nice trout, including a slab of a brown trout that I conservatively estimated at 18 inches. As usual, I forgot my phone in the truck, so you’ll just have to take my word. The winning fly was a goldenstone Rubberlegs, with a red copper john dropper accounting for one of the trout (and a single whitefish). All of the fish were where I expected them to be, in a slowish waist-deep run. I tried a few fruitless casts in the riffle that headed the run. Then the sun went behind the mountains, the temperature dropped, and I headed home to warm up.
In my younger, more adventurous days, I used to have 20 degrees as my drop-dead minimum fishing temperature. Below that, and it just becomes more a matter of trying to keep your extremities (and your fly rod guides) from freezing than of actually enjoying the fishing. These days, I’m more likely to wait for a day when the thermometer peaks above freezing. I like being able to actually warm my feet up by getting out of the water.
Fly fishing follows a somewhat slower tempo in the winter than it does during “The Season.” A couple of hours in the outdoors becomes the goal; no epic dawn-to-dusk expeditions this time of year. Solitude can be expected. A lone (perhaps slightly crazed) kayaker was the only other soul I saw on the water yesterday. The fishing itself is more relaxed and rhythmic. Cast, mend, follow, repeat. A few fish brought to hand are a welcome bonus, but not the primary aim. When your toes start to announce their chill and it stops being fun, it’s time to haul yourself out of the water and call it a day, perhaps with a few minutes spent on the bank just watching and listening to the river first. It’s actually a valuable lesson for the rest of the year. Fly fishing is supposed to be fun, not an ordeal.
If you do head out today, tomorrow, or later in the winter, be sure to take appropriate care and respect the season. Dress in layers (no cotton!). Be careful on shelf ice; don’t get dumped into deep water if it gives way beneath you. If you do happen to fall in or otherwise get wet, head for your vehicle immediately to warm up and dry off. Hypothermia can set in quickly, even if the temperatures are above freezing.
Stop by Sweetwater Fly Shop and we’ll be happy to point you towards some of our favorite winter fishing spots!0