Fly Fishing in Winter

By Dennis Smith

I’m not one to do much fly fishing through the winter anymore. I tried it for the first time shortly after I moved to Colorado from the Catskills 20-some years ago just to see what it might be like to stand in a mountain stream casting flies for trout in the dead of winter.

I was attracted by the novelty of it all, I suppose, and maybe the macho image I thought it would lend to my persona, but I’ve since gotten over that. I’ve discovered I can feel every bit as macho — not to mention a heck of a lot warmer — sitting in front of the fire with a good book and a hot toddy.

In the 10 or 12 more times I’ve gone since that first trip, I’ve experienced something less than the same ratio of good to bad days on the stream I’d have had at the height of the season. Which is to say that sometimes I caught a bunch of fish — but usually I didn’t. And in most cases, I caught none at all. The biggest difference between winter and summer fly fishing, it seems to me, is that getting skunked is a lot easier to accept when you’re warm and dry.

One week stands out as exceptional though.

About five years ago, we were having one of those “unseasonably warm” winters the Front Range region is somewhat famous for. It was February, but tulips were popping prematurely everywhere you looked, maples and cottonwoods were in full bud, and the creek near home was running clear as a summer martini. Triggered by the false spring, I found myself wandering the creek wearing a light jacket and hip boots, and catching fish almost as fast as I could get the fly in the water.

I’ve been waiting for another 70-degree winter day ever since.

Consequently, I do most of my winter fly fishing indoors these days. I sidle up to my fly-tying bench with a big mug of coffee, (or whatever) put some music on the CD player (lately it’s been the soundtrack from “Dances with Wolves”) and start cranking out the patterns I had the most fun with during the past season.

It never fails to amaze me how tying flies on a cold winter day can take you back to another time and place. Even when the sky is the color of split shot and the snow is swirling like tiny frozen tornadoes around the windowsill, you can hear the gurgle of a summer creek, and feel the tug of a trout dancing at the end your line. If you really work at it, you can feel the freshets of moist night air that come drifting down a trout stream at the end the day. I’ll admit, though, the sensation is slightly more vivid if you have a shot of schnapps in your coffee.

Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.