By Bob Quarteroni
What’s the best thing about winter fly fishing around here?
Sleep in. There’s no reason to get up at the crack of dawn when you need to wait for the best, that is the warmest, winter hours: late morning to early afternoon.
What’s the other best thing about winter fly fishing around here?
It can be really, really good. By far the biggest trout I ever caught was December 26 one year on the Nescopeck, on an admittedly ugly day: gray, with flurries and ice forming in my ferrules at a monotonously annoying pace.
But, on a bead-head nymph fished agonizingly slowly along the bottom, I landed a brown trout that was by far the biggest I’d ever caught. He was so massive his jaw was hooked like a salmon and red colored. I’m not sure how big he was, but I’d say somewhere around two feet, give or take a few fisherman lie inches.
Winter fishing has loads of other benefits. Foremost, it lets you get out and enjoy the outdoors at a time when you wouldn’t normally be afield.
Second, it almost guarantees you solitude and sole access to whatever spot you choose.
And with the number of streams that are open all year around here, you have a rich assortment to choose from.
Winter fishing has its own set of rules, all superbly summed up in two short paragraph by Allan Schreffler, Northeast Region Education Specialist, Fish and Boat Commission, stationed in Sweet Valley.
“Winter is great time to go fly fishing for trout,” he said. “The streams are empty and trout haven’t been targeted in a few months, which makes them not as picky. During the winter the best time to fish is when the trout will be most active, late morning through midafternoon when the day is the warmest and water has warmed up a bit.
“Your flies should be fished ‘low and slow,’ as the trout will be lethargic and nymphs and streamers bounced along the bottom of the stream will produced more strikes than flies that are being stripped or moved quickly. Dressing appropriately is the most important thing on any winter time outing. Proper layering and avoiding wearing cotton will make sure you can fish comfortably all day and protect you against the elements.”
A few additional observations. When it comes to boots, I swear by my waist-high Cabela’s boot foot waders because they are warm and the thick rubber and felt soles provide excellent insulation along with unbeatable traction. Additionally, you can cinch them so tightly around the waist that even if you do take a spill, little or no water will get in.
Whatever boots you wear I highly recommend polypropylene tops and bottoms; they’ll keep you warm better than anything else I can think of.
I don’t recommend wearing as many pairs of socks as possible. The more socks, the tighter the fit, the less blood circulating to your feet. One good pair of heavy wool socks is fine. And wool maintains heat much better than cotton, even when wet.
When it comes to gloves, those with finger tips that can be pulled on and off at will are essential. You need to keep your fingers warm but you also need to be able to do the delicate work of tying on flies, changing leaders, etc.
To keep my hands warm, I carry an electric hand warmer, available on Amazon and other online retailers. It’s an indispensable aid in getting feeling back in your fingers after you’ve been wrestling off a trout or retrieving a snagged fly in ice-cold water.
One important gear tip: In cold weather, your ferrules will ice up; count on it. You can mitigate this somewhat by greasing your guides. You can use fly floatant or Vaseline jelly and there’s even a product made by Loon, Stanley’s Ice Off Paste — for this.
As for where to fish, we are blessed with any number of approved trout waters open year round. A complete list can be found at “Regulated Trout Waters” in the Fish Commission summary book, which is also available online.
My personal favorite is the Nescopeck, which stays ice free when some higher altitude streams freeze up. I also like Hickory Run and Tobyhanna Creek, both productive in past winters.
Wherever you go, you’ll get a whole new outlook on both fishing and nature, and you might be surprised how much you enjoy it.
As poet Robert Frost said, “You can’t get too much winter in the winter.”