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Winter Fly Fishing Tactics on Stillwaters

When we think about Winter trout tactics, we invariably think of fishing with sinking lines and lures. Although this is without doubt the most consistent and effective method for the time of year, it is by no means the only way!

Trout can be taken using nymphs on Intermediate or even floating lines, but they do need to be feeding for these more imitative tactics to work well. The problem with Winter fishing is the lack of insectlife for the fish to feed upon. At best, we are looking at bottom dwelling morsels such as Caddis larvae, bloodworm and hoglice to stimulate the trout.

There is a pronounced cycle at this time of the year, which begins with the fall in water temperature. This will mean that rich pickings such as daphnia, buzzer pupae and corixa will be in short supply and as a result, the trout cannot eat them in their usual huge quantities. With none of these items available, the fish “shut down” for the Winter and reduce their feeding activities; relying on stored body fats to get them through these lean months. This reduction in feeding leads to a marked reduction in expended energy and a subsequent slower metabolic rate.

However, this does not mean they never feed. Winter feeding spells normally take place during the warmest parts of the day and can be pretty intense. On sunny, calm days, there can be sparse buzzer hatches which can even lead to a “rise”. So never neglect to stick a dry fly box with some Ginger Hoppers in your waistcoat pocket.

During any warm spells, targeting shallow water is the priority. Sunlight will penetrate through to the shallows and stimulate the bloodworm into action. These pupate and form buzzer pupae, which then ascend to the surface to hatch into adult buzzers, or chironomids, given their true name.

Finding the right depth.

If you are fishing during the Winter, then finding the trout’s feeding depth is the key. I have always thought that water temperature is paramount, but rapid changes in air temperatures also play their part.

Surely, when trout are feeding on the bottom in ten to fifteen feet of water, the air temperature and wind chill factor cannot play a part? Oh yes it can!

I was fishing from a boat at Farmoor Reservoir last Winter with Bryan Brown and, being a regular at the venue, Bryan put us in pole position near the inlet over about 15 feet of water. We dropped anchor and immediately contacted fish.

The wind was Southerly in direction and varied in strength from light to fresh, with some gusts. Although it did not rain that day, there was always the threat of a storm and the temperatures rose and fell as the weather fronts passed through.

The method was an 18 foot leader of 8lb Hardy Fluorocarbon, with three nymphs – Red Head JC Diawl Bach on the point and two Superglue Buzzers on the droppers. I was using two anchors – fore and aft – to steady the boat and allow the slowest of slow retrieves. By anchoring in this way, you avoid any “yawing” to and fro, which is the kiss of death for static nymph fishing.

Red Head JC Daiwl Back

Red Head JC Daiwl Back

At the start of the day, all the fish came to the point fly Diawl Bach. As the day progressed, the temperature rose and the fish came to the middle and top droppers. Whenever a cold front passed over, the wind would increase and the air temperature dropped. The takes would invariably dry up. Without fail, the next fish would come to the point fly again.

We concluded that the fish were moving up and down through the levels as the air temperature and wind speeds altered. Those caught on the point fly were normally full of bloodworm, whereas those caught on the “Glues” would have buzzer pupae in the spoonings. Thinking about it now, it is quite logical, but the thing that impressed me the most, was how fast they changed their feeding habits!

Sometimes only lures will do.

But what happens when we get cold, wet and windy weather? This is more like the Winter weather we are accustomed to in this country. During this type of weather, there will not be much food to talk of and the trout will need some coaxing to take the fly. This is where lures will out-fish all other flies.

At Bushyleaze recently, I was fishing on the bank and was determined to catch my first fish of the Winter on an imitative pattern! All around me, people were catching fish. I wasn’t getting a single pull!

Both sides of me were producing fish. Should I change methods? It was becoming more and more intimidating. To make matters worse, my fishing “friends” were now giving me some stick. However, I was still determined to catch my first fish on a nymph, but how long would it take? Could I come back tomorrow? Should I phone a friend? My nymphs by now were getting bigger and bigger, looking less imitative with every change of the fly!

I had been fishing since 7 o’clock that morning and now it was almost 11.00am. Some anglers had even gone home after catching their limit! Reluctantly, on went a Black Taddy. In three casts I caught three fish. All of them empty. They must have seen my nymphs passing by and completely ignored them.

I was flabbergasted. But it proved to me the importance of fishing lures at times. These trout had ignored my Nymphs, but were happy to make the effort to take something substantial.

Lures to use.

Gold Heads have taken over from lead headed flies in recent years and are just as lethal. The combination of weight at the head of the fly and marabou for a tail, is deadly to trout the World over! If I had to use just one fly for an entire season, it would be a lure incorporating black in it’s dressing. In small terms I would use a Cormorant lure, particularly one with red holographic and a black marabou wing! In bigger terms, I would opt for a Black Taddy with an underbody of lead wire.

Red Holo Cormorant

Red Holo Cormorant

Both these patterns work equally well given a slow retrieve and also if you fish them fast. However, during the Winter, trout are loathe to chase a stripped fly, so the slow retrieve normally works best. Now if you combine a lure on the point, with a couple of nymphs on the droppers, then you really do have the best of both worlds!

With that in mind, one of my favourite methods for boat fishing in Winter is using a fast sinking line and a combo cast of Boobies and Nymphs. I use a 15 foot leader and 4 flies – a Black Cat Booby goes on the point, with a Sparkler Booby on the top dropper. Spaced equally apart on the droppers will be a Daiwl Bach Nymph and a Buzzer.

Black Cat Booby

Black Cat Booby

This is the only true “3 Dimensional” style of fishing, as the flies work from the instant they hit the water, down through the layers, along the bottom and all the way back up again to the surface. Expect takes at any time and fish them SLOW!

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