There have been winters during which I haven't been able to actually fish my home river for as much as two months. There was just too much ice to make it worth it, or even too much snow to safely get to and from the stream. This winter, though, has provided me a number of chances to fish. The water was still cold and the fish very much in winter mode, but I know this stream and I know it's fish. I also know how to approach and present flies to where the fish are holding. And I know that no matter how well I fish, I'm not going to catch a lot of trout despite covering a lot of water. But the ones I do catch are usually going to be of above average size. This post includes photos from three different trips out of six I made in January and February. In all six trips combined I caught a dozen wild brown trout. All 12 were larger than eight inches. A few were larger than a foot in length.
Because of its location and structure, my home water stays far colder than many streams. A general assumption is that liquid water must be above freezing, but this is not the case for moving water and this plays a part in fish handling. Ever get ice in your guides when you know the air temperature is above 32 degrees? I have. This happens when the water is below 32 but won't freeze because it is in motion. The water pauses long enough in you guides and on your line that the crystallization process is catalyzed. It is important to keep with in mind when handling fish, because the moment you take a fish out of water that's just below freezing and that water stops moving it will crystallize on the fish's skin, fins, and gills, and it may prove fatal. If you are getting ice in your guides, if you see ice forming on rocks on the bottom of the stream in fast water (anchor ice), or if you take the temperature of the water and its between 31 and 33 degrees, don't remove the fish from the water for more than one second no matter how warm the air is. A few of the bigger and more colorful trout I caught during these trips were caught during tines when I knew the air was above freezing, but I was still getting ice in the guides. I didn't even remove those fish from the water to extract my hook. I either let them shake it or poked it out with my rod tip. I am so careful now largely because I wasn't in the past. When it was pointed out to me I felt the ones doing so were trying to clarify their superiority, and I didn't react in a way I am proud of. I know now exactly why I was criticised. I was being provided with information, not being put down. That information has undoubtedly lead me to kill fewer fish that I didn't want to.
It is for fish like the one below that I put up with iced guides, leaky waders, shelf ice, cold hands, frequent tangles, and being forced to do nothing but fish extremely heavy nymphs. Panning for gold in the dead of winter is taxing, but when it pays, it is really special.
Winters at my home are often strenuous. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
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