Swedish version


Winter Fishing Tactics
By Doc Knoll

  The other day I was driving along the Yellowstone, when I spotted three anglers walking in single file to the edge of the river. Since it is winter and I’m in between attending trade shows, I decided to pull over and watch the three from the warmth and shelter of my pick up truck. Upon reaching the near bank, a few words were traded, a few arm gestures followed and the anglers separated. Each headed to a promising riffle or chase between the river’s ice covered banks.

  It was kind of known that they were fishing nymphs. I watched gaudy yarn strike indicators wave in the breeze as the anglers launched their flies into the water. Comfortable in my heated perch I decided to do a little paperwork concerning new fly patterns for this upcoming season. Periodically, I picked my head up from my task at hand and checked on the three angler’s success. I guess more then a half hour passed and still the anglers did not catch a fish. Not being one to interfere without some prompting I started the truck and drove off. This is when I began to write this article, which you are reading, in my thoughts. It would be published first by the Montana Pioneer and then spread throughout the fly fishing world in Internet periodicals in the USA, Canada, Sweden and on to New Zealand. So what was my observation which I felt needed to be communicated?

  First off, I am an avid believer that if you do not catch a fish after a few well presented casts , whether it be summer or winter, then move to another spot and present the fly to another set of possible feeding stations. Why? Because you didn’t catch anything is the best reason. From another more scientific view fish are either feeding or they are not. There isn’t much discrepancy in that fact. This could be why many people hear that the fishing was either great, because the fish were feeding, or it sucked eggs, because the fish were not feeding. It is possible that within just a few hundred yards the feeding clocks of the resident fish are set to different times or even different days. So now hopefully you may realize that you have to move along a stream or river to find feeding fish. The next thing you need to know is how to present your fly to the fish.

  I’m a firm advocate that wintertime trout, in any location of the world , need to be hit in the head to get them to eat. Mother nature has provided the fish with a marginal amount of fat reserves to get them through the winter. The fish instinctively know that if they wait patiently for spring it will eventually arrive. Fish that expend all their reserves chasing fleeing food or grubbing around extensively for food will not pass their ‘stupid genes" into the future gene pool. However, these fish will move, as in the case of the Yellowstone, 18 inches to either side or 18 inches above the position they chose to wait out the winter. Therefore, it is this small window of opportunity that a successful angler attempts to enter as he moves along the waterway.

  Keeping this "window of opportunity" in mind, the angler needs first to present a fly that can reach the fish which are lying just above the river bottom. Fish will not suspend themselves in the water column because nothing to eat is near the surface. Without reaching into the feeding zone with your presentation you are just wasting your time. Consequently, if you are fishing along the bottom it now becomes apparent that you have to get the morsel before a fish. Fishing a grid pattern is the best way to ensure a successful outing. I sometimes explain this principle to anglers, who visit my shop, that the concept is similar to cutting the grass in your front yard. A grid or lateral lines cut systematically will produce a desired finished product in the least amount of time and with the least amount of "recutting" over areas already mowed. Fishing is not much different.

  Imagine this. You get into the river and make a distant cast toward the opposite bank with a weighted nymph. You can feel the occasional bump as the nymph bounces along the bottom in its gentle arc which eventually stops at the same distance you are from the bank. You strip in the fly and cast again. Again the fly arcs and bounces. But, some anglers really don’t realize that this second cast is in the exact location of the last cast. It’s wasted effort. Holy Moly! You should know you have to MOVE.

  It’s like sex. Put a little motion with the lotion. Or, are you just a winter fish lying on the bottom waiting for something to happen. The three anglers I watched effectively fished for a combined total of six casts. The hundreds of casts they made over the same water was wasted. Just one three foot step in either direction will put your weighted nymph into a completely new set of possible feeding stations. One hundred casts with one hundred three foot moves will put your nymph before every fish lying in a one hundred yard section of the river. Then, once a fish is caught you have a choice. In the Yellowstone if the hooked fish is a whitefish you can remain in your position and continue to catch this schooling fish. Or you can move to get away from the school. Trout on the other hand are slightly different.

  Trout during the winter will occasionally move independently about the river as they while away the winter and dodge the ice chunks. However, some trout will congregate just below a ledge or large obstruction such as a big rock where the water is deeper then the surrounding river bottom. Here, in the safety of the ledge or hole the trout will stack up like cord wood. Once a ledge has been found wild fishing experiences will take place as fish after fish are caught and released as the weighted nymph passes again and again within the fish’s window of opportunity. Then it might be better then sex. Well, not really.

Yellowstone Wolves

  In another thought, Amy and I just came back from a quick trip to Cooke City, Montana where I was checking the depth of the snow pack for the upcoming season. The snow is better then in the last few years so things should be good for summer fishing. However, one observant thing - We saw quite a few bison (buffalo) and elk but only one (1) yearling bison calf. Not one elk yearling was seen. The only other calf bison we saw (6) were eating grass at the Gardiner entrance to the Park. I guess if you do the math the animal predation ratio to new born survival is well below any acceptable curve for procreation. I think the granola crunchers have unleashed a bacteria (wolves) into the petri dish without allowing safeguards for the general animal population of the park. Intervention by some activist people now needs to be put in check. After seeing what I saw I'm almost ready to start a non profit organization to fight the animal rights activists who cannot see the animals through the trees. However I am open to hear other views as to how this excessive predation will be limited without the collapse of the total animal population before it is rectified.

By Doc Knoll, USA, © 2004

Doc Knoll owns and operates a fly shop and fishing school in Pray, Montana. Many of his fishing products; rods, reels, flies and other great products can be found in fishing shops throughout the Yellowstone area. To reach him for information or to schedule classes contact (406) 333 4848 or go directly to his website at http://www.knolls.us




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