Updated 2000-03-09
Swedish version

Dan Fallon's World of Fly fishing

Column nr.3 2000  

    The challenge of spending cold winter day’s chasing fat trout or various warm water species in lakes and streams where it’s legal is quite an adventure! I, like most fly fishers quickly tire of the usual pre-season planning, fly tying, equipment maintenance. When the end of February pokes its chilly face into my space, I begin to get abit edgy and difficult to be around. This is the time when friends and relatives begin to ask questions like "Gee Dan, where you headed next?" If one decides to brave the call of the winter wild and often rainy cold in pursuit of fish. It might be wise to carefully prepare for the worst! The basics such as good quality long underwear and neoprene fishing gloves are absolutes. No matter where you live in this world one can access year round fly fishing destinations. Simply pick up the phone and call local fly shops and guides or perhaps spend time at your local magazine rack and take notes. If you are serious about braving the elements, a whole new ball game awaits. Without question my most memorable moments on rivers and streams where not another soul can be found in the dead of winter continue to echo in my mind. A little stretch of water I have written about outside of Yosemite National Park is an excellent spot for feeling old man winters icy sting and experiencing maximum elbow room.

Dan Fallon flyfishing in Merced River, winter -99
Just hooked rainbow 1st cast in Merced river outside Yosemite Park winter -99



    Those seasoned fly fishers ready to climb into silk long johns and brave the elements. Must also be prepared to take along a bag of ice cold tricks to entice lethargic fish to expand energy and attack tasty bug opportunities. Rule # 1 for most waters which are running slow and cold is stealth mixed with very careful presentation. In Spring when waters are running fast and deep, one hopes to get nymphs down deep and bouncing on or near the bottom in most cases. Winter means sneaking up on riffles and holes where fish are holding to conserve energy, because food is scarce and water temperatures cause fish metabolisms to slow way down. When I prepare for winter fly fishing adventures the choice of flies and outfits is easy to assemble. The lightest possible weights for rods and lines are a must. Rods in the two, three weight class and lines which are not only light but alot less colorful and florescent work best. I like to pre-scout several areas where I know fish might be holding. I usually do this from as far away as possible. I know this sounds off the deep end, but scouting with and eye on holding areas and riffle action along with a careful study of what available natural food can save alot of ill spent time. Before discussing winter techniques one rule must be mentioned. Because of often icy conditions and the fact you will be alone on most waters. One must be aware of staying safe and not pushing along too quickly or wading in dangerous areas where if trouble rears it head, your caught alone in harms way. Taking along your cell phone or letting family know exactly where your headed is a good idea. Now back to catching and releasing those sleepy winter fish. If you think ahead and tie a bunch of tippets with flies and pre-plan carefully. Then your ice cold fingers and temper won’t get a work out and the trip will be far more enjoyable. It’s a good idea to take along a big thermos of whatever hot beverage makes your day.



    Begin by tying and casting the small size 16 or smaller flies which simulate adult rather then emerging patterns. Alittle color and attraction works better this time of year then any other! You must try to stand well back from stream edges in most cases. I usually work the riffles first casting as far upstream as possible and quickly mending up all slack while watching the bug drift down stream. This routine six out of ten casts produces a hit or a caught fish. I use weighted flies if the water has abit of depth or let the current and the sink tip line pull the fly down as close to the bottom as possible. If after many casts both up stream and across no residents have shown any interest. I then begin working deep pockets or holes by letting my sink tip line gently carry the fly down with the current.

Merced river, Yosemite Park. Dec. -99
River rushing, Merced river, Yosemite Park. One of few strong flow sections, early Dec. -99. Photo by Dan Fallon

   When working either deep pockets or riffles it is always best to put some life, or rather simulate pending death by jerking and letting flies sit, then short jerks again. The most common problem new and many old hands fall into, is the myth of slow lifeless retrieve. Please believe me when I say you will only get an occasional strike or fish by letting your lifeless bug float down stream. This is especially true in winter months when fish are almost comatose lying lifeless on the bottom. Conserving energy and waiting for an interesting meal to happen by. The standard method for simulating an injured or dying insect is to let the fly drift for a moment. Then giving the line short quick pulls to cause the fly to jerk and appear ready to meet its maker. I vary the amount of jerk and wait until its a natural reflex on my part to snap the fly rod every few moments. Working that bug all over until a strike takes up the slight amount of slack given the line. This method without fail will catch fish nine out of ten times with practice. In the winter months strike indicators are almost useless and more trouble then their worth. The advent of strike indicators as a must have item in the last several years irritates me to no end. If you have to rely on a little ball of colorful fuzz to let you know when a fish has struck, you my friend are relying on a false crutch. I agree, in high fast water any help you can dream up will increase your odds. In many instances the thrill of learning how to properly read water, current, bottom structure and line tension is the most exciting aspect of fly fishing. A fine line exists between quickly taking up too much slack and just enough slack so the fly is drifting naturally with the current. If your intent is to become a true expert fly fisher person who can innately feel every twist and jerk of your line. Then relying on a strike indicator while fishing slow low winter water is ridiculous! Fly fishing slow winter waters is the quickest path toward actually getting to watch your bugs drift and entice lazy bottom dwelling fish. Begin each winter session with a bright colored adult fly and you will catch fish without fail.

Dan Fallon under "Foresta Bridge"  Merced river, Yosemite Park
Dan Fallon under "Foresta Bridge"   Merced river, Yosemite Park, winter -99 trip.



    Thanks to old man Winter and his stinginess in regard to water depth and speed. Many tricks in ones vest are needed to maximize possibilities for fish contact in severe low water conditions. If large boulders are present and you can easily cast to them. It is best to gently let flies almost slide off of boulders and drop quickly on the side where currents are flowing away. These areas are almost always perfect hide outs for energy conserving fish, especially trout. If in a perfect world I have the indigenous terrestrial on hand all the better. An ant or hopper or lady bug dropped on the side where rushing water is slowed by the rocks position is solid gold! It’s best to be bold during these low slow water periods. Take a long hard look at your fly & terrestrial box. If you suddenly feel the urge to splurge and tie on a freaky looking Wooly Bugger with a chartreuse body wrap? Why not try it and see if you get a bump, you really have nothing to loose...



    I have cross country skied many miles in upper Northern California seeking outstanding winter fly fishing opportunities. While a year round resident in South Lake Tahoe California some years ago. I made the most of occasional quiet winter periods and headed out for many of the little lakes where sections had not completely froze over. Its a thrill to pack a day pack, rig my favorite three piece three weight travel rod and push off across untracked snow heading for small waters with no one but me and the birds any where in sight! In the Spring chaos often rules on opening day and for many days after. Those who have read this monthly column have heard me ramble on about respecting the space and maintaining a good distance from fellow bug throwers. I have never seen anyone in the back-country on these expeditions. The other obvious aspect is you will encounter hungry fish nine as a general rule. Those who are sitting out there in web land tying flies and day dreaming about opening day, are missing the boat. Why not stop daydreaming and grab your favorite map and start a winter fly-fishing expedition?

Lake Tahoe, California. Winter -98
Lake Tahoe, California, flyfishing trip winter -98. Photo by DanFallon



    It is no secret as regular readers of this column will confirm, I have little patience or interest in fly fishing on most lakes. There are of course many exceptions to this rule. If you are on a lake which has several inlets where moving water is rushing in. This is the place to begin tossing flies and practicing the same dying, twitching techniques used on streams and rivers. Simply find a relatively shallow place to wade or float tube if necessary. Begin by finding out what kind and size bugs are present and do your best to match. Then throw to moving currents and mend your line without compromising natural bug movement. This simple method has produced more lake action then either trolling deep minnows or still fishing which I hate to do, its so boring and tedious. When I have been coerced into still fishing for lake fish, its always the same routine. Find a deep hole and rig flies with some kind of weight. Either split shot close to fly heads or serious sink tip line or wire or putty or whatever. Then let the rig usually with alot of tippet float and sink to a depth where a lethargic energy conserving fish will wake up and gobble the cheese. No thanks, I would rather watch paint dry or sit through a Barry Manilow Concert. Now if you really are not into trolling for hours (which I hate) an alternative does exist.



    Now lets get down to plain fun business and catching alot of fish! One of the only joys I can recall lake fly fishing is sneaking up via float-tube or waders on trout creating rings on the surface, where they are snatching bugs. This is pure fun for fly fishermen novice or pro who enjoy sharpening casting techniques. When one first spots rising rings which usually occur either when a good hatch is on, or early morning or early evening. Without fail many rings will be found in the same general area and the fun begins. I like to throw right at or quite near the biggest rings. My theory is the bigger the ring the bigger the fish or the bigger the ring the more fight in the fish!



    One of the most outstanding five day back-country backpacking fly-fishing trips I've taken, was to the desolate Immigrant Wilderness area in upper Northern California. The trail head is easy access and atleast six hours of hiking is required to reach any water. If you are used to hiking up and down semi-steep and steep verticals for several hours until coming upon a beautiful several acre lake full of trout. Then you might understand the thrill of feeling the chill of early night while gazing at many size trout darting and surfacing through crystal clear waters. Much of the fishable and easy to throw flies area is elevated so the view is much more panoramic. I was mesmerized seeing so many fish to throw to and then watching them swim from a distance and slam the bug. I spent almost all waking daylight on the water throwing flies for all five days. I do recall my companions two of which were not fly fishers on one trip were more then curious for an explanation as to why I seemed so happily hypnotized? If one is not truly bit hard and deep by the sheer hunter, gatherer spirit of seeking and capturing and fighting with serious trout and salmon. Then it is impossible to explain why time and all it’s attendant worms and germs matter not. Nor does time exist when an addicted hard-core fly fisher is watching a four pound Rainbow slowly rise to a mosquito he tied...

Fat rising trout, photo by Kenneth Boström
Fat rising trout



 Written by Dan Fallon, March. 2000 ©
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