Essentials for Deep Winter Fly Fishing
A couple weeks ago as I walked out my door for another late fall/early winter day of guiding, I realized that it was not fall at all! It definitely winter! The tides had changed. The bitter winter air had arrived. Not nearly yet a full winter effect, but the texture of the air had certainly become darker. Really dark. Short days and long nights. Winter had arrived on the Missouri River.
On the short 6 mile drive to Craig Montana, the hub of Missouri River angling, I saw few leaves showing in the riverside brush. For the most part the leaves had left us some time ago.
In the following few days I made the time to update the boat adding all that is necessary for deep winter fly fishing. Out with the extra sun shirts, the many bottles of sunscreen, a few reels of Rio Grand’s for guests who need dry streamer lines for those late autumn October afternoons. Had to make room for those essentials of winter fly fishing. Being prepared is not only for the Boy Scouts. It is imperative for anglers as well.
While embroiled in this preparation task I found myself reliving falls and winters of the last decade. What gear really is important for winter fishing?
Comfort and the right fishing tools. I would vote for comfort first. Then everything else falls into place. The proper tools then will allow you to enjoy the day. Hopefully bumping into a few big fish.
Essentials for Deep Winter Fly Fishing
A proper hat. Whether it be a stocking cap, your favorite ball cap, or for those out west, a Cowboy hat. Head warmth is key to your comfort. A ton of heat can escape from your head. So wrap it up and stay warm. Nobody has as much fun when they are cold!
RIO Fly Line Cleaning Towelette. My favorite Rio product this year. The fly line is the vehicle that delivers the fly to the target. Important that the fly line be clean. Better shooting, better accuracy, better floating…better everything. Fly line health is integral to angling success any day on the water. The RIO Line Cleaning Towelette is easy to put in your pocket and use a few times during the day. I am an anal line cleaner, but my line always shoots well. Just takes a minute to freshen up that fly line. Use it, believe it, love it. At 99 cents it is the easiest and cheapest way to improve your day!
3 Fly Rods. Why not have 3 fly rods ready for any condition that you may encounter. One for streamer fishing, one for dry fly fishing, and one for nymphing. Having all 3 in the mix creates more time for fishing. More time for fishing increases your odds of catching. And we all like catching.
I am most commonly fishing from a drift boat, and have plenty of space for fly rods. If you are wade fishing, this can become cumbersome. I understand. Even having them rigged in the car is good though Those who wade fish in my neighborhood commonly have 3 ready to go. Preparation is an important essential for all seasons of fly fishing.
RIO Freshwater Outbound Short. The best streamer line ever created. Honest. Made me fall back in love with bugger chucking. I had taken 10+ years off of streamer fishing because it always seemed like a lot of work to me. Casting those fly lines that were not created for casting, but created for those who liked punishment. All day punishment. The streamer lines of yesteryear were not that much fun to cast. We have arrived at fun time. Fly line technology since the millennium change has been incredible. Never have fly lines been as diverse and effective for specific uses as they are today. Many inside the industry, the guide business, would agree. Rio is the fly line leader in both technology and ease of use.
The Rio Freshwater Outbound Short has eliminated false casting while streamer fishing. Just pick it up at the color change, shoot on your backcast, and launch. They could have called it the Smiling Streamer Line. ‘Cause that is what you do when casting and fishing this game changer of a fly line. Thanks Rio for bringing me back into the streamer game!
Thermos. A hot one at that. In fact, I have become a Thermos fanatic the past few years. If I’m being truthful, the last 20 years. I have my morning rituals with the preheating with boiling hot water, then filling them with coffee, hot water, and piping hot chicken broth. Always on board is the bag full of hot chocolate, tea, ciders, and chicken noodle soup.
I have even gone to an insulated Thermos bag to keep the cool to frigid fall air temperatures from compromising the warmth of the said Thermos’. Some say this is going too far. I disagree. Having a plethora of hot Thermos’ is not a crime. Comfort is a reward for proper preparation. Enjoy your reward with a hot cup of Joe!
Hand Warmers. I have a box full in the boat. Again, comfort is imperative for fishing success. Years ago a friend showed me how he put a hand warmer in each shirt pocket keeping his core warm too. Smart. I have employed this technique for years and recommend you give it a try. It’s really nice. I put a couple in my leather insulated mittens too. I put them on top of my hands as I can still row without discomfort. Or, I use them for anglers and when their hands become wet and cold, they just pop them into fleece lined hand ovens. Respite from the cold is nice. Comfort is good.
Boat Heaters. A have a few of them. Some call me soft. I call me warmer than you buddy. Gas powered heat is terrific as wood fires can be dangerous in side the drift boat. Check into them and get one or more on board. You’ll be the warm guy this winter.
RIO Flouroflex Plus. High knot strength, supple, and amazingly strong. I use it for everything. I sometimes get criticized for not using nylon products…but why sacrifice performance is my question. Just use the best stuff all the time. Fish are hard enough to catch, why not have as many advantages as you possibly can. Yep, stacking the deck is an approved fly fishing style. I use it for streamer, dry fly, and nymphing. Great for all uses.
Down Jacket. I borrowed one of my wife’s down jackets 4 years ago. It was a bit small on my aging, albeit gracefully, frame. It was damn warm and the most comfort I have had outside in the fall, ever. Breathes well, puffy for the mad youthful style points, and did I mention how warm it was. Many of you discovered down during your formative years. Not me. One of those things in life you cannot believe you have missed. Well no more. Down is a part of my life and I am a happier angler!
RIO Trout LT WF. I love to dry fly fish more than any other discipline. I will always choose the dry of the nymph or the streamer. I think that many would agree with me. Dry fly fishing is why many anglers become fly fishing anglers. Witnessing the fish rise to a fly is really, as good as it gets. So, you must have the appropriate fly line for the job. The RIO LT WF is my new choice.
Not really all that new though. The Rio Perception is creeping up the ladder in my mind. Not there yet, but getting ever closer as I learn the casting and handling intricacies of the Perception.
I was a Double Taper fanatic for the 1st 15 years of angling life. Now I am a Weight Forward fan. It’s OK to change your beliefs. They are yours, you own them. I love the LT WF. Casts like a DT with the best attributes of the WF. A long progressive taper for pure energy transfer to the fly and the riseform. Larger diameter line turning over smaller diameter line. It works. This fly line is perfect for our freely rising, yet finicky, trout on the Missouri River. The color change at 36’ for a 5wt. allows us to measure the distance and use that information to our advantage. We generally require longer than normal, or comfortable, casts down and across to our fish.
This line loves to cast a little farther when you need that extra 15 feet. This line likes to go long when needed. Along with the power, comes the Light Touch. The Light Touch at 50+ feet prepares the fly for gentle landings near the ring of the rise. The running line is slick and feeds well when sending line downtstream. The all too common long reach cast with a line that responds to the call. The clearly less tangles with any RIO line allows anglers more opportunities and less down time.
A very good short caster too. When wading for BWO or Midge rising trout you can occasionally get very close to the targets. 20 feet is sometimes all you need during the heaviest of hatches and voracious feeding behaviors.
Upon finishing the prep for the deep winter season I truly began to fantasize about the bigger buttery brown trout, the noses of sipping trout, the damn cold mornings, the smile frozen on our faces.
The late fall/winter golden light can really get me reminiscing as I know the year has passed by too rapidly. It reminds us that Missouri River winter fly fishing can present us with many opportunities and many possibilities. Preparing yourself for angling success is really what this article is about. Having the right tools for deep winter angling success. Many times we don’t. Take a little time and get your self in the game. The above Deep Winter Fly Fishing Essentials are my suggestions, by they are just that.