Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Winter in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and surrounding mountains can be tough and cold, not ideal fly fishing weather most days. However, we are sometimes fortunate to steal a few warm afternoons and we all want to try out our new gear that’s been sitting in the closet since Christmas. Getting on the stream is one thing, but getting fish to eat in sub 40 degree water temperatures is another altogether. Trout’s metabolism slows and they are definitely not interested in chasing food all over the pool. Fish sit tight to the bottom and let the food come to them so they are using as little energy as possible. This does create an opportunity, though, as we can understand how to approach them.
“Go big or go home” is the common saying, but in the winter I say “Go big until you go home”. Knowing the fish are cemented to the bottom and looking to maximize effort we can offer a large meal right in their faces. Most streamer fishing is cast across stream, and then stripped back up against the current. Instead, cast to the top of the pool with a heavily weighted streamer (you might have to add lead) and strip back toward you slightly faster than the current. The weight should be enough to bounce along the bottom, but not get snagged every time. Winter usually provides clearer water so long leaders are a must and it is imperative that you still cast to the top of the pool from an angle, not from directly downstream so you do not line the fish and spook them.
The benefits of this technique is that it is going to quickly identify any fish that is hungry and actively looking to eat. These are usually the larger fish that require a greater caloric intake so don’t shy away from the bigger streamers. Zonkers, Kreelex, and big Muddler Minnows are great, but I have used Clousers and Deceivers as well. Second, this requires a lot of casting, which will help keep you a little warmer. You should also try to cover some ground as every fish in the pool is going to see your fly and decide whether to eat within the first 10 or 15 minutes or so. So this winter go big until you get too cold, then go home and warm up with your favorite hot chocolate or bourbon in front of the fireplace. Spring won’t be that far away!