Five Tips For Winter Fishing

With the snow packing in the hills and the ski resorts in full swing, you can expect the rivers to be quiet, calm, and perfect for fishing if you’ve got the right gear and the right attitude. Winter fishing isn’t a numbers game, and you might not move the big boys too often, but the fish will eat. The real trick is staying comfortable in the cold and keeping your gear in working order when the temperatures dip. Here are five quick tips to hook up with a few fish this winter that will help you stay out longer and find more fish.

Zach Orth sets the hook on a winter bite at the most secret Missoula fishing spot ever.

1. Hit the Popular Spots

Most days, a “crowded” winter spot might have one other angler parked in the same access. There’s really no need to drive way out of town to spots you might love to wade in the summer, and some of the most beaten up spots of summer fish just fine in the winter. Some of the benefits of hitting the popular spots in winter are established access trails (which help when you’re trudging through snow) and known trout lies. Open water that gets a lot of sun during the day is great stuff, and the close and consistent spots are where you should head when the weather gives you a break.
2. Layers. 
This might seem like the most over-stressed and simplistic aspect of winter activities, but there’s a good reason why: most people still don’t do it right. A single layer of long underwear and a flannel isn’t going to keep you comfortable for a day of wading through snow and water, then back into the snow. Frozen waders and boots make excellent conductors for cold right to your core, so do what you can to start the day with plenty of armor. Got cold feet? You haven’t layered right. Same for cold hands. Bigger gloves and thicker socks aren’t the answer. What you need is to heat the blood that hits those extremities. Invest in a good layering system of different thicknesses of long underwear of reputable materials, and you’ll have a lot better time on the water.
3. Hot Lunch
I was watching a series of Youtube videos about some Scandinavian gear anglers who put tons of time in on the water in the colder months. One thing they did every day is lunch. Done right. Hot dogs in boiling water in a Thermos. Soup. Chili. Your trusty Hydroflask is good for more than just cold liquids, and a good meal to warm you up when the fishing gets slow (or stays slow.) will keep you from heading to the truck too early.
4. WD-40
Iced up guides are like iced up windshield wipers. Sure, you can just deal with it all day and make it part of the neverending grumble and mumble of winter fishing, or you can nip it in the bud before the day starts. A small can of WD-40 costs all of a couple of bucks, and can keep your line running smoothly all day long. Hell, you probably already have a can in the truck! A quick spray of each guide and a wipedown with a rag at the end of the day and you’re in business.
5. Throw the Ugly Stuff
You ever seen what ice fisherman are using these days? Lots of hot colored jigs and what they like to call “caviar” just to make themselves feel a bit more sophisticated. Or take for example the pegged beads of a steelheader. Eggs and worms, worms and eggs, franks and beans, beans and franks. When the going gets slow on the river in winter hot colors and downright dirty flies sometimes are the only way to find a willing fish. Trout can rarely resist eggs and worms, they’re just hardwired to eat that easy protein, and when all else fails you should probably have a few of both ready for action in the winter.

Winter fishing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you’l rarely find more quiet beauty on a popular piece of water than in the winter, and it’s worth the effort to get the gear out of the garage and give it a go. Make it a point to fish all twelve months of the year, even if it’s just the once. You’ll learn something new and find new ways to look at your rivers if you do.

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