Fishing is a funny thing. One minute I’m writing about how the fishing season is coming to a close, the next I’m off on some river, dangling flies under an indicator and getting excited about the next season of fishing: winter.
This year will be the first year that I really do any winter fishing. Fly fishing that is. I do a little bit of ice fishing when the ice is thick enough–I’m from Ontario, it’s how we make the six months of winter easier–and I have a spot that I like to go to to practice my casting.
This year, though, I’m going out on the water and, assuming the fishing gods cooperate, I’m going to catch me some fish.
Or at the very least I’m going to slowly eliminate all I don’t know about fishing in the winter without ever so much as seeing a fish. Either way, I’m going to have some fun.
A couple of days ago I finally committed to fishing a river that I’d had my eye for quite some time. And, not only that, I was going to try out a new fly pattern that I hadn’t tried before: the egg pattern. I had a great day on the water and, although I didn’t land any fish, it was a great day to be on the water.
Not only that, but the two fish that I did hook into felt good enough to warrant a second visit out there.
If you’ve never fished in the late fall/early winter on a river before, there’s a few things that are helpful to know about before you start. The biggest thing you need to consider is that the fish aren’t going to be hanging out in the spots that you’d normally find them in the warmer months. Fish slow down quite a lot in the winter time and, not only do they eat less, but they aren’t as willing to move to go after food.
That means you’re going to finding fish in deeper, slower moving water. It also means that you’re going to need to get your fly so deep you basically smack the fish in the face with it as it drifts by.
Finding the deeper, slower water is the easy part. Side channels are a great place to start looking, as well as places where multiple side channels meet up, which usually results in a nice, slower moving spot where your fly will just drift around in circles for a bit before getting pulled into the faster current again. Also look for structure like log jams, undercut banks and anywhere, really, where the water gets deeper.
The hard part is getting your fly deep enough. There’s a few things you can do here to make that happen.
The first is you can use split shot or lead putty or something else to get your fly down into the zone you’re looking to fish. The downside to using this method is it can make casting a little trickier, especially when you’ve got an indicator on your leader as well as the split shot and fly.
What I found worked great for me was a weighted fly. Before you tie up your egg pattern (there’s a video below to show you how), add a few wraps of a heavy lead wire to the hook, flat wire if you can get it. From there you tie the fly as you normally would. This gives the fly that extra bit of weight needed to get it down to the deeper spots.
When it comes to fishing egg patterns, the biggest thing you need to take into consider is whether or not you’re in an area where fish spawn. Rainbow trout, mountain white fish, northern pikeminnow, carp and more (the species vary depending on where you live) will all go crazy for egg patterns at this time of year, especially in the Pacific North West following the salmon run.
It can make for some really exciting fishing, particularly if you can get in there while the fish are actively spawning. Rainbows and other opportunistic fish will hang out around the fringes and pick off any and all eggs that may float by.
Of course you can have just as much fun with egg patterns in the months following the spawn.
The best way to fish an egg pattern is to treat it like a nymph. Fish it under an indicator with as long a leader as you dare–normally you fish it with an indicator around the same depth of the water, if not slightly longer, but this time of year you need to be sure your fly is getting as deep as it can be. It also helps to use as small a tippet as you can. The thinner the diameter of the line, the less resistance your fly is going to encounter and the deeper it will go.
Cast far enough upstream of where you think the fish are going to be and do your best to mend the line to keep the drift as drag free as possible (this takes quite a bit of practice and I’ll go into greater detail about this in a future post). The tricky thing here is that, in all likelihood, the water is going to be moving quite fast, so you have to watch your drift very carefully. The best way to know if you’re experiencing any drag is you’ll see your fly float up to the surface (at least that’s what kept happening to me).
Unlike the rest of the year, winter fishing takes a while to master–okay, any kind of fishing takes a while to master, but there are more variables that you need to worry about during winter fishing and everything happens in different places that you’re used to. But, with a little dedication and some time on the water, everything starts to make sense.
With any luck, you’ll move from two exciting hits over the course of a day, to landing those elusive winter fish.