The old adage “the fish eat when it’s most comfortable for you to be there” holds particularly true for the winter trout fisherman
Living around 8000 feet amongst the high foothills of the Gore and Wasatch Ranges, the sun’s low track doesn’t shine long on certain stretches of river, making the days even shorter. While we avoid the middle of the day during the hot summer months we specifically target the 11- 3 hours during the short days of the mountain winter. Sleep in, have a big breakfast, visit the spa……enjoy your morning, the fish sleep in too when it’s frigid outside.
Trout use as little energy as possible during the winter and an amazing little metabolic system allows them to live on bits and pieces as they lay “low and slow” when the water temperature drops. There is simply no reason to wake up and brave torturous temperatures, frozen rod guides and ice burgs if the fish aren’t going to eat until lunch. Over the years, a half day wade trip has become a perfect rest day for people here on a week-long skiing adventure and I think the timing of the trip is what they enjoy the most. The 4 teenagers they have been chasing around the mountain for 3 days have been gone for hours before I arrive and dude is back at the hotel, 3 cocktails into his afternoon before they get back.
Knowing when the slush burns off can be a big help as well. On a freestone river like THE Eagle River, warm daytime temperatures as well as cold nights can produce what we call slush. Slush is soft pillows of not quite ice that’s breaks free of larger ice shelves on warmer afternoons as the water warms up a few degrees. As the slush floats downstream, it eventually dissolves to a point where your rig will actually start fishing below the surface instead of floating helplessly 3 feet above your sleepy trout. Call the shop ahead of time if you are doing it yourself and find out what time the cover comes off the pool. You can save yourself a whole lot of sit around time if you know the slush hatch is over by a particular time. The shop has someone on or close to the water on a daily basis, ask what time they are running trips and start to think like the fish do.
Don’t pass up a chance to fly fish the Vail Valley in the winter; yes, it’s cold but probably not as cold and windy as it is on the top of that ski hill. Look at any fly fishing websites photo gallery long enough and you will notice most of the big fish are in pictures with snow in the back ground or that smiling face is framed in a warm wool hat.
I shouldn’t have to say it but, remember to be VERY CAREFUL when walking or standing on ice shelves. Avoid doing it at all if possible.