South banks, good gear make winter river fly fishing a warming proposition
What to do when it’s January and the cabin fever is getting bad?
Grab your fishing rod, some warm clothes and a Thermos of soup, and head off to your favorite river.
Even in mid-winter you’ll find open water on the Gunnison, Colorado, Fryingpan, Uncompahgre and Taylor rivers, among others.
While sometimes it can be seriously too cold to go out, we’re blessed because there are many sun-splashed winter days when air temperatures climb above freezing.
Staying out of the wind and fishing along a south-facing bank can turn even a low-30s day into a pleasant experience.
“The best thing to do,” said Phil Trimm of Western Anglers Fly Shop in Grand Junction, “is to look for days when it gets over 32 here. It’s nearly always over 32 in Delta and on the Gunnison.”
The Gunnison River above the Pleasure Park offers excellent winter fly-fishing opportunities. The area normally doesn’t get much snow and because the canyon generally is oriented east-west, it receives lots of sunshine even during the shortest days.
Plus, the easiest part of the river to reach has a southern exposure, which means extra warmth.
Dressing well entails wearing breathable waders and fleece or wind- and water-resistant hats, jackets and mittens or fingerless gloves.
“I carry two pairs of WindStopper gloves,” Trimm said. “When one pair gets wet, I can wring them out and put them in my pack to dry while I wear the other pair.”
Pat Oglesby, whose photos of a holiday trip to the Crested Butte area are on this page, recommended wearing fleece pants under breathable waders.
Thinking the day would be warmer, Oglesby and his wife, Carol, were caught unprepared for the 11-degree temperature and ended up fishing in jeans, which isn’t recommended.
There still are some anglers convinced neoprene waders are best for winter fishing, but Trimm and Oglesby both downplayed neoprene because of its moisture-trapping qualities.
“You’ll sweat even in the winter, and neoprene waders don’t allow that moisture to escape,” Oglesby said. “Breathable fabrics move the moisture away from your body.”
Felt-soled boots, too, are to be avoided in winter. Snow and ice stick to the felt and soon you are teetering along on a build-up of ice, just the thing for a fall.
There are several versions of rubber-soled fishing boots available, and you might as well face it, with concerns over the spread of various invasive aquatic species, felt soles likely will be outlawed in the future.
And whatever boots you wear, keep them in the vehicle (preferably close to the heater) and don’t lace them too tight. You want to allow blood to circulate.
Those inexpensive chemical foot- and hand-warmers are good additions to your packing list, and if you do get cold feet, standing in the water is warmer than freezing air.
Keeping your rod guides and line ice-free probably is the biggest challenge, and while there are some anglers who opt for spraying WD-40 or aerosol cooking oils on their rods, these add-ons eventually wash off.
“I was fishing the Gunnison (a week ago) and Friday and the Uncompahgre Sunday and not once did the temperature get above freezing,” Trimm said. “I just busted the ice out of my guides every 5 minutes.”
Mid-winter hatches of midges are common, and on most tailwaters it’s not unusual to see some fish feeding on the surface.
But if you think it’s cold, remember that fish aren’t accustomed to anything even close to freezing. You can kill a fish by holding it out of the water, so Trimm recommends going totally barbless.
“I think I’ve read it’s within 8 seconds you can damage gills in temperatures this cold,” Trimm said. “So I don’t even carry a landing net with me. Instead, I carry a pair of hemostats and if you’re fishing barbless, you can pop the hook right out without touching the fish.”
Also, a barbless hook often can be released simply by relaxing the pressure and letting the fish wriggle off.
And finally, if you really don’t want to go out in the cold but prefer instead to talk about fishing, Western Anglers Fly Shop this Saturday begins its series of weekly fly-tying demonstrations.
The sessions begin at 10 a.m. and are free. Each week a different tier is featured. This week, fishing guide Ted Relihan of Meeker is scheduled to be tying some of his favorite patterns for the White River.
Call 244-8658 for more information.