Don’t let the frigid water temperatures deter you from hitting the rivers and streams this winter. There’s still plenty of fish out there looking to be hooked.
Ohio State University Senior and ANGLR Expert, Jacob Jesionek, talks to us about his excursions winter fly fishing. He’s always been an avid outdoorsman and remembers trying to net minnows in the surf during his family’s beach trips during his younger years.
He convinced his family to try some guided trips and found the fun in working with a rod and reel. He was turned on to bass fishing during his high school years and hasn’t turned back. While a member of OSU’s bass team this past year, he made the National Championships which he fished during the ANGLR Tour.
Getting Started Into the Fly Fishing World
Jesionek was in Gander Mountain one day and saw a sale on fly rods. “I had seen some YouTube videos and decided I needed another thing to spend money on,” he joked.
“It’s more of an artform and a challenging way to fish. It’s fun to fly fish for just about any species.”
He got on the Orvis YouTube channel to educate himself before spending a few days out in his backyard casting, learning to lay down the line.
He eventually started going to the pond across the street from his house, working on getting his false casts down. “Before that, I wasn’t really into trout fishing, but by now, I’ve caught so many trout on the fly rod, I couldn’t imagine not having that as a tool for fishing.”
The Buzz on Winter Fly Fishing
“When it comes to trout, utilizing a fly and fly fishing tactics to target them works incredibly well because of how finicky the fish could be,” Jesionek says. “But you need to be spot-on with your fly selection.” That’s especially true in the winter.
When you’re trout fishing in the wintertime, it’s all about your fly selection. Trout don’t tend to mind the cold water much.
While they don’t tend to hunker down in really deep holes like bass, they still find deeper areas. You’ll be looking for heavier-weighted nymphs; something along the lines of tungsten head Prince Nymphs, Hare’s Ear, or Pheasant Tail. In warmer months, you wouldn’t typically be fishing with such a heavy nymph, but in the winter you need to get a little lower, so the extra weight is going to be your best bet. You definitely wouldn’t have any need for dry flies, as there are no hatches going on this time of year.
Jesionek recommends trying your hand at fly tying.
“It’s a really cool way to tune your fly fishing skills because the more you work on tying these flies, the better you get with names, and the better you get with matching the hatch. I definitely recommend it as a way to improve your skills if you’re stuck inside or you’re unsure of what you can do better.”
Cabela’s offers inexpensive kits you can pick up. Trout patterns for nymphs are normally fairly simple, so there’s no need to worry about trying to learn the intricate dry fly patterns.
Rainbow trout can be counted on to always eat either an egg imitation or the pink squirmy wormy. “It’s absolutely the best fly to catch a rainbow trout on,” he begins. “A lot of people say it’s cheating, but it’s still a fly that you can tie, and if you’re catching fish on it, you can’t really complain.”
In the wintertime, you’ll be seeking trout towards the deeper side of outside bends in the channel. While not as affected by the change in temperature as bass, they will still prefer sitting in deeper water. That’s why the heavier-beaded tungsten nymphs come in handy. You can also use a split shot rig. Jesionek uses two nymphs to a rig and ties them 12-18” apart from each other. Above that, he adjusts the height of his indicator as high as he needs to go. You could choose either a bobber-style or the more finessed New Zealand indicator, an almost feather-weight clump of hairs that barely floats on the surface. Staying stealthy is important when fly fishing.
With the deeper floating nymphs, you’ll notice more subtle takes because you’re typically trying to find bottom. As your fly is tapping bottom, your indicator will be ticking. When the indicator shoots under, you know for sure it’s a fish, but you really need to pay attention and learn the tick from the take.
“I’ve heard that all over the country, coming from seasoned fishermen. I heard it when I was out west fishing in Yellowstone, and I heard it when I was in Tennessee fishing the South Holston with the ANGLR tour.
Winter Fly Fishing Gear
Jesionek uses an assortment of rods. Right now, his preference is among three rods. The first is a 3-weight Cabela’s three-fork rod with the wind-river reel.
“That’s my super light-weight set-up for those super small streams since there’s no room for back casts or false casting.”
It’s a shorter 7’6” rod. “My favorite is the Orvis Recon.” It’s a 5-weight nine-footer. The third is the Orvis Clearwater. It’s an 8-weight nine-footer. He reserves that one mainly for steelhead and saltwater. There’s not really a whole lot of difference between the 5-weight and 8-weight, though it is easier to cast greater distances with the eight since there’s more strength in the rod.
He fishes a floating line with all three of his rods. With the 3-weight, Jesionek normally grabs ultralight 6x tippet, which is somewhere in the three pound breaking range. For the 5-weight, he uses 2x to 4x, depending on the water clarity. He’ll use 0x for the steelhead rod because he hasn’t really found those fish to be very line shy.
Keepin’ It Cool – But Not Too Cool
Always be prepared for the cold. It’s better to try to layer down as you go, rather than trying to figure out how to layer up. “Wading around in the water is a lot colder than you’d think.” he warns.
Jesionek confesses he’s not always as prepared for his adventures as he should be. Last year when steelhead fishing, he broke his cold-water waders, so he used his beach waders. “There was zero insulation in these wading boots. They were literally made for sand, so I was sliding everywhere.” He was also miserably cold.
I definitely recommend the proper attire when trying to fish in the winter. Since his uncomfortable mishap, he’s been relying on Compass 360 Gear. They’ve mastered the ability to add in a lot of insulation, while still keeping their waders lightweight. They’re also affordable, which is nice.
Seeking Trout When Winter Fly Fishing
Planning your trip beforehand by studying the stream you’ll be fishing to figure out where the best meanders are is key to success. You can utilize resources like local guides and tackle shops that can give you tips. Apps like ANGLR can be an incredible asset. You can start by researching your location ahead of time by using the Explore Feature, marking waypoints to try. From there, the local word of mouth can send you to those spots that can be the most successful, also giving you pointers on what sort of ties are working well for the area right now.
WildTroutStreams.com is a site recommended by Jesionek as a source that provides the most comprehensive maps and mapping data for locating wild trout streams throughout the continental U.S. You can view each creek in the state and see what sort of trout stream it’s classified as.