“The angling fever is a very real disease and can only be cured by the application of cold water and fresh untainted air.”
– Theodore Gordon
For some, the concept of winter fly fishing seems a bit crazy. And yet, for those who suffer from angling fever, winter fly fishing is the best therapy. However, nothing will end a winter fly fishing excursion faster than being ill prepared for the conditions. Often, it is the little things that make the outing a success: a thermos full of coffee, a pocket full of hand warmers, a pair of waders that don’t leak, the proper layering from head to toe, a change of clothes in the car, a flask full of whiskey. So if you are heading out on a winter day to cure what ails you, spend a little extra time thinking about the little things so while you are on the water you can let your worries melt away. On a side note, don’t forget to pick up your new fishing license after the new year.
The Nature Conservancy and the Double R Ranch portion of the Creek down to highway 20 is closed for the season and will reopen the end of May. The Creek from the Highway 20 bridge down through the Willows, Point of Rocks, and Priest Rapids remains open until the end of February. With the cold temperatures, ice has formed along the sides of the river making access difficult. It would be best to wait until it warms a bit before fishing down here. When it does, try nymphing dry dropper style or with an indicator will be most effective through the slow deep buckets. Try size 24-16 Pheasant Tails nymphs or olive and red Zebra Midge. Swinging black and olive leech patterns deep and slow can also be productive.
This is the place to go if you want to catch the first chair and then fish away the afternoon. Be aware, access is limited with all the snow on the valley floor, but if you are willing to park in a plowed area and walk you can find your way down to the river. Also, during the coldest days, the river can get choked with ice above Warm Springs and below the Hospital south of town. Keep in mind, the best days to fish are when the snow is falling, as this can trigger some fantastic winter midge activity. This is a good time to really streamline your gear and keep it simple. Dry dropper rigs or double nymphs with an indicator will let you cover all depths of water. For flies, try beaded red, black, or green Zebra Midge in size 14-20, Rainbow Warriors, or Bishop’s Dynamites in size 16 and 18. Larger nymphs will also work. I like Rubber Leg Stones in size 12, Beaded Pheasant Tails in size 14, or Prince Nymphs in size 12 or 14. Remember the winter trout don’t like fast water, so concentrate your efforts on the slow water at the tail end of runs or in the slow seams. Also, winter trout need to be played and released quickly; please learn how to use a Ketchum Release tool. This also provides the added bonus of keeping your hands dry, which is essential in the winter.
THE BIG LOST – MACKAY
This is a great option if you are looking for a longer fishing excursion. Remember, Trail Creek Pass is closed and it takes about two hours to make the trip through Craters of the Moon, Arco, and up to the town of Mackay. Still, the fishing can be fun this time of year and with the low flows (90 CFS) you will find plenty of fish in the slow buckets. Try small Rainbow Warriors, Bishop’s Dynamites and Zebra Midge and a small indicator in the shallow water or a double nymph rig in the deeper runs. I like using light 6.5 Trouthunter fluorocarbon tippet to fool these trout and help get the flies down quickly.
SOUTH FORK OF THE BOISE
This is another great winter outing with plenty of trout and whitefish to be found about 90 minutes drive from Ketchum. If you go, take a four wheel drive vehicle with studded snow tires and chains. The road down into the canyon can be horrendous this time of year. The fishing window is short deep in the South Fork canyon; look for runs in the sun to find the best activity. You will find fish in the classic winter water and have a good selection of beaded and non-beaded midge patterns as well as caddis larva, stoneflies, and San Juan Worms.
South Fork of the Boise
The Big Lost