“…this winter I’m determined to for once fish sensibly, and by that I mean in comfort, to try not only to match the hatch but also to match the weather.”
– Tom Sutcliffe, MD
Fishing sensibly and comfortably in winter is a matter of preparation and layering. On the bottom, double up on socks and wear a size larger wading boot than you do in summer. Your toes are always the first to get cold and they need insulation and wiggle room to stay comfortable. On your legs, one or two pairs of long underwear along with fleece pants beneath your waders should suffice. On top, begin with long underwear, a mid-weight fleece, a Windstopper fleece or down sweater and then a Gore-tex outer shell. This layering system will allow you to adjust to the changing conditions throughout the day. In addition, there are some other items that a winter angler should not be without: fingerless gloves, pocket warmers, extra clothes, balaclava, neck gaiter, Ketchum Release tool, thermos, and flask. Lastly, keep your flies and tackle to a minimum; you can typically whittle your fly selection down to a puck full and carry only a spool of tippet and a few tools. Remember, when winter fly fishing, the more sensible you are the more comfortable you will be.
Silver Creek below the Highway 20 bridge remains open until the end of February. However, with the cold temperatures of late, there is a lot of ice on the edges of the Creek and it is difficult to effectively fish the open areas. It would be wise to let the ice dissipate before attempting to fish 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.
Despite the snow and cold temperatures, the Wood saw a good deal of pressure over the Holidays; however, for the next month, seeing another angler should be rare. Snow continues to fall in the Valley making the access points limited and those willing to use snowshoes to access the river will find solitude. Keep in mind the river fishes best this time of year from the Warm Springs confluence down to East Fork. The lower river around Bellevue and Hailey has seen some flooding due to ice dams and avalanches, so avoid this area. Even where the river is open, there can be a good amount of ice along the banks; using a wading staff to help navigate both the ice and deep snow is advised. If you go, no need to start early. The best fishing window is during the afternoon until the sun drops. Some winter midge have already been active, but it is mostly a nymphing scenario this time of year. Try small flies like beaded red, black, or green Zebra Midge in size 16-22, Rainbow Warriors, or Bishop’s Dynamites in size 16 and 18. Surprisingly, large nymphs will also work: Rubber Leg Stones in size 12, Beaded Pheasant Tails in size 14, or Prince Nymphs in size 12 or 14. Focus your efforts on the slow deep water and generally where you find one fish there will be many others. Still, winter trout need to be played and released quickly; please learn how to use a Ketchum Release tool.
THE BIG LOST – MACKAY
From Ketchum, it takes a little over 2 hours to make the trek to Mackay by way Craters of the Moon and Arco…but the fishing and solitude make it worth the trip. There is a good amount of snow around Mackay, so expect to find the same parking and access issues as we are having in the Valley. Tactically speaking, fish this much like the Wood with small midge patterns and even some Baetis on snowy, cloudy days. 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. Sometimes these tail-water fish can be selective and often dropping down in tippet size can make all the difference. I like using light 6 or 6.5X Trouthunter fluorocarbon tippet to fool these wily trout.
SOUTH FORK OF THE BOISE
January can be a bit slow down in the canyon, but February and March can be some of the best fishing of the winter season. Always take a four wheel drive vehicle with studded snow tires and chains and check the road conditions before you go. While fishing, look for the deep, slow runs to find the best activity and have a variety of beaded and non-beaded midge patterns as well as caddis larva, stoneflies, and San Juan Worms. A persistent angler may even find some fish feeding on the surface during the prime fishing window.
South Fork of the Boise
The Big Lost