One thing I don’t get is how much time, effort and patience anglers put into being stealthy over the summer months and how that all goes out the window on winter time waters. These are still the same fish with all the same senses and sure, while the character of many winter rivers may see the fish less affected by a heavy footfall, you will still catch more fish if they don’t know you are there. The assumption is that fresh run fish are stupid and carefree, however they often move in numbers. Slighting one fish can disturb the entire pod. After a few days in the river these fish settle a bit and regain the wiles of any wild, NZ brown and rainbow trout.
So what are some considerations we can take into account to avoid unnecessarily spooking winter run fish?
- Step light, and wade quietly. This is a given at any time of the year. Heavy footfalls along the bank or in the water can alert fish from quite some distance. Likewise wade slowly, and avoid the audible ‘swooshing’ one makes when wading too quick / powerfully. Consider using a Simms Wading Staff to help maintain balance and to move more stealthily.
- Walk wide when approaching the water. Don’t just waltz up the river’s edge. Winter run trout will often rest up in the quieter water close to the bank. They won’t stick around to be caught if you bowl right past them en route to the head of the pool.
- Use lighter heads and tips where applicable. A 550gr skagit wouldn’t be my first choice for that smooth tail out on a bright, sunny day. Instead maybe consider something in the 250 - 300gr class, maybe on the single hander, or loop on a rage compact or scandi for a bit more delicacy and much less noise. Likewise, do you really need that single hand 8wt on that bright, calm day or will your 6wt do? Extend out your leader also to keep the heavy drop of your fly line further from the bingo zone.
- Don’t rip the water when pulling around into your D, lifting your line to recast or repositioning. Likewise beware of heavy landings. Accelerate smoothly as you peel that line from the water. Summertime fish spook from line ripping from the surface, and trust me, wintertime trout will too. Here’s a tip. Clean your line often and apply whizz lube so that your line lifts effortlessly from the water. Your Airflo SuperFlo coating repels water too and so is a no brainer when lifting your line for that next cast.
- Cast well above the fish zone, keeping your line, and the drop of your fly away from the hotspot. Mend accordingly so your fly drifts through the right water. So many people see the pocket they want to fish, however subconsciously aim right at it.
- Practise your presentation. Turn your line and leader over in the air cleanly so that it doesn’t dump down on water.
- While these fish may not know what fluorocarbon is, if your leader is too heavy it can leave you at a disadvantage, especially in situations such as low water, heavy angling pressure etc. Heavier leaders ( 10 - 12lb ) do not swim your fly as freely, or move about the currents as naturally as 6-8lb, and if you want to get lighter flies deep, you want a smaller diameter line.
If you’ve been finding things a bit tough then don’t necessarily look to your fly box for the magical answer. Maybe reconsider your approach, utilise a little more cover and come out on top.