The weather here in East Tennessee has been less than accommodating for those of us who prefer to stand mid stream and ply our craft. With temperatures that can be bone jarring cold and generation schedules on the tailwaters that offer very limited windows of opportunity, most times we are left holding a warm cup of coffee and staring out the window.
A lot of folks forgo fishing in the winter months, but it has been my experience, that if you are willing to be patient and use a few tricks, you can still have a productive day on the water.
Here are a few…
If the generation schedule on your local tailwater will allow it, try fishing mid day. Giving the sun an opportunity to do its thing and warm the water even a few degrees can make a huge difference in success or failure.
Along with this, it is important to realize that fish are more reluctant to move a lot in pursuit of food so an understanding of basic river hydrology in respect to prime fish locations is vital. Areas that are stacked with trout in the spring, summer, and fall might not be as active in colder months.
Know what they are eating on a consistant basis. For the most part, trout here on Tennessee tailwaters have a diet of midges that is year round. This food source becomes even more important as the mayfly activity dies down. You might find a Blue Wing Olive hatch, but if you want to step in the river with a tried and true producer in the winter, you cannot beat a midge. Having midges tied in the smaller sizes (24-20), and various colors, will no doubt have you ready.
I also feel that it is important to cover as much of the water column as possible so I will tie a tandem rig with a bead head zebra midge tailed with an unweighted midge with some flash for a wing casing. I can’t honestly say if the flash is the ticket, but every little bit helps.
Personal safety is always important on the water, but in winter it can be a matter of life or death. The obvious plan is to lair up before putting on waders, but keep in mind that your layers also impede your mobility which means that moves you can make with ease in September may be risky when you cannot bend or move as easily. I learned this lesson the hard way. Trust me, layers can get you in trouble.
Another thing that ties in with that is the use of fleece. If you have a well fitting fleece pullover, get it wet and see what happens. It will magically grow three sizes, become heavy, and hold every ounce of water it comes in contact with. When practical, use wool. It stays warm when wet and doesn’t expand like fleece.
One day several years ago, I took a full plunge in the Hiwassee the day after Christmas. Thirty degrees is cold, but when you are soaked to the bone, wearing fleece, and a mile from your vehicle, it is a level of misery best avoided.
Carry extra clothes, some of those hand/ foot warmers, move carefully, fish midges, and have fun. Even when its cold, fish gotta eat.