Autumn and winter fly fishing: Top tips to catch fish in the cold
Life is too short to be a fair weather fly fisher! With so many species and techniques to explore, today’s game angler can continue fishing from when the leaves turn brown until proper cold weather sets in and there’s snow on the ground.
However, with testing conditions and different challenges in store, the successful angler will need to be well prepared and adaptable. Here are some excellent tips for autumn and winter fly fishing, including some of the best flies, accessories and advice.
Switch your focus
Nowadays, fly fishing doesn’t end when the leaves start falling and the wild trout season is over. In fact, with hot or unsettled summers the norm, the autumn can be one of the best times of year! Getting a bend in the rod might mean switching your targets, however.
Depending on your location, the best prospect could be anything from grayling to chub or hard-fighting pike. On the trout scene, plenty of stillwaters also stay open these days.
Change the tempo and depths.
Once temperatures change by several degrees, fish location can change radically. Trout, for example, could be anywhere from several feet down to browsing the top layers, depending on conditions. As cold-blooded creatures, however, fish will not always be as active or willing to charge a fly when the mercury plummets.
Black Dog Nobbler- an excellent fly to search deep, no sinking line required!
Aside from packing different flies and fly lines, it’s this time of year that mixing up presentations and much slower retrieves can really pay off. One excellent trick with lures is to radically change your countdown if you suspect fish are near the bottom. Try counting way beyond your usual five or ten, until the fly has sunk way, way down. Now, kick off your retrieve with a couple of quick pulls for good measure- quite often a sulking fish will attack right away!
For those who only fish floating lines, one good way to get right down is to increase your leader and opt for something like a lead head fly. These sink like a stone!
Comfort is key
If you forget your hat or your waders leak on a warm summer’s day, it’s no big deal. Not so as things get chilly! Now is the time to check everything over- and perhaps invest where you need to.
Absolutely top of the list, however, are protective layers and that starts with head and feet. Thermal socks and a quality hat are a must, but another great shout is a buff. These are incredibly versatile, whether it’s keeping your beck warm, or stopping low winter sun from getting in your face.
Beat the pressure
Fish never feed and move consistently in any season, but their activity levels can become even more concentrated in winter. If you have a choice of fishing days, try to opt for steady conditions. Cold itself isn’t always an issue if it’s been chilly for a few days straight- but avoid sudden cold snaps and downpours if you can.
Make life easy for yourself by having weather and river level apps to hand- and always look at the conditions leading up to your session, not just the day itself!
Pike will feed in all temperatures- but avoid a sudden drop if possible.
Keeping a fishing diary can also help identify productive conditions- for example, while an early start can still pay off in autumn, once it gets very cold, late afternoon is often better. You could even grab a pocket thermometer, to get a completely accurate reading of water temperature.
Save time and spare your fingers!
Even if you look like the Michelin man on a cold day, it’s difficult to keep your hands as warm as your core when fly fishing. Meanwhile, wind and rain can make tasks like tying knots and assembling leaders a right pain in the backside. With winter feeding spells short, the last thing you want is extra faff while the fish are biting. The simple solution is to do all the boring essential jobs at home!
Getting organised with your kit and having spare leaders ready tied is sure to save you time and frustration on the bank. You could also invest in items such as leader wallets and rig spools- which keep spares in a ready to fish state for minimal outlet.
Prevent fly line and fishing line from freezing!
Here’s a useful tip for anyone heading out once the banks are frozen. Fishing for rainbow trout, grayling or pike can still be worthwhile- but can quickly come to a halt if your line sticks to the rod rings!
The simple solution to these issues is to treat your line with something that stops ice forming. Glycerine or Vaseline are the traditional answers, and work very well. However, an arguably even better option is a pump spray of sunflower oil, easily obtained from any big supermarket.
Clean and care for your gear
As temperatures drop, now is the ideal time to check over your fishing gear and give it some TLC. Cold temperatures or damp are not always kind to things like fly lines, reels and waders – so pay close attention to your storage.
Fly line is one item that can crack with changing temperatures. Do treat your lines to a wash – straightforward warm water with a clean cloth is best. With both fly lines and leader materials, keep them dry and shaded, preferably indoors.
If any fly lines are cracked and performing poorly, get them replaced! An excellent quality line needn’t cost the earth- Cortland’s “Fairplay” being a prime example.
Finally, a word of warning here: if you must leave gear like waders and nets in the shed or garage, take care! Only pack away and store once they are bone dry, and always store high up; few outbuildings won’t see a few mice looking for winter shelter, so don’t leave anything chewable exposed or at ground level!
Fill those fly boxes – and protect your collection
For those who tie or collect flies, the spring and summer are often not the time to get organised or add. You’re too busy for that while flies are hatching and the sun is shining! As things slow down, however, and perhaps trips are less regular, you have more opportunity.
Like other valuable tackle, it’s worth checking and sorting your flies. A great tip here is to add little packs of moisture absorbing dessicant to fly boxes, which is a great way to prevent rust and damage. You could also run a hook sharpener over any tired points.
Finally, the winter is also a great time to get tying and amassing flies. Making a list of what you need in future will help- while tying in batches makes sense to get organised for next season.