12/18/10
Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.    Blue-winged Olives
2  .  Sculpin, baitfish and small crayfish (Imitate with streamers)
3.    Midges


Some Cold Water Fishing Things to Think About
When the weather turns cold and the water gets down to where there's some ice
around the banks, many anglers just don't even think about fishing. I don't see
anything wrong with that if that's what they prefer.  I mentioned ice around the banks
just to set the stage for those that don't normally use a thermometer. Personally, I
wouldn't think about not taking one. It's a part of my fly vest, but back to the point of
this article. By cold water, I mean water that's below 45 degrees, down to about 38. I
selected the number 38 because water below frozen over lakes is usually 39
degrees and it's very possible to catch fish including trout beneath frozen water.

Now granted, the fish are not going to be cruising the shallows looking for food, and
they are not going to feed aggressively. Generally, they won't move but a few
inches at the most to take a fly. What makes the fishing difficult is you are usually
fishing to fish you can't see. Of course, that's always the case when you are fishing
subsurface or nymph fishing to use the common phrase, but when it's in cold water,
not being able to see the fish multiplies the other inherent problems. You don't have
the advantage of fishing fairly fast for active, aggressive fish that are eager to get
something to eat. The fish's metabolism is very low and they only need a small
amount of food to be just fine. In fact, most species can go a rather long time
without food. I'm not saying they will do that when food is available. I'm only saying
they can do that.

Years ago, in the late 1960's and early 1970's, I had several aquariums with bass in
them. I had largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, usually rather small ones
that I would catch and keep in my live wells until I got them to my aquariums. I kelp
those inside my house and on the porch. I would experiment to see what happened
when the water got cold along with many other experiments I did. I have had the
water on the porch to freeze and kill the fish but I usually caught it before that
happened and moved them to a warmer location. I tried to get the water with the
different species to where I could see their reaction in various water temperatures
when I fed them minnows. I have seen all three species eat a minnow when the
water was almost frozen. When the water began to get sluggish, they wouldn't eat
the minnows. They would never grab one, or go to much effort to eat one when I
first put the minnows in the tank in that cold of water. Often it appeared they were
not going to eat at all and then I would take a look an hour or so later and the
minnow or minnows would be gone.

I did all kinds of crazy things. I still have flashbacks about one deal, thanks to my
wife. She always complained about the way I treated the bass. I actually starved a
small spotted bass to death that had become a pet to the kids that I had for a few
months. Its stomach almost caved in. I wanted to see how long the fish could live
without any food. It lived a long time, but I honestly don't remember the number of
days. I do know it was several days, much longer than i thought it could live. Yes, I
know that's horrible and I still think of that pretty little spotted bass.

I guess you are wondering why I went to that much trouble to try to learn from the
experiments. Let me put it this way. If you were fishing professional bass
tournaments with little sponsorship, you would understand. The entrance fees,
week's expense of travel, room, food, boat fuel, etc., would average about $1500 to
$2500 per tournament and if you didn't get a check from winnings, it came out of
your pocket. Also, if you fished a tournament and some anglers had as much as 40
to 60 pounds of fish from water that was in the low forties, and you struggled to
catch a third of that, you would also understand.

If you can find where bass are holding in cold water and get all the little details
worked out about the presentation and lure, you can catch plenty of bass. However,
that isn't easy. Sometimes it amounts to fishing small, isolated spots in a lake and
sometimes what we called hit and run tactics work best. That's catching a bass in
one spot and running the boat to other similar spots, water depths, etc and hitting
them. I have fished all day, moving over deep water with my eyes glued to the sonar
unit without a strike and then found the right ledge, cover, etc and caught several
bass in just a few minutes. Again, it's not easy fishing to fish you can't see when
they want move but six inches to eat. It usually amounts to fishing small lures fished
very slow in precise areas. A jig and pig, is one of the best bass lures for this but
there are plenty of others. It isn't the lure so much as the right spot.

I have noticed this same thing is true of catching trout in very cold water. From the
time I first started, I felt I almost had a short-cut knowing what to do. I'll give one
example I remember very clearly. It was in Colorado in early April on the White
River. For three days we didn't spot another angler fishing the river from near its
headwaters downstream for probably twenty miles. We couldn't get into the
headwater areas because the roads were under snow. There was about two feet of
snow on the ground and it had been there for a week or longer. The road that
follows the river had been cleared by snow plows but you sure couldn't get off of it.
We usually parked actually on the paved highway because it was usually an hour
before anyone came along. They knew the deal and just passed and waved. We
had never fished the stream prior to that. The water varied from 45 degrees down to
the high thirties, depending on where and when you took the temperature. We didn't
catch the first trout the first day and we fished at least eight hours. We had line
freezing up in the guides until near noon each day because the air temperature was
very cold in the mornings. The White River is a freestone stream, by the way, not a
tailwater. It's not stocked. The trout are all wild and mostly rainbows, with a few
browns except for the headwaters in the National Forest where there are also some
brook trout..

The second day, I caught a whitefish and a rainbow that was about 14 inches. That
was it. Angie, who fished half the time (we took turns with the camera and fishing)
didn't catch any. They came on a small Hair's Ear Nymph fished under an indicator.
This was several years ago before we started Perfect Fly. We moved around all day
and that was it. We almost left that night to fish a tailwaters in the Southwest part of
Colorado but decided to stay one more day.

The third day, I went back to the same spot I had caught the one and only trout. It
was the end of a long riffle where water entered a long pool near the lower end of
the stream above Meeker. I waited until around noon to go to that spot. We fished
for about two or three hours in the cold with the line freezing up in the guides every
once in a while up until then. I rigged back up the same way and fished the same
location I caught the trout. The first drift produced an 18 wild rainbow that almost
lined the four weight outfit I was using. I don't remember for certain, but I think the fly
had a size 18 hook. I know it was very small and I was afraid I would lose the fish the
entire time. When I released the trout and got back in position, the next cast
produced almost the same results except it was a World Record Whitefish. I'm sure
it really wasn't, but it was huge and took me several minutes to land thinking the
entire time I had another rainbow.

We fished that same stretch of water, moving back and forth up and down the riffles
and the length of the long pool for the rest of the day. Angie caught two whitefish. I
caught another 18 inch rainbow a couple of hours later near the same spot the first
one came from. These were measured and both over 18, one almost 19. I caught
only two more rainbows that were 12 and 15 but I am guessing on those. I also
caught about a half dozen more whitefish, half of which were very large and took
forever to land. Just before leaving, I did some on-camera audio and we left almost
frozen to death that afternoon. We were very pleased and excited about the results.
The next day, after we traveled to Southwest Colorado, I looked for my 4 weight
outfit in the vehicle and motel room. We were going to fish the small UnCompahgre
River tailwater. Suddenly it hit me. Angie left the stream to go to the vehicle while I
gathered up the camera and tripod. I remembered that she turned a said, "don't
forget your rod". It was standing up against a fence post near the stream. I forgot it.
We both were so cold we couldn't think straight and only wanted to get to the heater
in the truck. Some lucky person, got a nice, custom build fly rod, reel, and line. It
even the Hare's Ear Nymph still tied on.

I can give plenty examples of some great trips we have made right here in the
Smokies when the water was very cold. I'll end this with
one huge tip about
fishing cold water
. Most of the time, the lack of success is 100% a mental thing
with the angler. They get cold, feel cold, lack confidence and tend to think the trout
are in the same shape. The trout are always just fine. It's the angler that has the
problem.