Don’t slip into the routine of fly fishing with lures this winter. Time your visit and you’ll still find food to imitate. In fact, during winter, nymphing is Iain Barr’s favoured method for reservoir rainbow trout…
For me, the winter months spent fly angling for trout are all about nymph fishing. Insects still live in our waters right through the winter with corixa thriving and buzzers hatching in the warmer part of the day.
The darting corixa loses the comfort of weedbeds and become easier, darting targets and small hatches of buzzers can insight a winter feeding frenzy. Bloodworm thrive in the soft beds of the lake making easy pickings for the now slumbering trout. All these are a good source of protein as the fish search for a fast-food diet exerting as little energy as possible.
Hoglouse can be abundant in the weeds and become vulnerable as the weed dies away. Many anglers associate winter fishing with throwing a long line and the gaudiest lure in their box, often a Booby. For me, there is no more pleasurable way to catch a fish other than on the nymph and the winter months are no exception.
With fewer and fewer fish rising on our reservoirs and lakes in the colder months, it is the nymph angler who is consistently taking the cream of the sport.
I favour nymph fishing over any method although I do enjoy dry flies and pulling lures when I have to. In recent years I have probably caught more than 70 per cent of my fish on nymphs, with that figure rising to near 90 per cent during winter months.
It has always been a mystery to me why I can go to my local reservoir or lake during the winter months and have it almost to myself.
I enjoy being out on those crisp winter mornings when a much appreciated glimmer of sunshine pokes through the dispersing cloud to warm my face.
Where to start?
Water temperatures plummet as the frosty nights set in so you must find warmer water where the hatches are likely to occur. This may mean fishing into a wind but don’t just choose any bank. Look for a sloping gradient and not a deep bank.
Many anglers insist on throwing fast sinking lines as far as they can into a headwind in deep water.
They are probably casting past the fish as they will be feeding in the shallower, warmer water.
Land jutting out into water (points) will always be a favourable place as the often silted bed at the end of these promontories hold insect larvae that will try to hatch during the warmest part of the day. They also offer a bolt hole if disturbed as the fish slope off into the deeper water at the first sign of trouble. Try the bottom of bays in the corners where the wind is blowing into, this may offer a right-to-left or left-to-right wind.
This is larder for food, as a right angle corner of bank will have two currents bringing the food in.
Don’t wade into the water as you will disturb the fish. Stand away from the shoreline and fan cast the water’s edge just a few yards from the bank, covering as much water as possible.
A good friend of mine won the Fur & Feather match on Rutland last year in December on Buzzers fished no more than seven or eight yards from the bank!
If you are fishing in more that eight-10ft of water then you are probably fishing in water that is too deep. One of my best winter sessions came in early December with frost and ice on the bank. I actually took the fish on size 16 black dry flies and size 14 Thread Buzzers as they moved into the flooded banks of Rutland’s North Arm. This was in the early 1990s and other anglers nearby also enjoyed a field day. It’s funny though,
I returned the following week and there wasn’t a fish to be seen.
Look for any remaining weedbeds near the margins. The headbobbing swans and diving coots and moorhens can tell you where the weed is. There will be an abundance of food in this weed and rest assured the trout know it’s there too!
Hoglouse and corixa are likely to be here, so a Hare’s Ear, Diawl Bach and Cruncher combination will work. Try to imitate the corixa with short six-inch pulls with eightsecond pauses in between.
You need the right tackle to fish into the wind. A fast-action rod is required to minimise the number of false casts. The greater the number of false casts, the less line speed you will generate as the wind pushes the line back at you.
It is important to punch the last cast hard into the wind to ensure you get the distance. Aim the last cast parallel to the water at head height for maximum distance. A high cast will only drop back at you, due to the head wind, and punching it hard at the water will result in the line crashing down. When fishing into a head wind, I always use a line weight heavier than the rod states.
I am renowned for my 22ft leaders but I will reduce this to about 16ft with just three flies when fishing into the wind, and will go down to two flies if the wind is very strong.
It is important to use fluorocarbon (largely invisible in water) as the water is often gin clear during the winter. The takes from rainbows aren’t as aggressive as in the summer, so I tend to use lighter line and go as little as 6lb. You may be surprised at 6lb, but I catch most of my big fish during the winter months and don’t want to get broke with the fish of a lifetime.
I always use a low or non-stretch line during winter. I tend to miss far too many subtle takes with stretch lines. The fish are preserving energy so will often just mouth the nymph instead of taking aggressively.
Fish them NZ style
I’ve had fantastic success fishing my nymphs New Zealand-style in the shallow, clear water.
I use a Floating Fry with a Cruncher positioned two foot below it. The Cruncher may imitate a corixa that has made the precarious journey to the surface for a gulp of air.
A small Black Buzzer is positioned four to six foot below that, providing perfect presentation as it drifts back towards you when fishing into the head wind. It also allows your flies to be out there for the maximum time possible.
If you were straight-line nymphing in the usual way, your flies could snag bottom in the shallow water, but the Floating Fry suspends the flies above snags and in full view of the trout.
Don’t get frustrated if the fish are not pulling your flies. There can often be just a short window of time during the lunchtime hours when the fish come on the feed.
Watch diligently for any sign of fly life and, as you see it, start fishing those nymphs.
If you wait too long the larvae would have all left the waterbed and the fish will have moved off the shallows. It really can be all over within an hour so make the change quickly.
Winter fishing can produce some explosive action and during the warmer days it can be full-on sport all day long. So why not go fly fishing, leave the lure box at home and use those nymphs? You will be surprised how successful they can be.
The best flies to try
Although the fish may be hungry they will not give themselves up easily if the nymph is not fished correctly. With a headwind or crosswind it is important to fish your flies static. With a headwind cast them out and just let them drift back to you, but keep your line tight. With a crosswind cast them out and let them swing naturally round in an arc.
Buzzers are mostly black and small during the winter so I opt for a size 10 grub hook or size 12 B175 Buzzer. This is still relatively big in comparison, but a tempting and realistic mouthful for the hungry fish.
For the corixa I use my tried and tested Crunchers and a Hare’s Ear. They imitate any shrimps or hoglouse that may be lurking.