Welcome to full winter mode. We sure had fun on “dries in December” during the last few bonus days of warmth, but those days are now gone. We’ll make new memories with our strategy for this new season.
The winter game is now upon us and it’s still a very fun time to wet a line, as long as you’re indeed practicing your winter game. We detailed some tips in our extended version of this report.
HenryC says Lanier still lags due to warm surface water but dares innovative flyrodders to forget casting and just drop jigs down to the thick bait schools and the potbellied spots (and some stripers) surrounding those bait balls.
Wes hot fly list and our reports and tips follow. Good luck and stay warm this week. And let’s hope those Athens dudes have a great fishing trip to Indy and catch a national championship!
Wes’ Hot Fly List:
Dries: Griffith’s Gnat, Stimulator, Comparadun BWO.
Nymphs: Copper John (black), Lightning Bug, Soft Hackle Hares Ear, Girdle Bug, WD-40.
Streamers & warm water: Bank Robber Sculpin, Kreelex, Micro Changer, Polar Changer.
GA public waters:
Wes: “I was able to get out for a couple of hours on new years day and do some wild trout fishing. This was the last day of warm weather before the cool down and the fish were very active. I caught around 10 in a few hours including a couple of colorful browns. Almost all the fish were caught on a stimulator.”
Enjoy his release video.
I spoke with Smith regular Stan yesterday morning (6th). He said it was slow in the cold, but he had managed four fish so far on his soft plastic worm, tossed with his ultralight outfit. Smith ran a warmer 49F at 10 AM, thanks to the heat sink of Unicoi Lake. In contrast, nearby Spoilcane ran three degrees cooler.
The holiday weekend and the rain/high water kept many of our regulars off the creeks last week. Hopefully, they’ll get the itch soon and resupply us with more great fodder this month.
To fill in the space this week, I’ll offer a few winter tips. First, aim for the sun’s warmth window of 11 AM to 4 PM. Second, fish deep and slow. Our freestone stream trout glue themselves to the bottom in the winter and, most of the time, you’ve got to go down to get them. Third, try a double nymph rig of something big or bright (Leech, Rubberlegs, Egg) as your first fly and something small (Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, their soft hackle versions, Zebra Midge) on lighter tippet 12-18 inches behind your attractor bug.
Fourth, revisit step 2. Add enough weight to bump bottom. And keep your split shot close to your bugs. I aim for just 8-10 inches in the winter. Fifth, try the “Dinsmore split.” If you’re having luck on the first bug, but none on that back dropper (12-18 inches behind), then add a small tin shot (Ex: Dinsmore brand) to the tippet halfway between flies. Tin shot won’t migrate on your line like soft lead does. Sink the rear bug down to fish-eye level, too. Sixth, paint the slow pools and runs with your drifts that are just a foot apart until you cover the entire pool width. In contrast to spring’s 50-degree waters, winter’s frozen trout won’t move far for winter food, so you have to hit them in the nose with your menu. Camp out in a good pool and work it for at least 30 minutes before moving. You might just discover where that pod of trout is camping out. And remember that address for future trips. Seventh, learn and use the Belgian cast to open your loop and prevent tangling your rig. Sidearm back, then overhand forward!
ORVIS - Fly Casting Lessons - How To Make A Belgian (Oval) Cast - YouTube
Last, give Euronymphing a shot. Those tungsten bugs will crawl right along the bottom if you’re fishing them right. Just tie a Euro leader on the end of the fly line of your longest, limber rod, add some tippet, tie on a tungsten nymph, and give it a try. You can specialize later.
Orvis Guide to Euro-Nymphing, Part 1: Overview - Orvis News
For more winter trouting tips, google “Secrets of the Rabunites” and enjoy that chapter’s intel. And share your knowledge with new flyfishers who need your helping hand.
Forrest Gump (aka Dredger) ran back up to the Smokies on New Year’s Eve. He went up higher this time to find pocket water to accommodate his Euro rig. He put on his raincoat and fished through the intermittent showers since the air and water (50F) were comfortable for both him and the fish.
Did you ever have an “off” game? Well, he sure did. Let’s see, first there was constant tree decoration (he was getting a jump on next Xmas) and required rerigging, one three-point landing that missed a wet face-plant by mere inches, one buttocks-bounce on the slick, muddy trail back to the truck, and excessive “uncapping.”
That last one, uncapping, hurt the worst. For anyone not familiar with Rabunite, that term means a lost fish in the thick of battle. He was only two for eight on better (8 inch plus) bows and buttery browns hooked on his Euronymphs.
But it was still a great way to end the angling year. He was in a beautiful national park stream, hooking a bunch of wild fish, landing a lot of little bows and a couple of browns, having the entire stream to himself, and enjoying a classic Smokies elk-jam on his way home.
Best bugs in the improved flows were his traditional duo of a Sexy Walts anchor and a Frenchie dropper. Even if the catching was off a bit, it was still a great fishing trip. A good dose of humility always keeps so-called experts grounded, too. He did ask us to pass him 1) a new spool of 6X, 2) a bottle of Motrin, and 3) an instrucyional trip with Wes on how to fight and land trout.
Private waters still fished really well for guided folks and experienced, unguided guests. Most venues got blown out by high water for a couple of days, but sure welcomed the river recharge. Our buddies Becca and Ellie had a great Wednesday afternoon. They were Euronymphing some “secret weapons” in the heads of pools when I stopped by to chat. That hot fly must have been really hot, as one gal spent considerable time fetching her last one from a tall tree branch growing in the wrong spot. Hint: you can get away with bigger or brighter bugs in the swifter pool heads and runs. Lower down, in the slower flows, fish have more time to study your offering, so go with smaller, natural patterns.
HenryC said Lanier topwater action is still asleep due to the warm surface water. But he said the fat spots are on fire for anyone dropping a spoon down to the deep bait schools. He challenged a flyrodder to freespool a spoon down there, too, and see what happens.
He did give us a heads-up on his forthcoming Facebook Live session with Orvis legend Tom Rosenbauer. He said: “On Jan 31 at 3 pm on Orvis Facebook I will be discussing my Cowen's mullet fly while Tom Rosenbauer ties it live on Facebook. The mullet fly works in both salt and freshwater for redfish, albies, stripers, speckled trout, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. It'll catch everything and if you want to learn how to tie an easy "guide fly", tune into Orvis Facebook on Jan 31 at 3 pm.”
Our fishing season has finally changed, so change your own game, from clothing to wading safety to timing to technique. We never catch as many trout in the winter as we do in prime water temps, but the clean air, clear streams, and ample elbow room are a great cure for cabin fever. While the rest of the country is frozen, we Southeasterners are still fishing! Enjoy this blessing of geography and go practice your own winter game soon.
PS: speaking of games…,