Winter is a great time to get caught up on tying flies, reading the latest John Gierach book, or perusing new-to-you fly fishing blogs (like this one, or Troutbitten). It’s also a fantastic time to find and implement new trout fishing tips for the upcoming season.
You don’t need to be a winter fly fisher to hone your skills up, either. Even though it’s almost March, a record cold snap and late snowfall will surely set the first blue-winged olive hatches back a bit. In the interim, whether you’re new to the sport or you have a few years under your waders, these tips should help you refine your trout fishing repertoire.
Watch – Don’t Fish
When I’m guiding, one of the things I try to teach everyone is to slow down and watch. When I started fly fishing, I had a habit of jumping right in the water and casting straight to the best water. Not only did I pass up probably 60% of water that trout consistently hold in, but I’d also spook tons of fish from their lies. By so thoroughly disrupting the water, I threw fish behavior completely off-kilter. So, through the first few years I fly fished, I assumed the erratic behavior I forced the trout into was the norm.
It wasn’t until Ryan McCullough – the best dry fly fisherman I know – took me under his wing that I finally stopped charging headlong into the river. Instead of rushing to cast as soon as I caught a glimpse of water, I learned to stop and observe the river first.
What this taught me is the behavior of trout. How they’ll suspend in the water column, seemingly asleep, then move slightly side-to-side to eat nymphs. Or how carefully they’ll consider a dry fly before sipping it. Waiting and watching showed me how trout act when they’re largely unaware of a human’s presence.
This is the information that separates good anglers from great ones. As you continue to watch fish, you’ll start to anticipate when they’ll eat your flies, or when you need to make your cast. Sometimes, you need to wait until a hatch gets going in earnest before it’s worth throwing a cast. Regardless, waiting and watching is one of the best ways to improve your skillset as an angler.
Read Old Books
Some of the best trout fishing tips I’ve read came from dusty old books written back in the 50s. Old books get a bad rap sometimes, and yeah, they’re generally tough to wade through. Fishing writers back then waxed a bit more poetic than we do today. But hidden in them you’ll find some great insight.
I particularly love the old books on dry flies. Works like Vincent Marinaro’s A Modern Dry-Fly Code or In The Ring of the Rise aren’t breezy reads – they’re dense, thick volumes, but they contain some of the best information we have on the complexities of dry flies. From drawings to full-color photographs, these books will elevate your understanding of the bugs that trout depend on.
And with a better understanding of their food source, you can make your flies and presentations better mimic what’s found in the waters you frequent.
Practice Your Knots
This is something that, even as a guide, I still do during winter. I’m a notoriously slow knot-tier, so I like to use this time of year to practice my blood, surgeon’s, and clinch knots. These are the ones I use the most, so they’re the ones I want to be able to tie quickly.
This helps you out on the stream in numerous ways. The immediate benefit, in my mind, is that you’re able to quickly size down tippet for matching early and late-season mayfly hatches. Getting quicker at your knots will also help you add a dropper or another nymph to your rig, if needed. And it makes changing out flies a breeze.
As I wrote recently, great fly rods are only worth it if you’re using them as effectively as possible. If you buy an $800 rod and expect it to immediately transform your angling game, but you don’t continue to practice, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.
And the single best thing you can do to improve your on-the-water skills without being on the water is to lawn cast your rods. Learn to pick up each rods rhythm, its cadence. Rods have different personalities, and provide you with different feedback. Lawn casting lets you learn those nuances without getting ice in your guides.
This is also a great time to try out different lines on different rods. Pairing a rod with a good line is key to unlocking its best performance. My Winstons, for example, like true-to-weight lines much more than my Orvis H3s do. Both are great rods, but lining them correctly helps them perform at a higher level.
Watch Tying Videos
Even if you don’t tie your own flies – which I reckon most fly fishers don’t – watching videos from folks like Tim Flagler, Fly Fish Food, and In The Riffle will vastly improve your understanding of a trout’s diet. This goes back to the point I made earlier about reading some old books – the better you know what fish are eating, the better you’re able to imitate it.
Whether you’re stuck at home due to the weather, or you just can’t make it on the water for a while, these trout fishing tips are something you can use right now – and throughout the year – to become a better angler. The best part is that they don’t cost much, if anything at all. Tying videos are free, and we all have plenty of spare tippet lying around to practice knots with. In short, there’s plenty you can do to improve your trout fishing game even if you’re not spending time on the river.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and guide from Utah. He’s the Lead Guide/Owner of The Utah Fly Fishing Company, the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spener_Durrant.