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Week of December 24th: 'Tis the Winter Fly Fishing Season

The Winter Solstice is met with a full moon and temperatures that rise and fall which means we can look forward to a great week of Winter Fly Fishing - including the annual Bubba contest!  

The Cold moon rises on the 26th and is in the sky longer than at any other point in the year.  The sun is the mirror opposite at its lowest point. We will not be seeing much of the sun as the forecast is cloudy, but temps are mild with no periods below 32 degrees until Friday, when the overnight temps will finally get below freezing.  There is rain on the horizon, too, but these are primo conditions for fly fishing!  

After the deluge last Sunday night and the flood conditions subsiding, the trout will be looking to feed.  I had some luck towards the end of the week, including this morning.   Flows are still up on the Musky and you’ll feel the weight of the rains as they roll over an already sodden ground and swell the streams.  One bright side is the detritus is largely swept out of the Ken Lockwood Gorge and along the banks of the South Branch through town. The end of the week drew a noticeable number of anglers and with some folks on holiday this week, let’s be extra careful parking. Remember, the South lot has room for more cars than the North. 

I need to go back to school to study freshwater microbiology and specifically, how the air temps and water temps react to one another.  That way, I could better predict things like Blue Winged Olive hatches in January.  Look for water temps that rise near 39 degrees.  If you’re like me and set goals for the year ahead, this could be the year for trout on a dry fly every month in New Jersey.  I swear I see at least one rise each morning that I am fortunate enough to fish.

More realistically, Winter means sinking those flies fast and letting them rumble and tumble along the bottom.  We can hold our heads and sticks up high with a combination rig - something heavy and a midge, and I begin with a black zebra midge.  Zonkers and buggers are good lead flies too, but if you really want to see if there are trout in the pool - get down and get really dirty. I found a new word for “worm” when it comes to fly fishing when researching winter flies: Annelids.  If some purist (like me) gets all huffy about a squirmy-wormy, it is good to recall that these creatures are 518 million years old and have found their way in front of plenty trout in that period of time. Segmented worms include bloodworms, earthworms and leeches.  Hence, a San Juan, a squirmy, and a rabbit strip leech are precise replications of their respective animal.  I did a quick re-read of another classic tract on fly fishing (with a very long title) to see if there is any mention of these flies in the United States. Thadeus Norton, in 1864, writes The American Angler’s book: embracing the natural history of sporting fish, and the art of taking them : with instructions in fly-fishing, fly making, and rod making, and directions for fish-breeding : to which is appended, Dies piscatoriae, describing noted fishing–places and the pleasures of solitary fly-fishing, which I assure you is a real page turner. I mean that.  I can loan you my copy or use this link to the PDF is you want to check it out:

Since I have little interest in fish breeding, I may have skimmed that chapter. Anyway, my quick perusal revealed nothing about Annelida - what fools!  The crane fly larva and the squirmy proved reliable for me this past week: 

I swear I try the small stuff first - and have lots of luck with zebra, WD40, and RS2 midges.  If I could just fish streamers, I would!  At the end of the day, these unpleasant critters are vital to the survival of fish through the winter and for anglers like me who are willing to risk the cold to catch them.

On that note, I will leave you with tips for prolonging your next sure-to-be-cold outing:

  1. Get ready at home. If you stand around getting ready at the car lot before fishing, you are losing heat.  If you can drive in your boots and waders, do it. If you can’t, put your waders and boots in the car or cab of your truck so they warm up.  Putting them on immediately can trap heat inside. 

*** If you do drive in waders, keep the heat low; otherwise, you’ll sweat through your long johns on the drive.  ***

  1. Wind-proof layers.  We lose heat when cold wind blows over exposed skin.  Cover all exposed skin and wear long johns under fleece or other heavy pants.  Or, don’t, get cold, and be home early.

  1. Only wade up to your shin or knee.  If you must go deeper, do not be in for more than a dozen casts.

  1. Prepare for the worst.  Carry a complete set of dry clothes - skivvy to sweats - and let someone know that you are fishing and when you’ll be back.  

I genuinely appreciate the audience I have here and the opportunity to write this report.  I feel humble to fly fish at all, much less with the frequency and chance for success that is so close to where I live.  Fishing shouldn’t be taken for granted or lightly.  It is a privilege to afford the gear, gain access to water, and have the ability to move my body (hang in there, knee and shoulder) to get skunked when others worry about far more serious matters of living to worry about.  

Fishing reminds me of the beauty in our natural world and lets me know I am part of it. 

So are you. 

See you out there.

Roy B. 


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