December 13th, 2004

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Advanced Winter Micro-Fly Fishing

By Ray Du Bois, Avon CT

As the cold winter months approach us our style of fishing changes. The fish's normal feeding habits change, as does the abundance of food. Winter brings colder water and smaller insect activity. The fly fisher must adapt to these changes to remain successful. This is the time or year we begin micro-fly fishing, using flies size 22-32.

However, excellent fishing is still there to be enjoyed.

Trout feeding on smaller flies act differently then trout feeding on large flies. A trout in order to survive must take in more calories then it expels. Simply put, a trout will not chase a small fly very far, the fly must come to him. If a trout wastes more energy (calories) chasing a small fly then he can get by eating the fly, he will not survive. We can use this knowledge to improve our chances of catching fish under these cold winter conditions. As the water temperatures drop look for trout to hold out of the main currents. Slow moving sunlit pools will offer the trout water that is slightly warmer and are also easier for a trout to hold with out expelling the extra energy necessary by not having to fight the current.

During these cold winter times I like to use a 9' rod of 3 or 4 wt., with a reel that has a very delicate drag. I have some fishing friends that have even had the drag on their reels modified so they were even more delicate to protect light tippets. I find using a long rod gives me more control for the specialty casts and hook setting techniques I use while micro fishing. Using a light rod gives me a greater chance of protecting the delicate tippets used to properly present the fly without drag, or in this case without micro drag.

Micro drag is drag caused from the water pushing on the tippet. Trout are very selective in winter and when fishing the calmer slower running pools drag is easily detected by the fish.

Always approach a fish from the lower section of the pool working your way upstream slowly. Take your time, in these pools trout can detect water movement and will spook easily. I like to set myself up almost directly across or slightly below the fish. This allows me to present the fly to the fish in the middle of my drift where I have the most control and best view of the take. Many fishermen are timid when it comes to fishing micro patterns, most reply by saying they can't see their fly. That's OK neither can I. But I know exactly where my fly is and can also watch my tippet too. Occasionally I will mistake a take for that of my fly when in fact the take was only near to my fly.

There are two techniques I use to drift my micro-fly. First, I start with a puddle cast, putting the fly at least five feet above where I see the trout working. A puddle cast will give me the maximum amount of drag free drift. Second, I stack mend at least once if not twice just above the fly immediately after the line hits the water. By doing this the fly will always be the first thing the fish will see and it will act as a buffer to the tippet dragging, any mistakes in the stack mending will be off set by the extra tippet coils left by the puddle cast.

Fishing flies in sizes 26-32 also requires a very light tippet, I prefer to use at least 4 feet of 8X to 10X tippet. With 10X only having a breaking strength of 1.2 lbs certain precautions must be made. Most, if not all, fish lost by breaking tippet happens at one of two times, during the take and at landing. When fishing 10X tippet you do not "set the hook," the fish does.

Remember you are not setting the hook into bone, micro flies only grab a small piece of skin and most of my hook-ups are in the tongue. There is a good reason for this; the trout will often take more then one small fly at a time, keeping it in his mouth longer. These needle sharp hooks will often catch a piece of skin in the mouth even if the trout is trying to expel it. I have seen many fish missed by pulling the hook out of the fish's mouth before he gets a chance to close it. I like to use an upstream mend at the take, the friction of the line on the water is all that is necessary for the hook to find a piece of skin in the fish's mouth and the time it takes the line to straighten out the trout has time to close his mouth on the fly.

Once hooked, get the fish on the reel as fast as possible, the light drag will protect the tippet more then a soft rod tip will. Let the fish control you. If he wants to run, let him run, you cannot force a fish to do much more then change directions with the light tippet. Fortunately the trout does not have the current to use, the soft running pool gives you an advantage, and you will also find a winter trout will tire faster.

Landing a fish is the other time when one can break a tippet, I always use a mesh catch and release landing net in winter, and this also reduces the time I have to put my hands into the near-freezing water. I often net my fish and remove the fly with forceps, I can then release him with even having to touch him or get my hands wet.

I also like to switch rods every hour or so. I keep a second rod in the car. This 5 or 10-minute break gets me out of the water and helps prevent iced-up guides, it also is a good time for a warm drink from the thermos.

I have had many excellent winter fishing trips, with many multiple fish days. The river usually has few if anyone else around and makes for a peaceful couple of hours.

Tight lines. ~ Ray Du Bois (Chatroom Host Ray)

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