Saturday, October 23, 2021

Five American Fisheries to Hit This Winter!
By Tom Robbins


For some anglers, winter is the time to swap out their fly rods for skis and take to the slopes. However, many of us just bundle up and brave the elements. Fortunately, there are plenty of winter fly-fishing opportunities in the United States, options that place some big fish on the end of your line and take the chill out of winter.

These five U.S. winter fly-fishing options get you out of the office and onto the water with the chance to land a variety of impressive fish.

Redfish in South Carolina

Already hear the collective groan emanating from the Florida Coast? We do! Florida has incredible redfishing, and it’s proud of it, too. Actually, these brutes can be found up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, ranging from Virginia to Texas. Which state has it best? That is a question of preference, and my pick is the great state of South Carolina. During winter, redfish seek shallow waters where they take advantage of warm water and abundant food sources. Anglers often observe reds “tailing” amongst tidal grasses in shallow water that lines much of the South Carolina coast. This makes for exciting sight-fishing opportunity. There’s nothing quite like watching the wake from a bull red charging a fly. It’s an exhilarating experience that any angler would wholeheartedly enjoy. Popular fly patterns include the Kung Fu Crab, Everglades Special, and Crafty Shrimp.

Pacific Steelhead in Oregon

The angling hoards love steelhead, and that’s for good reason—these sea-run trout are not your average “bows.” Steelhead, which are an anadromous rainbow trout, routinely exceed 30 inches in length and can easily weigh more than 10 pounds. Fish growing past 40 inches are possible; they may weigh 20 pounds or more. When spawning time arrives, mature steelhead make their way into the Pacific Northwest’s freshwater river systems. Some may spend the entire winter in freshwater while others—especially along the Oregon Coast—make a dash upstream to spawn and then quickly exit. When most people think of Oregon’s steelhead rivers they visualize the famous Deschutes. But other rivers, such as the Umpqua, Rogue and Siletz, among many others, provide the quintessential coastal winter steelhead experience. Fly fishers can spend lots of time and effort trying to catch one of these skittish beasts, but the reward is enormous. Fighting steelhead on a brawling coastal river often takes an angler well into their backing. Anglers may use single-hand rods for steelhead, but in the PNW most fly fishers throw spey and switch rods and drop down deep with Skagit heads, sink tips and heavy flies. Come well armed—swinging flies near bottom, on super bouldery rivers, means you’ll likely lose some gear. Solid fly choices include Egg Sucking Leeches, Pick Yer Pockets, Deceivers, mini tube flies, and Fish Tacos.

Bonefish in Key West, Florida

How can such a small fish pack a big punch? The simple answer is this—because it’s a bonefish, man, and they just fight. Bonefish can be fished almost year-round, but many anglers choose dates that coincide with a much-needed break from cold weather climes. Why wouldn’t they—anglers can escape the weather and sight fish to glistening beauties on shallow water flats. Bonefish are receptive to flies and are incredibly powerful for their size, given, on average, they are barely larger than a trout. But don’t think this is easy fishing. Florida Keys bones are known for two things; they are large, up to 10 pounds or more, and they are extremely wary. Bring your A-game while walking the flats. Do so, and a keen observer might see scores of these blazing-fast fish prowling the flats. Equipped with a 7, 8 or 9-weight fly rod, some small baitfish and shrimp imitations, and proper sun protection, you might ditch your freshwater roots after catching a few of these dynamos. Try Mantis Shrimp, Gotchas, and McKnight’s Crimp . . . and throw accurately.

Brown Trout in the White River, Arkansas

Big, wild brown trout on large shad patterns? Sign us up. For brown trout, cold weather months mean spawning time. Before the fish are on their redds they are active and looking to eat. When most anglers consider prime winter brown trout fishing they don’t visualize Arkansas. If you’re in that boat, you’ll be sorely punished for ignoring this fishery—there are few other wild brown trout rivers in America as productive as the White. This tailwater system provides brown trout with a perfect habitat filled with ample food sources. Most notably, these big White River browns pursue shad that are flushed under dams. These protein-packed and disoriented (if not dead or injured) baitfish make for easy prey. As a result, White River browns reach incredible sizes. It’s routine to catch browns over 20 inches here, and these fish may stretch to 10 pounds or more. Preferred fly patterns include Zonkers, Game-Changers, Red Foxes and Copper Johns.

Wild Trout in the Northern Rockies

With the Snake, South Fork Snake and Henry’s Fork rivers all located in the immediate area, Jackson Hole is one of the epicenters of American trout fishing. These rivers can be productive year-round, but they can be crowded during prime times; anglers willing to fight through bitter cold may be treated to solitude and some prime fishing. Dead of winter may not produce many fish, but the shoulder seasons in late fall and early spring can be lights-out good, especially if you are willing to travel outside the immediate area when conditions merit. With an extended drive from Jackson, anglers could also fish the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers. What really makes the fishing so special is an abundance of trout. Box Canyon on the Henry’s Fork, for example, has approximately 5,000 rainbow trout per mile. Those fish take nymphs and streamers in fall, winter and spring, and those who venture out on warmer days, when air temperatures rise above freezing, may encounter excellent midge hatches and great dry-fly opportunity. In spring, beginning in March and early April, blue-winged olives may be present. These are some of the most storied river systems in the world and are a surefire bucket list trip for any angler. Be sure to bring tried and true Jackson-area flies, like Head-Banger Sculpins, Heisenbergs, Pheasant-Tails, Hare’s Ears, Parachute Adams’, and Griffith’s Gnats.