- Stream Location: MN Driftless
- Weather Conditions: Absolutely no wind, perfect January day
- Distance Hiked: 1.25 miles
- What Worked Best: Dead drifting nymphs
There’s nothing like the mounting feeling of anticipation. This feeling comes on before any fly fishing adventure. It begins the night before when you scan your trout stream map alongside your DeLorme atlas, constructing your plan of attack. It continues the following day on your drive to the stream. It increases incrementally on your hike as you hear the stream getting closer and closer until you finally get a glimpse. Then it’s game on!
In prior years, I waited for this feeling until the first Saturday in March when the Wisconsin catch and release trout season begins. This year was different. The Minnesota winter catch and release trout season begins on January 1st. I made up my mind a while back that I was going to hit the Minnesota streams on 1/1/13, regardless of the weather. I’ve hit a handful of streams in the Minnesota Driftless during prior years, but intend to explore and discover the entire Minnesota Driftless Area this year.
If you’ve never fly fished for trout during the winter months, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. The entire environment is completely different from what you experience throughout the regular season, giving you a brand new perspective. There’s just something about strapping on your snowshoes, a Stanley thermos full of coffee, fly rod in hand, and being alongside a trout stream in the middle of winter without a person in sight all day long.
I arrived on the stream around 10:30 AM on January 1st. Trout tend to be most “active” between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM during the cold winter months. I don’t bother fishing the riffles and shallow runs; I focus on the deep pools or toward the end of deeper runs. Throughout winter, trout are almost in a sense of suspended animation. They don’t expend much energy and therefore require little food. The bottom of these deep pools allow trout to expend as little energy as possible; not having to constantly fight the current. Catching one trout on a cold winter day is easily considered a success.
Since most of our streams are surrounded by bluffs, a lot of the wind is deflected; making a cold winter day a little more bearable. Finding the trout is one challenge in the winter. Since trout tend to stay closer together, I don’t find them spread out like they are throughout the regular season. After trying the first few holes with no action, I snowshoed upstream and settled on what appeared to be the perfect winter trout holding ground. Gave a flip to my three-weight rod, sending the bead head nymph to the opposite bank. I steadily watched for the indicator to stop and stop it did. The first trout of the year. Small, but pristine-looking none the less.
I presented the nymph a little different with each subsequent cast in this same pool. Had a couple more on, but they escaped back into the darkness. Time to explore the rest of the stream.
Continuing upstream, I came across another real fishy-looking pool but it was going be a challenge meandering my way through all the fallen trees with my snowshoes, not to mention the additional obstacles that I’d need to avoid when casting in this hole. No risk, no reward though, right? So I proceeded. Had a few more trees to sidestep then all of the sudden…snap! I found myself laying on my back, staring at the sun. I apparently stepped on a slippery snow-covered log that was mostly buried in the ground and heard the snap of a branch breaking…or so I thought. I got back up and grabbed my rod. The snap wasn’t the sound of a branch breaking, it was my rod!
The sharp teeth of my snowshoe landed directly on my rod, there was no chance of it surviving that blow. Adding to it, this was a new rod that I had spent a considerable amount of time researching to come up with the perfect 3-weight rod-reel-line combination.
I swiftly made my way back to the car, still not quite coming to grips with what had happened. I think I was more disappointed that I had to cut the day short after just finding the trout; wishing that I threw in a spare rod. But at the end of the day, stuff like this happens, especially when you’re willing to test the elements of winter on top of hitting the holes that the majority would pass on. Most of the time you win, this time I lost. I’d still choose today over sitting inside a safe, comfortable, predictable house thinking or dreaming about fishing…any day.
In case you were wondering, I have a new rod on it’s way. If you know anything about Orvis, it is there exceptional customer service and guarantee on all their products. They’ll be shipping out a new rod within a few weeks, no questions asked. The only downside is that I’ll have to wait a little while longer for that perfect 3-weight combo.
On a side note, we just set up our YouTube Channel – SpiritStreamsFF! Subscribe to our channel to keep tabs on the upcoming videos we’ll be uploading. You’ll see the first few over the next couple weeks.
– Spirit Streams