As fall progresses and water temps continue to cool off a trout’s metabolism drops considerably, as this occurs the fish feed less and exert less energy when they do eat. They’re going to move out of the faster currents and hold in spots where they can use little to no energy. The locations you’ll catch fish in November-March are going to be different than where you’ll find them in June and October, this has seemed to be one of the most important factors in catching fish during the cold months. Focus on the deeper slower pools on the stream, fish will move around in a river to find these “wintering holes” We’ve found that if you hook one fish, there’s going to be more in the same area. This is likely due to the fact that that particular pool has all the features fish look for for a wintering pool. Depending on the stream, you may spook the pool after hooking a fish-this is much more common in smaller water. If that does happen, that’s a spot you can put on your list of “wintering pools.” A spot like this should remain productive over the course of the winter months, just be sure to no over fish one particular pool.
When it comes to techniques there’s going to be a time and a place for both nymphing and streamer fishing. Occasionally dry flies although that’s not something we’ll likely see in northern Vermont past November 15th. When we’ve been hitting the water we’ve been bringing a nymph rod and a streamer rod. Equal numbers of fish have been caught on both set ups but there’s usually one more productive technique specific to the day. The nymphing rigs we’ve been using have varied from euro nymphing to bobber fishing with either a raven float or an airlock. On the cold days, a euro rig is much easier to fish as your guides will not be constantly getting iced up since you’re not actively stripping line in and feeding it back out. With that being said, it’s not always going to be the answer, often times, especially in the late season you may be nymphing a really deep pool that you cannot get close enough to to allow yourself to euro nymph. This is where some sort of indicator will come into play, it’ll also allow you to carry drifts much further than with a euro set up. There’s a time and a place for both and having the tools for both is the best approach! Don’t overthink the fly selection when picking late season patterns. Black Stones in #12-18, BWOs Nymphs and your standard attractor nymphs will all be sufficient. Be sure to be equipped with egg and worm patterns as well. When we start off fishing a piece of water we’ll often run a worm or an egg-something a little funkier aka “Junk Flies” with a smaller more realistic nymph off the back. Generally speaking, one of the two “styles” of patterns will prove to be more effective on certain days. Hate to say it but last winter we had the most success on pink squirmy worms…. This fall so far it’s been a bit more of a mix, stoneflies, p-tails, and pink squirmies have all caught fish. When picking out tippet for this time of the year and going into the winter, we opt to run light fluoro tippet, the water levels are often low, clear and a lot of the flies we’re running are small so we’ll frequently use 5.5-6.5x Absolute Fluoro. Rod wise, we opt for 10ft 3wts and 4wts, these are great euro rods but they’ll also fish an indicator with the right line quite well!
The streamer rods we’re using in during the late season are generally going to be a 9ft or 9ft 6in 6wt rigged with either a sink tip leader or a sink tip line. A sink tip leader is far more cost effective than buying a new fly line, and spool but they cast a little rougher. Regardless of what type of sink tip you have, it’s important to remember to run a short piece of tippet or a streamer leader instead of a 7.5 or 9ft leader. This will give you far better control of your depth which is going to translate to more consistent presentations and hopefully more fish! 3ft of 8lb-12lb Ultragreen Maxima or a similar fluoro is adequate. When presenting streamers in cold water temps think low and slow. Swinging streamers, or giving them the slightest jig/twitch while swinging will often produce the most strikes. Remember, the fish are going to be sluggish, don’t rip the stream through the pool and expect to see a fish torpedo out of the abyss to eat a fly 6″ under the surface. The strikes will be much more subtle and may feel more like your fly is bouncing bottom than a fish eating it. If we do bring a nymph rod and a streamer rod with us, we typically like to start off nymphing, especially in clear water, streamers may spook some fish, so nymphing the pool first then fishing streamers seems to yield more fish than going head first in with a sink tip and a streamer.
Last but definitely not least, let’s go over some safety tips. For lot of us in Vermont-this will be the first late season fishing we’ve ever done due to the regulation changes. The water is far cooler in late November, Dec and Jan than during the “normal” season. Be sure to have studded boots, if you’re fishing in the snow felt soled boots can be a huge pain since they’ll turn into snow balls. Be sure to wear a wading belt that’s nice and snug, the whole point of these is to keep from your waist down from filling up with water in the event you took a plunge into the water. Fish with a friend as much as possible, let people know where you’re going and remember, the rocks are often going to be covered in a layer of ice you may not be able to see. It’s also important to be aware of where you’re walking in the streams, most of the Brook Trout will have spawned by the end of October so be sure to be on the lookout for redds, walking on top of redds will kill the majority of the eggs and could have some long term negative effects on the streams! Also, if you see fish paired up holding in shallow water, don’t fish for them, these are likely some late spawners and should be left alone to do their thing!
Locations: As far as specific bodies of water go there’s going to be a few things to keep in mind, first up would be the air temps. As the temps continue to cool off the smaller streams will become impossible to fish due to ice. For now they’re good as well as pretty much everything else but as it cools off think bigger water. Focusing at the base of dams can be great throughout the winter as these areas typically stay free of ice due to fluctuating water levels and slightly warmer temps. Any of the Champlain tribs close to the lake can provide some excellent late season and early season opportunities for lake run fish including steelhead, brown trout, landlocked salmon and even lake trout. Just be sure to check regs on open dates-a few of them close in mid-March! Other options would be heading down into southern Vermont and fishing the Deerfield or Waloomsac Rivers, these are a bit of a drive from us but fish quite well all winter long. (Bob and Tina are actually down checking those rivers out right now) More locally we’ll focus on the water below the dams below the Winooski, Lamoille and Otter Creek. These are typically the best locations once it’s cold to find fishable water. If you get too far below the dams once January rolls around chances are there will be too much ice for you to safely fish!