Early winter is the time to fish slow and deep not the time to place your fly rod in storage. The high country sees the onset of winter’s grasp well before the front-range or western slope. In Colorado the amount of winter angling opportunities range from open water ways such as the Colorado, Eagle and Roaring Fork rivers. Moving bodies of water that have not experienced the bank-to-bank ice blanket of late winter. The rivers flowing through major ski towns are an excellent choice for winter fly fishing. The Gore Creek, flowing through Vail, can have open areas of water, especially towards the confluence with the Eagle River, where fish can be more active. The likelihood of encountering spawners makes an egg a great selection for cold weather action. Moving around on the Eagle gives a winter bound fly angler the chance to search out open areas of water and feeding fish. The eternally present midge becomes the go to fly for actively feeding trout in winter mode.
Once high country waters are locked up under an impenetrable layer of ice the choice begin to be limited to tail waters and perhaps a bit of traveling to lower elevations for rivers such as the North Platte and the Lower Colorado River towards Rifle, Silt and Parachute. Famed tail waters like the Fryingpan, Blue and Taylor rivers are choice locations for wintertime angling pursuits as well. Consistent water temperatures provide the habitat to encourage aquatic insect growth despite the time of year. Midge larvae and pupae imitations in a variety of colors starting with red then black and then experiment with your colors to instigate a strike. Utilizing an attractor pattern like the flashy Rainbow Warrior in tandem with a subtle variation like a black Zebra midge can produce good numbers of fish when the temperature might be telling you otherwise.
Layer up for the elements. The photographer for the Orvis catalog is not going to show up so dress for the weather not to impress. Gloves can become saturated to the point of discouragement. Toting along an extra pair can extend your fishing time on the water. Carrying a water bottle to keep hydrated in the frigid conditions seems counterintuitive to keeping warm but the headaches that are prevented from frequent drinks are more than enough incentive to keep your bottle ice-free. Stashing your H2O in a backpack can prevent some freezing. However, a collapsible bottle from platypus can be kept warmer inside your wader pocket.
The frigid conditions are not only felt by the angler, but a caught fish lifted from the security of the river water will freeze its gills in seconds. Use care to protect our resource. Lifting a fish for a photo opportunity in the middle of snow covered trees is a great shot to send to your friends just remember to minimize the time out of the water. Rubber nets aid in releasing caught trout without removing the protective slime layer.
An unusual course of warm weather has this winter beginning quite slowly. Afternoons reaching into the mid 50s have provided opportunity for fly anglers to fish any water they choose. Ice has not begun to lock up the moving waters throughout the Eagle River valley. The possibility for winter dry fly action, especially on the lower Eagle River, is in prime time for wintertime conditions.
Pull out your flies and downsize for the colder conditions. Grab your rod and grease up your guides. Winter is not a time to miss. Cold weather fly angling in Colorado is at its best.
Fly Fishing Outfitters