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    Cold-weather Fishing | Fall 2003 Out Here Magazine

    The climate and catch can be exhilarating

    By David Frey

    If images of fishermen in mukluks shivering over a hole in the ice have you thinking twice about winter fishing, think again.

    Cold weather can be the best time for catching more fish — and bigger fish. After all, fish have to make it through the winter, too, and the bait at the end of your line could be just the meal they need.

    So while everyone else heads inside when the thermometer drops, you could be reeling in fish you've only dreamed of catching during the summer.

    With new high-tech fabrics, Richards says, cold-weather fishing can be downright balmy. Slip on neoprene (synthetic rubber) waders, insulating fleece, and a layer to wick away body moisture and you'll keep warm, even knee-deep in icy water.

    "You have a better chance to catch fish that you measure in pounds rather than in inches," says Ken Richards, who runs Just Fishin' Guides, of Bentonville, Ark. "You don't have the competition for space. You don't have to be out two hours before dawn to get to your favorite fishing hole. There aren't as many fishermen out there."

    Cold weather creates different conditions that fishermen, and women, can take advantage of. For example, trout spawn in winter, which means large schools group in small areas, Richards says. Winter fishing also produces a larger catch, because fish eat more often in winter, so they bulk up, he says.

    Fish are less skittish in cold weather, so they may be easier to find, he says. In hot weather, fish dash for cover; when water temperatures plunge, they're more likely to swim in the open.

    They may not be as aggressive as they are in the summer, he says, but they'll bite. The key is to think like a fish, and adjust your techniques. It doesn't matter if you use bait or flies, or cast from a boat or a creekside. But it does mean adapting to a fish's winter world.

    They're more sluggish in the winter, Richards says, so use slower movements. River critters are different, too, so go for smaller bait. If you're used to tying on caddis flies in the summer, think nymphs in the winter. Water is clearer in winter, Richards says, so use flies and nymphs with muted colors rather than the bright colors required in summer's murkier waters.

    "The only thing you have to be more aware of is … if you get wet the chance of hypothermia is much higher," he says.

    With new high-tech fabrics, Richards says, cold-weather fishing can be downright balmy. Slip on neoprene (synthetic rubber) waders, insulating fleece, and a layer to wick away body moisture and you'll keep warm, even knee-deep in icy water.

    Winter fishing has another advantage for outdoor aficionados, Richards says. Keep your eyes open, and you'll spot wildlife you'd never see in warmer months. Bald eagles and ospreys winter along rivers in much of the country, and bare trees offer better views into the forest.

    "Don't be afraid of winter fishing," he says. "Experiment with it. It may be that you're not going to be out for a full day. It may be just a few hours, or the afternoon, but there's no reason not to be out."

    David Frey writes from Carbondale, Colo.