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Tyler Legg
Charlotte, NC, United States
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Welcome to THFF.com! Kick your wading boots off and stick around for a while. You'll find content ranging from NC fishing reports, videos, pictures, fly fishing news from around the state/country/world, humor, and even some irrelevant, yet interesting posts.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010
It's time to bring the cold weather tactics back into play. After a long and hot summer, Old Man Winter will really make his presence known. Although next week's weather might have you thinking otherwise, the cold is coming. The cold air is already pouring into the Intermountain West. Cut Bank, Montana hit about -15 this morning. That cold, (While not nearly as cold as -15) will make its way into the Carolinas. It will be warmer, with highs reaching the upper 60s to low 70s in most places Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, Friday marks the beginning of a major pattern change. An arctic airmass is slowly traversing across the west and will likely hit the Carolinas with a chilly punch. Highs Friday will probably drop throughout the day as the front encroaches upon the southeast. After the front passes, the temps take a nose dive. According to the weather models, we go from almost 70° Tuesday and Wednesday to possibly mid to lower 30s for Charlotte next Saturday/Sunday. That's highs by the way. Lows could dip into the upper teens. The mountains will be even colder. If it turns out to be warmer, great! If this potential cold shot doesn't come to fruition, December looks to be cold.

So, we know the cold air is eventually coming. What does that mean for fishing here in North Carolina? It definitely means a change in tactics. Like humans, trout respond to temperature changes. If it's cold, trout are usually very sluggish and lethargic. They don't want to expend more energy than they're consuming. As a general rule, once the water temperatures hit about 50° and above, trout tend to become increasingly active. When water temps dip below about 50°, trout tend to become more and more lethargic. Throwing big dries into a deep pool might have worked like a charm throughout the summer, but probably won't produce much in cold weather. Of course that's not to say dry flies aren't effective in the dead of winter. It just simply means you're much more likely to catch more fish on nymphs than on dries most of the time.

4 tactics/tips to remember when fishing in cold weather:

1. Take it slow. Being the early bird out on the water won't really help. In the winter, it's always a good idea to allow the water to warm just a bit before fishing.

2. Use slow presentations. Ripping a streamer across a pool probably won't work when it's cold. Slow the retrieval down and let the fish have time to slowly get to your fly.

3. Other than giant stones, most aquatic insects are relatively small during the winter months. They grow very little when it's cold. So, using smaller flies will usually entice more fish. A smallish #16-22 BWO nymph will more often than not produce fish.

4. Keep and eye out for hatches. Blue Winged Olives, or BWOs are known for hatching on overcast, dreary winter days. They can turn an uneventful day of fishing into a great day. A midge hatch can also turn things around.

Fishing near springs or inflow tubes such as the one above can improve your success. They usually retain a constant temperature and provide a small, ice free area.

Dressing for the cold is important. Cold feet and legs from wading in icy cold water ruins a day out on the water. Extremities such as arms, legs, and fingers are subject to becoming dangerously cold without proper clothing. Here are some tips on keeping warm while fishing in the cold:

1. Dress in layers. That way, you can take off or put on layers as the temperatures change. A lot of folks prefer Under Armour or some type of moisture wicking fabric. Simms WaderWick crews are perfect as well. A heavier fleece jacket, is excellent over the wicking layer.

2. Loose fitting, moisture wicking socks. Loose fitting socks or any sock that doesn't constrict your feet and ankles is ideal. Blood has to reach your extremities in order to keep warm.

3. A base layer under your waders will keep your legs warm. Avoid cotton sweat pants or long-johns if you can. If you start sweating, the cotton will collect that sweat and you'll soon become cold.

4. A wading jacket will protect you from rain, snow and moisture. It will also protect against getting your clothes wet.

5. A warm hat and fingerless gloves (for tying knots) will also help immensely.

6. Carry a flint striker or a few matches. If you fall in the water on a bitter cold day far from the warmth of a building or your car, a fire can be constructed quickly to avoid hypothermia.

Don't let cold temperatures and a little snow stop you from heading out to the river!


Brk Trt said...

A lot of good useful info in your post.
Well done.

Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...

Thanks for the kind words BT. It's a tough season to fish in!

Owl Jones said...

What an outstanding article! I think you hit all the major points of cold-water fishing. And, some of those same tips would work equally as well for hikers and campers.

And one thing I saw a new fly fisher do a few years back that you should never do: tuck your rain jacket into your waders.....because when it rains...well, you might as well have stripped out of your waders and jumped in a 4 ft. hole. He survived the cold, wet experience - and I bet he never does that again! Rain jacket outside the waders, folks. ;)

Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...


Thanks! Yeah, wading jackets tucked under waders is not a good idea. Kind of defeats the purpose of a wading jacket as well.

Wading belts are another controversial topic. I've talked to folks who say that when wearing a wading belt, air tends to build up below the belt (usually around your legs). If you suddenly fall in, the trapped air will keep you afloat, but you will be upside down in the water (head underwater). Once in that position, you can bang your head on a rock and become unconscious and drown because you can't get your head above water. Some folks agree with this, some don't. Still, a scary thought. Especially when in icy cold water. Wading can be just as dangerous as carrying around a loaded rifle while hunting...

Owl Jones said...

I agree about the belts. I wear one, but I don't ever fish water where I wade deeper than about knee deep. Not because I prefer that type of water, but simply because of the rivers I fish. I have noticed many times while getting into the truck to move from place to place that they will "balloon up" - so the theory makes sense.

Along the lines of winter fishing do's and don'ts I have another one that I learned last month. If you're wearing chest waders waist high(crumped up under the suspenders which are acting as a belt) and you fall in and get wet - when you change shirts, make sure you get the standing water out of your crumpled waders before pulling them up to use as chest waders. Don't check for water there and you're likely to then have two wet shirts, one of which you are wearing for the rest of the day. ;)

Randy Ratliff said...

Tyler, excellent info on cold weather fishing. A good friend used to use "BDS" as his motto for winter fishing, "Bigger, Deeper, Slower"

Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...


That's a great tip. I almost always fold my waders down to waist highs. I guess it's become a habit. If chest waders are a necessity to wade across a river, I usually hold back and make a long distance cast. Unfolding your waders only to be drenched by ice cold water isn't pleasant!


Thanks for the kind words! Bigger, Deeper, Slower seems to always be the best approach when it comes to winter fishing.

Fin Follower said...

These are great tips, even if you've been fishing for a few years. I try and keep a thermos of coffee in the car for breaks and some granola or breakfast bars. Sometimes that 15 minute break will shake off the chill and get you back out for a few hours.

Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...

It really is amazing how a short snack break can help. Takes your mind off of the cold temporarily.

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