Catching a fish every month of the year is a good fly fishing resolution. My brothers-in-law made this pact a few years ago and I try to follow suit. It is a pretty easy goal if you just get out there on the water. But if you live in the mountain west, January is the coldest and toughest month. So unless fly fishers can afford to wing their way down to the Caribbean or the Mexican Baja Peninsula, they need to consider tailwaters for Miss January as my brother-in-law, John names that fish.
The average January temperature in my town, Steamboat Springs is 27 degrees. Which is fine for shoveling snow, but sitting next to the fireplace tying flies, sounds more inviting than standing in flowing water. Now we are back to… just getting out there. For Christmas, my son gave me a pair of Simms Ex Stream fishing gloves with pouches for hand warming packets. I take ChapStick or any lip balm, rub it on my rod’s flyline guides to reduce ice buildup, dress warmly and head for the tailwater. Midges are the most prolific winter hatch with blue-wing-olives coming in second on generally warmer, cloudy days. The adult midges are black on the snow but emergers are different colors. Red is always my first choice for the top fly because it’s successful on the Yampa, Colorado and Blue Rivers. The dropper is the change-the-colors-frequently fly. Sparely tied, thread body midges with a peacock herl thorax and a little Z-lon wing case gives the trout the silhouette they are comfortable with. Size 20 or 22 are still okay for my eyes and fingers to tie. Henderson’s M & M, Pat Dorsey’s Top Secret and Craven’s Ju Ju Baetis are good tailwater nymphs for anglers to purchase.
I’ve seen bumper stickers with “7x Sucks,” but sometimes long and tiny diameter tippets are necessary for weary trout. Fluorocarbon is the strongest, but doesn’t degrade well, so stow the scrapes in your pocket. Get the flies near the bottom of the pools in the river. Winter, lethargic trout hesitate to spend much energy feeding. Local guide and my friend, Steve Henderson likes the color chartreuse on cloudy days and encourages his clients to keep side-stepping down the pool to the slowest water for the most success.
The reward, for reading this far, is the secret, winter, southern Colorado location. The average January temperature for Pueblo, Colorado is 48 degrees. The Arkansas River tailwater starts at Pueblo Reservoir State Park and flows through town. I’ve heard the first two miles are the best. I’ve never made it more than a mile downstream, because it’s too hard to keep moving when I’m netting fish. The weather mid day is pleasant, the angling is then the best and at times trout take dry flies like the Griffiths Gnat or BWOs. Find a motel on the west side of Pueblo, eat some spicy Mexican food and say hello to Miss January.