The Dry-est Winter in Years

While monstrous storms slam the East Coast and snow falls across the country, we are sitting (relatively) high and dry here in Gunnison, Colorado. This time last year, we were buried in over 10 feet of snow and life outside had seemingly ceased to exist. We exceeded our snowpack and blew through our yearly snow removal budget in two weeks. It was a great year for snow, which meant a great year for water levels throughout the year.

This year, we have received well below our median snowpack and temperatures have been high enough to melt what we currently have. This can be a serious issue later in the year, with less water for our streams and rivers. Even though we are left wondering if snow will come, I still manage to sneak out for a few hours on nice days. We’ve been blessed with some great dry fly fishing this winter and I have managed some great moments with tiny dries.

Just before the new year, I made a trip to Buena Vista, Colorado to visit family. The weather was impeccable during my stay and I snuck away for a few hours to chase some easy-access spots. As I walked across town, I crossed a culvert which is fed by Cottonwood Creek. Despite the creek running directly through town, there are some decent sized trout which are eager for a mid-day snack. I stopped at the culvert and almost jokingly tossed a small parachute adams into the slow riffle. Within seconds, I was wrangling a monster 8″ rainbow to the bank. The spot turned into an all-day event for me as I tossed line after line to bring in some great fish. The rainbows were chasing anything that floated in front of them, seemingly unaware that it was late December. Seven nice bows met my net that day! What a great way to finish off 2017.

A couple weeks later I was set on the East River to catch some fresh air and enjoy some mountain solitude. The weather was overcast but warm enough to keep the river thawed. After scoping out the water, I tossed a two-bit hooker onto my tippet. An hour of catching sticks and branches passed before I saw a few ripples emerging from a deep pool. Figuring that anything could be better than my current fly choice, I tied a small BWO onto my line and sent it into the eddy. The fly was instantaneously met with a slurp as a mini rainbow grabbed his feast. I repeated the technique and brought in a handful of rainbows and browns. After picking on the little ones for about an hour, the sun set and the water fell still. Despite the short opportunity, it was a great day on the river.

Most recently, I set out on a beautiful mid-January day to a spot close to my house. The weather was gorgeous-sunny, warm and still. I popped down to the Gunnison River, just to see what the water looked like. After a moment examining the banks, I saw some rises on the opposite side. I was a bit shocked to see rising fish in January, but nonetheless rushed to my car and grabbed my gear. I tossed on a size 18 BWO and massaged some floatant onto my fly. I lightly casted my offering to the opposite bank and struggled to follow the drift as the sun reflected on the still water. Close to the end of my drift, I saw a smooth rise and a quick tug sent me into retrieval. There is nothing better than a dry fly fish in the middle of January, even though the circumstances are irregular. The fish darted under the ice shelf and almost snapped my light tippet. After some careful maneuvering, I brought in a nice 12″ brown trout. Over the course of the afternoon, I brought in 10 browns on a single fly.

These moments were mostly because of luck and good timing, although a bit of knowledge helped me out. Replicating the hatch is the best way to land winter trout on dries. These are typically small flies, dead drifted, with an occasional short strip to get some attention to the surface. The best way to judge your fly selection is to watch the water! Rivers will tell you everything you need to know after a couple minutes of observation.

Regardless of what is causing such adverse conditions this winter, we must take it in stride and make the best of what we’ve got. If you’re hoping to hook into some fish this winter, head out on a warm day in full sun. Shoot for mid-afternoon and read the river. A hatch can explode in minutes and end in the same amount of time. Be patient and persistent, some days are better than others in the off season. Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Fishing in January isn’t only about fish. It’s about getting fresh (albeit cold) air, soaking in some peace, and smiling while you cast.

Whether you’re buried in snow or wishing you were, I wish you all a wonderful winter and tight lines.

Fish on, my friends.