By Jeff Durniak, Unicoi Outfitters
Winter is second only to spring as my favorite Southeastern trout season. The air and water are cool and clean. With a few rare exceptions of warm days, trout bunch up in their winter refuges of slow, deeper water. They’re often glued to the bottom and will move just inches for drifting nymphs. With the right techniques, we can still have banner days astream. To do that, we must cut through the current and bump them in the nose with our bugs. How? We reduce resistance to that current via long, thin tippets. I’d like to share three techniques that enhance my cold-water catch rates via reduced resistance.
First, for headwater trout and occasional shallow, sunning river fish, try a dry/dropper technique. The dry is just a sensitive strike indicator, so pick a buoyant bug like a Chubby Chernobyl or Elk Hair Caddis. Your dropper is the key. Just lengthen and lighten that dropper line to get your nymph near the bottom. On headwaters, that might mean 18 to 24 inches of 6X tippet. On bigger streams, that might require 3 feet of 6X. And here’s my secret: If it isn’t a tungsten nymph, then add a size 6 tin shot about 4 inches above your favorite nymph to fish it deep. My favorites include tiny Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, caddis larvae, and Zebra Midges.
Second, for smaller pools and pocket water behind boulders, it’s hard to beat a Euro (tight-line) setup. The pools are too short for good indicator drifts, but they will allow you to creep close to your fishy targets for some hi-sticking. Try your long Euro rod and a tungsten nymph on 6X tippet. If you don’t have a Euro rod, don’t fret. Just use your longest, lightest rod and your shortest leader, like a 7.5 foot, 3X model. Knot 2-3 feet of sighter line (multi-colored mono) to the leader’s end. To the sighter’s free end, add the water depth plus one foot of 6x tippet and a tungsten Euro nymph. A few Slush Eggs, Mops, Sexy Walt’s Worms and Frenchies are all the Euro’s you need. For technique, watch the Orvis Learning Center’s video on Euronymphing.
Third, hit those honey holes, the long, deep pools, with a long, thin indicator rig. Discard your tapered leaders and use 8 to 12 feet of 3 or 4x tippet or 6-lb. test monofilament line from your spinning rig as your leader. Add a foot of 5X tippet to the end, and pinch on enough split shot above that knot to bump the bottom. Tie on an egg or Rubberlegs Stonefly as your first fly and drop a small Pheasant Tail a foot off the hook bend of the first fly with 6x tippet. Add an Airlock Indicator up the leader at 1.5 times the water depth and have at it. That thin leader will cut through the water column and get your bugs on fish!
Give these three techniques a try this winter. Reduce resistance by cutting through the water column with thin tippet and deliver your bugs right to trout noses. Your cold-water success will warm your buns!
Jeff Durniak writes for Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Georgia.