Winter is Both Challenging and Rewarding

By Karl Ekberg

As the holiday season has now passed by for another year, there is still the hope that nature will bring us a white blanket of pristine snowfall. Fly fishing in a stream, snowflakes falling to the water’s surface and big fish stretching the line makes for magical dreams. A four wheel drive vehicle, all snowfall without the sleet or freezing rain, actually makes this scenario a reality for those willing to make the trek. Slowly, the rain has started to fall across the mountains of the Southeast, and the creeks, streams and rivers are in full appreciation.

Now that the presents have been unwrapped from the holidays, it is time to try them out on the river, and nowhere is better than in the Delayed Harvest areas of the Chattooga or Chauga rivers. Full of fish from helicopter stocking in November and then truck stocking on a regular basis from the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery, big fish are ready for a winter meal.

As the waters cool down from the winter stronghold, it is time to get deep. Not in philosophy, actually in the depths of the water column, with flies being presented to the fish. Heavily weighted, sparsely dressed flies will aid in the ease of descending fly patterns to the bottom dwelling trout. The use of split shot, tungsten putty, or sink tip leaders may greatly add to the assistance of presenting such meals to lethargic fish. Hatches of bugs throughout the winter will be minimal, with the exception of those wonderfully warmer Southeastern days we all cherish. Bugs hatching this time of year tend to be much smaller, so smaller diameter tippet and or leaders are a necessity.

With colder weather, a wintery mix of weather and falling water temperatures, keeping warm for the day is essential. First and foremost, wearing the proper clothing will be beneficial for a long day on the water. And first of all, no cotton. Wearing cotton apparel will keep moisture from sweat and condensation close to the body, which in turn cools, and then the body turns cold. When water temperatures are reaching the low thirties, the use of good wicking clothing, including socks made of merino wool or synthetic material, good fleece or wool pants and at times a good base layer will greatly improve insulating the body from the cold air and water temperatures.

For the upper body, the same ideas as the lower body, no cotton shirts or over-layers. Base layer wicking clothes are a best bet start, with layers leading to a wool/fleece top layer. Beanies or wool caps are best to stop heat loss from the head, as the summertime hat needs to be put up for warmer weather days. Hypothermia can set in, bodily functions start to slow, and things quickly go from bad to worse. So, getting out of the water and a small hike to get the blood circulating throughout the body is beneficial to keeping warm as well. The fish are still going to be in that spot: they’re not moving much either.

As we enjoy the greater outdoors on the rivers, streams and trails, let’s all remember to “Leave No Trace”, as we want the many generations to come to enjoy what we enjoy today! We hope to see everyone out on the rivers.

Karl and Karen Ekberg are co-owners of Chattooga River Fly Shop, located at 6832-A Highlands Hwy, Mountain Rest, SC 29664. Give them a call at (864) 638-2806 and visit their website at