It was a year ago this weekend that I was fishing north of I-90 in 78 degree weather and measuring water temps as high as 64. Yesterday, I fished in what felt like January conditions. Temps in the mid-20s. Cold wind whistling through the valley. Numb fingers frantically pinching line to rod as I attempted hooksets. And stream temps that never rose above 41. Not that it was a bad day. The sun shone brightly for the 6 hours I was on the creek and mitigated some of the wind chill. And there was a 3 hour period when rainbows and browns happily smacked a few streamer patterns I was fishing. But wow, I am really wishing spring would arrive so I could start tossing some of the dry fly patterns I have been tying the last couple of weeks. I’ve become bored fishing tiny midges and scuds and would rather cast streamers all day as long as this keeps up.
My winter fishing outings have fallen behind last year’s pace when I was out every weekend from the opener on Jan. 1 through the end of March. This year, I have been bogged down by weekend projects at work and some bitter temps on the days when I was free to make the drive to the frozen Driftless (I have a rule to not fish in sub zero weather. Not worth the trip to SE Minn only to be frustrated by frozen fingers and tightly clenched trout jaws). Sunday I made it down for only the third time this year, but it turned into a very eventful one as trout were hungry and weather showed signs of spring.
Last year on the last weekend of February, I had some of my finest fishing of the whole year and brought many browns and some rainbows to hand on a variety of fly patterns. A modified zebra midge, in particular, was a tough pattern to beat. With that thought in mind, I made a plan to visit that same creek over the past weekend. The high temps were almost the same but this year there were a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. My wading boots were the first pair to grace that powdery ground since the snow fell over the previous couple of days.
I tied on the same combo I had used last season — orange scud with black zebra midge as the point fly. Maybe it was due to the cool early morning temps but the trout were not quite moving to the fly at this point. I fished a couple of smaller holes and managed a few smaller little . Eventually I came to a long stretch of deeper, slow moving water. It was slightly stained from some agricultural activity upstream (meaning, cows in the water). On a hunch I tied on a flashy olive streamer that I have had some success with (thanks for the pattern, WFF) and on the second cast a hard fighting 12-inch brown smacked it. He was soon followed by a pair of leaping, football shaped 13-inch rainbows. A little further upstream, and holding in some slightly deeper water, a near 16-inch bull of a brown pounded the streamer as I inched it along the bottom. Definitely my nicest winter brown to this point and a very satisfying feeling. Throwing a streamer at 10 a.m. when the air temp was still barely 20 degrees is not the first presentation the books tell you to use for winter browns. But it seemed on point for the time being.
Further upstream I noticed some trout sitting in a faster section of water and rising occasionally to some midges. I tied the scud/zebra midge combo back on and approached the section of water on my knees and for about 15 minutes there was a brown caught on nearly every cast. Some turkeys watched from the field about 20 feet away.
I had to cut my day short to make an appointment, but I have to say I am getting back in to my trout chasing state of mind.
Just a quick note that the winter trout season in Minnesota opened yesterday, Jan. 1 to cool temps. I have a couple of friends who got out and braved the cold and managed a few browns. I am going to be in SE Minn for the weekend and will report later on stream conditions and the fishing. I have my creeks picked out and the blood is already starting to pump after not wetting a line since the end of the season 3 months ago.
Which brings me to my next reason for writing. I received a press release from the Minnesota DNR last week requesting comment on changes to the Minnesota trout season among a few other changes to the fishing season. Please see this link on how to make your feelings known and to get a summary of the requested changes. I commented on the changes in a previous post on the Twin Cities Trout Unlimited blog. I would love to see the season lengthened and the number of creeks opened to winter fishing expanded. The proposed rules would make these changes. Make sure to comment positive or negative. Good opportunity to give your two cents….