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cold water flyfishing

Ed Wahl

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Greetings my midwestern compadres, I'm in the Sacramento valley in northern California. Actually, I'm a transplant from Momence Il., Illiana Hts. to be exact. I just got skunked on one of my favorite Smallmouth creeks and thought I'd see how you guys handle cold weather Smallies. If I remember right, for a flyfisher there don't you have to cut a really long, narrow, hole in the ice to fish? :lol: Do you guys have some insight into cold water fishing, or is it mainly just tying and waiting for spring? My water was 47degrees today, maybe not cold by your standards but pretty chilly for here. Normally I can at least catch some Squawfish(a native fish, lately the name was changed to Sacremento Pike Minnow), but they weren't even in the mood to play. I fished crawdad imitations slow on the bottom, also a bugger variation called a Tequila Bugger, but without results. You'd think the name of the Tequila Bugger alone would get you something wouldn't you? ;) . Ed

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Guest rich mc

ed, look up about the float n fly in our gear forum. can you send a photo of the tequila bugger to the bassbugger forum? .does it match theworm from the bottom of the bottle? rich

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Ed, I'm a Santa Barbara native who used to live in Chicago but now resides in Atlanta. 47 degrees is not that cold. The fish should be somewhat active. I would go along with the float & fly as your best choice but have an alternate. I've had success in colder water fishing a tandem of small, brightly colored minnow patterns. By small I mean about 1 to 1 1/2" each in white, yellow, chartreuse/white or pink/white. Sometimes a small bait will be eaten by lethargic fish but one little minnow is not worth the chase or chance to get away but two makes it worth the effort or at least is more easily seen. Also the second half of the day will probably produce more fish as the water warms even slightly.

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Thanks for the tips guys. The day here started out cold and rainy and just kept getting worse. We had a storm 2 weeks ago that seems to have rearranged the streambed a bit. Looks like this creek gets a lot of that. Did flush a Bald Eagle out of the trees though, not a total loss. Here's a pic of the Tequila Bugger, I found it in a magazine from 2000, it's used for Rainbows in Alaska.


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Use the search function on this and other smallmouth sites and type in coldwater . You should find enough on coldwater fishing to last you for a couple days . Most of it isn't about flyfishing per se but you can adapt the information to your needs .


I live in Bourbonnais and fish the river here year round for smallies .

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Float and Flies are your best shot. Another option is to use a sinking or sink tip line and fish a fly very slowly or even stationary. Think in terms of duplicating fishing a jig and pig and slowly dragging it on the bottom.


Hey Alan...have you had any luck winter fishing in this area? We talked about this at the meeting last night and came to the conclusion that we're just a little too far north, and the Kish is a little too small. I would just love to hear from someone who's had some winter success on the Kish. Paul says he's tried but thinks it's a losing battle. He's a much better fisherman than I am, so that's kind of discouraging.

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I have never fished for smallies in the dead of winter. My cold water smallie fishing experience has been in late November or early December and in March, when the water is still darn cold and the fish are in winter holes and the fish respond to winter patterns. Any dead of winter river fishing that I have done over the years has been for walleye using conventional tackle such as a jig and minnow. I have caught a few smallies while fishing for walleye in the winter in the

Fox river. Call me a wimp, but the older that I get, the less I want to go out and fish in the dead of winter.


I am of the opinion that a fly rod is far from the best tool for fishing for smallies in cold water conditions. A floatn' fly with a fly rod does work, but the same fly works far better with a spinning rod and a float. With a spinning rod, you can use a heavier fly and bigger float which gets the fly into the strike zone fast and it is far easier to the keep the jig/float stationary because you don't have to deal with drag on the thick fly line from either the wind or the current. With a spinning rod, you can keep a heavy jig (3/8 or 1/2 oz) stationary or just crawl it slowly on the river bottom from just about any casting position. The same presentation with a weighted fly and sinking line can be done, but you have to be casting from just the right position to have a chance at getting the fly to crawl or be stationary. On a small river like the Kish, you can't always get in the right position.


If you want to catch fish with a fly rod and catch fish in late winter and early spring around here, you will have better luck targeting northern pike.

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I've caught bass all thru the year in shallow water , recently got a few on topwaters . I would think that you could catch fish on a fly in coldwater . I would prolly fish a big a fly as possible though , big fat dumb slow eat me .

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I've targeted water discharge areas, with success.

Warmer sunny days were best.


I'd try a "white" bead head rabbit fir strip, or light colored streamers---

lures that more closely resembles a bait fish---

shiner or perch pattern, in the 1.5 to 2" size.


Another effective setup is a "gold" rocker spoon (ice jig lure),

dressed with a thin trailer of 1/8 x 1-2"long strip,

such as a strip of Chena Bait, pork strip or the like.


I've made the presentations, mostly using spinning gear, a long rod,

with and without a float.


A 3wt 8 - 8.5ft fly rod is very effective.

I use floating fly line WF3F---

a 6ft leader and a 12-18" 4-6lb tippet---

drift the bait/lure "slowly" and work the seams,

using the rod tip to "check" and move the lure, in and out, and slowly moving and pausing (long pauses) upstream.


Often times a fly reel is better than a spinning reel---

you don't have the coiling line, like you get with spinning---it's worse in cold and freezy weather.


Coat the fly line with "Reel Magic", (just spray it on),

prevents the water from freezing on your line.


Adding a 1/64 to 1/32oz bull-shot will help keep the lure/bait on or near the bottom.


You need to keep a watchful eye on the fly line end, for any tell-tail signs of sideways movement.

The fish generally move in and out of the seam.

Sometimes, the fish will just grab and hold the lure, they stay in place and don't swim off---

I keep the line taught, so as to feel any pressure, when the fish takes the bait.

(A strike indicator on the line is beneficial).


I've applied steelhead fishing presentations and techniques to smallies, and its very effective.

(Catching winter steelhead is tougher).


I've used fly reels, spooled with mono line and long rods drift/float fishing for steelhead---

An effective set-up. (Martin makes a 3:1 multipler fly reel, that is nice).

NOTE: use Cortland Musky Master Black 27lb, as a backing/filler, add mono over it.


NOTE: A fly reel with a LARGE dia/size drag knob is a BIG PLUS!

You'll need it when fishing with gloves on.

(Large dia drag knobs make for easier drag adjustment).

(Check out the Cortland Endurance Cassette fly reel---great for this purpose).


Works for me.


ps---while fishing for panfish, some larger critters, like LMB and SMB, have been taken on those little flys,

(dressed with a "waxworm").

A waxworm on a "white" bead head nymph is effective.


pss---I target the smaller fish, like panfish, to get the feel and action, then go after the bigger fish.

Catching the smaller fish is more difficult, but it gives for good practice,

you get a feel for what its like to experience those soft subtle bites, like you get from most larger fish.


Hope this helps.

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