Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First trout of 2011

I know, this fish makes the #18 midge look big.  He still counts though.
I got back out to Hay creek on Saturday.  It was super nice out and above zero so no frozen guides. I thought the fishing would be pretty good but it was still really tough.  Maybe I am just fishing a tough spot.  The only thing I got a bite on was size 18 midge nymph.  There was actually a little hatch when I first got there and I saw two rises in the first pool I fished.  After that, I didn't see anything break the surface.  I was fishing deep, which is usually the best tactic in the winter but maybe they were feeding on midge emergers.  I didn't see any fish up high just hugging the bottom so I figured not.  I just got one little 9 incher.....  It was nice out and I didn't get skunked so I guess it was a good day.  A frustrating day but a good day. 

The light on the river as I was leaving was great.  Looks like this one needs to be straightened.  I was scared of falling in. 

These were the guys walking around on the snow.  I saw these and adult midges with the fluffy white antenna. 
My guess is stone fly. Anybody have a better guess?
Rivers in the winter offer their own unique type of beauty.

My best winter shot so far. I love the reflection. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

South East Minnesota Winter 2011 Hay Creek

      I have lived in Minnesota for almost six years now and I have gone winter trout fishing almost every year.  Out here, the trout season closes in late September to allow the resident brown and native brook trout to spawn.  The season officially opens up for catch and release on January 1st.  I have always wanted to get out on the first but have never made it.  I’m either too hung over or its too cold.  Too cold is more often the reason out here in the frozen tundra of Minnesota.  It not only gets cold but it stays cold.  So cold for so long that the ice on lakes and even the St. Croix river gets so think you can drive your truck out on the ice.  You could, but I don’t. In fact I have never been ice fishing.  There is something funny to me about driving a truck out on the ice and then drilling a bunch of holes around it.  The trout streams in SE Minnesota are typically spring creeks.  This means the water that flows in them likely came out of the side of a rock somewhere, or rather came out of a spring.  The water flows though limestone bluff country and eventually out into a creek somewhere.  This keeps the spring creeks cool in the summer and warmer in the winter since the water coming out of the spring is a constant temperature year-around.  What this means is the spring creeks in bluff country don’t freeze over as easy as a lake or a non-spring fed streams.  They do freeze over though, and it sucks to drive all the way out there to find a frozen over stream but that’s the way it is in Minnesota, cold.  Very,

     To avoid the frozen over experience look for a stretch of days with the air temperature around 30 degrees.  This January has been really cold but I finally got out this Saturday.  Wednesday-Friday was pretty warm; I think one day even busted 32.  I headed down to Hay Creek outside Red Wing and found that the whole steam was pretty much ice-free.  Who knows if it was frozen over and thawed or clear the whole time.  In any case, I was pretty happy to see open water.  I fished the pasture section where the TU chapters had come in a made some really nice stream improvements.  I didn’t see another car parked at any of the spots which is usually the case in the winter.  When I go out I dress really warm, too warm for the weather, actually.  This helps keep may hands and feet warm since my core is a little overheated.  I can’t manage line or cast with gloves on so keeping hands warm is pretty hard and impossible if your core is cold.  I don’t like to go out unless it is at least 20 but I have fished in 10 and that was okay I guess, not ideal.  40 is about perfect, out here that happens in March at least once and those days are absolutely the best ever. 

     Casting in freezing temps is pretty tough too.  The water that is pulled up from the stream freezes to your guides and eventually stops line from being able to pass though.  Try to cast shorter than normal to reduce the amount of striped line, you can get a few more casts that way before you have to de-ice.  I heard spraying rain-ex deicer on your guides helps but I haven’t tried that.  I’m worried about it ruining my rod finish or messing with my sharkskin.   For now, I can deal with the ice without solvents.  A shorter rod is handy too, the most iced up guide is the tip and a shorter reach to the top is handy.  I use an 8’ 3 wt.  Also, try to keep the line moving while stripping it in.  If you stop it will freeze in place and will keep you from being able to pull in line if you get hit and are fighting a fish. Czech nymphing is a good way to go in the winter.  No iced up guides that way. 
Fish are usually pretty sluggish in the winter and you need to get the fly to them, they will not chase flies in the winter.  They are usually hugging the bottom in a slightly deeper and slightly slower section of the stream than they are in summer.  Fish usually pod up in the winter so where there is one there should be more.  If you spot a pod and drag a few flies right trough them with no luck, those fish are likely not feeding and in a holding lie.  Try to find a little faster water than that or maybe a little bit more broken up to find feeding fish. 

    In the winter nymphs are the way to go.  In fact, nymphs are usually the way to go no mater what season but since there are lots of insects on there surface in the summer and it is more fun to catch trout with dry flies that type of fishing gets a lot of attention.  I bet quite a few people disagree with that but trout eat most of their diet subsurface.  That’s just the way it is.  Two nymph rigs are a great way to go in winter.  I like to use a 7.5’ 5x leader with a bead-head fly (18-16) tied to that and about 10-12 inches of 5 or 6x tippet tied to the bend of the bead-head hook.  I tie a midge nymph (#18) as the trailer fly.  Remember to open your loops when casting a two nymph rig.  Casting gets tricky with an indicator and the two flies.  Opening loops means slow down and lengthen your acceleration during the forward and back cast.  The faster and shorter the acceleration the tighter the loop, do the opposite.  Slower and a little longer will open up your cast and cost distance but it should keep you from tangling up as much.  Also, be sure to keep the length of tippet between the flies pretty short.  Two feet is impossible for me, if you are have a lot of tangles try shortening that tippet length. You can go as short as 8 inches in my opinion.  
    I headed out to the water with my 3 wt, waders with long underwear, two base layers, my 700 fill down jacket and the warmest hat with ear covers I own.  It turned out I could have not worn waders and been fine but I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to cross anywhere so I wore them anyway.  It was actually a pretty nice day out for January in Minnesota.  The temperature was about 24 degrees and there was just a touch of wind every now and then.  I first tied on a size 18 gold bead head pheasant tail and put on a small thingamabobber (by far the best indicator I have used, adjustable, durable and visible. What more do you want?). I tried that in two pools that looked dynamite and didn’t get a touch.  Takes are pretty subtle in the winter but I set the hook on a few stalls of my indicator and got nothing.  I switched to an orange scud (#16) in the next pool down and got a few bites right away.  One hook up, but I lost him.  I lost the scud in some dead brush across the stream and decided to go to a midge nymph, size 18, black with a little peacock thorax.  I got a few more bites and hooked two but no luck getting any in.  The barbless size 18 hooks were being pretty though on me.  I should have had three fish at least, but I went home skunked.  I could have gone to two nymphs but with all the ice I was having enough trouble casting.  If I was Czech nymphing I would have tied another one on for sure.  I felt okay being skunked after I talked to an older guy with about 17 tippet spools on his lanyard and a sieve on his belt who was also skunked.  My logic here is if you know what to do  with all that gear you are better than me.  Plus, he was telling me about every hole in the stream, its name, average fish size etc.  We both agreed to was tough out there that day. I passed him on my way back and he said got one that went 12”.  Good for him, I couldn’t shake my skunk.  It was good to get the line wet (and frozen) and get a few tugs.  Maybe in a few weeks I’ll give it another go.  It sure was good to get outside and listen to a stream for a few hours.