Winter Fly Fishing Challenges

Posted by Christopher Paine on

Fly Fishing Maine in Winter


I usually fly fish from April to July typically and in recent months extended my fishing to end of November. I love fall fly fishing! You have to be well prepared for an exciting and fun time on the river. I have been out many times when there is ice on the lake and people ice fishing traps while I am swing a fly rod. From January to March there are few who venture out in the rivers that are legal to fish all year long to catch fish…

So here is a list of some things to keep in mind while out on the cold Maine rivers and stay safe!


Your feet

Layers are great for the body if you get too warm you can always start shedding those layers. But your feet, with cold feet it usually sends me home early. You could be standing in 32 degree water for a long period of time. And thinking more socks I have on the better. But that will restrict the blood flow to your feet. Instead use a nice pair of wool socks and a well-insulated pair of boots. I just purchased a pair of Candain Mid-calf boots called Kamik Forester Cold-Weather boots, rated for -40C below. Price as of writing this post is around $54.00…


Thawing eyelets

One hassle when fly fishing in 30F degree weather is frozen eyelets. Many use Pam, Chapstick or a anti-free solution to prevent freeze up. I prefer neither of these options. Mainly whatever you put on the rod ends up in the river and it also becomes a dirty stick mess later on. When my eyelets start to freeze that the line will not move through. All I do is hold the rod in the warmer river for a minute or two and ready to fish!


Fishing on cold, cold days

Maine river temperature vary throughout the state and that water does get cold but not extremely cold. Knowing the air temp is the key, because pulling fish out is not health for the fish if temps are below 30F. The USGS (United States Geological Survey) site does report at different latitudes water temps in Maine, by their sensors they have placed in different location. This is a good tool to find out water temperatures, but air temperature is more important. Pulling fish out with temps below 30F can lead to gill and eye damage.


Check rule book for legal places to fish

You probably know you can Google the Maine Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to get the latest fishing law book as a pdf file on your phone. If you are going to fish in the winter months you need to check if it is open or legal to fish. Once you have the pdf on your phone and open in a pdf reader like Acrobat you can do a search for the body of water you want to fish using the search feature of the app. I usually make a copy of the s-codes and General law and place in a sperate file and open up the rules and s-codes in two separate pdf to jump from one and then to the other for quicker look up of regulations…


Winter fishing is slow

Obviously fishing in colder water is slow as the fish metabolism has slowed way down. Usually I try to hit the fishing times around lunch or slightly before when the day is at the warmest. Really the goal is not to catch as many fish as you can like in the spring and fall but to just get out. Being out there by your self or with a friend is priceless. The pristine beauty of it all is amazing…


Fly options

Streamers and nymphs seem to work the best in winter months. Just getting the flies down in the feeding lanes does the trick. Ninety present of a trout or salmons diet is down stairs especially in the winter. Can change day to day. Some days nymphs work best and others streamers. With streamers big like a number 4 or 6, bigger the better. Streamers colors vary the lighter like white, yellow and the favorite olive green. With streams just keep changing out flies to find the right colors. Nymphing the little midge flies with a strike indicator and shot. The shot depends as always on the current speed. The faster the current the more split shot you will need to keep that nymph down in the feeding lanes. The color for nymph is typically black and white work best. Which ever you choose streamers or nymphs don’t just use the one pattern, change it up!


Fish hunting

I usually stalk trout and salmon pools. Meaning in the warmer months slow approach these pools and look for seems and read the water where I think they are hiding or feeding. I start fishing close to where I am standing and seldom enter the water if I can help it. Browns seem to dominate the pool, meaning I will catch one brown in the river where the water has pooled. There can be other fish there but for the most part only on brown. In the winter it is a bit different with the cold water you have to make many extra cast and change your fly out many times to see some results. So in the warmer months I jump from pool to pool but winter you need to slow down like the fish and work a pool to encourage a strike.


Handling fish

When you finally land the trout you need to handle him with care and if the hook does not pop right out you are going to get your hands wet. I is a good idea to grab a quality towel to bring with you. Nice microfiber towel to wipe your hands to keep them dry. This will keep you warm and extend your stay at the river.


Don’t just go once

Try to plan to fish that spot in the river many times. Going only once and not catching or getting a hit can be discouraging. One day you can get a lot of action and the next (with the same flies) have no luck at all. Once you figure out where the fish like to hide and pockets that hold fish, you may still only catch one fish. So it is a little more work than warmer months. So don’t give up, get right back on that bike and go back!


Safety, Safety, Safety

Fishing alone there is nothing like it. But taking a buddy with you and telling other you schedule can be lifesaving. Take the time to take coffee breaks with a friend can reenergize you and keep you focused and warm! If you were to fall in your not only dealing with the current (been there) but hypothermia sets in around 10-20 minutes. It make have 20 minute walk back the car. Safety first and taking someone can save your life. Tight lines!!





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