Winter Nymphing in Central Europe means often coarse fish nymphing! Read our useful tips how to succeed.
Winter is for us fly fishers mostly a period of filling our fly boxes and studying thematic literature. So if your endless fly tying evenings start to become boring and you do not mind the cold weather, there is a variant of winter fly fishing.
What we can catch in winter:
In the Czech Republic salmonid waters are closed for fishing during winter months but on some coarse fish waters, you can experience the abundance of trout and grayling. Grayling surprisingly accept a lot of food in this period, so you can catch them in large numbers numbers. Some of us, however, do not feel humane to bother these beautiful fish even in winter, and the second camp will not want to tell anyone their secret winter locations. I am not a member of either of these two camps, but I would still like to point this article in a slightly different way, namely winter nymphing for coarse fish. Coarse fish does not accept as much food in the winter, but it is not impossible to catch those fish on the fly. Our catches will therefore mainly include chub, roach and rudd. Due to the activity of coarse fish at this time, I consider their fishing to be more complex but definitely more accessible.
Techniques of fly fishing in winter may be different, I took some inspiration in one of the older articles by Lukáš Pazderník - Winter fly fishing (published in Czech only). In this article, Lukáš uses intermediate fly line, small lures and buzzers for winter river fishing. I also practice this technique, except for the use of lighter equipment (rod # 3 with Hanak Camou fly line) and micronymphs. I prefer to fish in shallow, faster stretches of rivers. The article is quite detailed, so I will focus on the winter nymphing with the French leader, which brought us new possibilities for fishing coarse fish in the winter.
For winter nymphing I recommend fine nymph rod # 1-3 in length of 9-10 feet, I personally use fly rod in category AFTMA 1. For such a soft rod I have to adapt a nymphing leader that should not be too heavy. As a competitor I can not use a long leaders, so as a replacement I only use a camou leader 0.25mm that is 425 cm long with the indicator. Indicator is crucial for the winter fishing. In the winter, the fish bites are very delicate and in the bad weather poor indicator is less visible. I recommend the indicator wiht 3 colors and one of those colors must be black! You can use the classic bi-color indicator that consist of two bright parts and add the black element to it. If you do not have this line, you can make a part of the leader with a black marker which, unfortunately, does not last for a long time or there is now better alternative - we can use neon wax to make the strike indicator more visible.
The flies I use during the winter will be mainly micronymphs on hooks size 16-18. I prefer to tie micronymphs on dry hooks (e.g. Hanak Competition H 130) that better penetrate into the fish's mouth. For better behavior of flies in the water, I carefully bend the eye of the hook inward to achieve a jig effect. I usually use tungsten beads of size 2.5-3.0, mostly in pink and silver colors for winter nymphing. The most common patterns include normal small trout and grayling flies, such as the Orange Tag Jig, Red Tag Jig, Sirupcik, etc. The other winter pattern is Squirmy Wormy, which is certainly a controversial flies, but do not doubt its effectiveness. You can fish Squirmy Wormy them in clean water, but in the muddy water they will be your best flies. On big rivers, where we catch fish in almost standing water, I use heavier flies, with tungsten beads of 3.3-3.5 mm, thanks to which I have better contact with the bottom and the point fly actually just taps the bottom.
Most often I use 2 flies on the tippet that I have 50-60 cm apart. The distance of the upper fly from the beginning of the indicator is given by the depth of water. It is important to choose the correct depth, when you catch in deeper water and you have the indicator underwater, you will not recognize the fish bites too much.
We also need to soften the tippets as fishes are quite apathetic at this time. A good option is fluorocarbon 0,9-0,11 mm, which is harder to see for fish and is heavier and sinks faster through the water column compared to classic nylon tippets.
Where to search for fish:
It is crucial for us to find a place where fish are kept at this time, most often in places with oxygenated or warmer water (beware, in the winter there is an anomaly of water, so there is a higher water temperature at the bottom). For fish, it is important to use the least energy to obtain food at this time. I prefer smaller rivers where there are ideal places with quieter water, canals, millraces and dead-end river arms. On the big rivers there are good places around the boat chambers where the water is calm and almost standing.
When we find such a place, we have some of the winning. Fishing locations are usually close to shores, obstacles and bridge pillars etc. Thanks to that, we often do not have to wade in winter and we will see a lot of fish as the winter water is often clean. During my first winter fishing walks, I was surprised at how many fish are stacked around the shores, but it was sometimes stressful as I struggled to catch those fish.
Ideally we will wait for a sunny and wormer day, otherwise we will have to deal with the constant freezing of the rod eyes and the leader. Even the activity of fish in the colder weather will be weak and you will fight for every fish. The fish activity will also worsen when to water gets muddy. However, the worst time of winter fishing is the period when ice starts to melt, because the snow water is very cold and the activity of the fish is minimal.
When winter nymphing, then we try to keep the drift as natural as possible. Then it is important to respond to each move or stop of the indicator, the bites are very fine. We can achieve the best possible contact with the flies by minimizing the slacks of the leader and shortening the line by the slow figure of eighth retrieve. Flies should move slower so that fish has the chance to bite properly. From the beginning, it's a little more difficult to see what's a bite and what not.
In the shallow current stretches of rivers, I also like to use intermmedial fly line with micro nymphs (bead sizes from 2.0 to 2.5 mm), which I cast to the river bank and just let them go downstream with in a dead drift without any active retrieve. This method can be fished with French leader too, in this case we only need to put the rod tip under the water surface during the dead drift.
Finally, I must say that winter fly fishing is sure to have its charm. Winter nymphing is often challenging and sometimes is really hard to catch fish. But it is the right school, during which you learn to recognize the finest strikes and behavior of the fish. The advantage will be calmness and piece by the river, yet at this time we will not see too many people fishing. And we will be rewarded with beautifully colored coarse fish!