Freezing water. Hands too numb to tie on a fly. Eyes watering in the biting wind. Winter doesn’t sound like the best occasion to pull out the ol’ tackle box. But angling experts claim the chilliest season is an ideal time to fly-fish northern Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River—as long as you’re prepared. Here, three essential tips for catching fish (and not colds) during the snowy months.
The “early bird gets the worm” adage isn’t always true in the winter. Warmer water yields more frequent catches because active fish are more likely to chomp on your lure, which means it’s best to cast a line midday. Translation: You have time to enjoy your breakfast in front of the roaring fireplace at Wild Boar Café in Fort Collins.
Tip: Hit the water between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a sunny day forecasted to be 32 degrees or warmer. And avoid fishing after a string of especially cold nights—the trout need time to thaw.
Cold water slows fish’s digestive systems, so they’re less hungry and therefore unwilling to jump for food, says Grant Houx, owner of St. Peter’s Fly Shop in Fort Collins. Instead of landing your cast on the river’s surface, try a technique called “nymphing” by letting your fly sink slightly and drift beside recently hatched insects (the snack of choice for chilly fish).
Tip: Because cold water is clearer, trout can more easily spot your line. So attach the nymph—a weighted fly, as opposed to the much lighter patterns prized in warmer months—with a thinner tippet (look for 5X line).
We’re not going to lie: Winter fly-fishing on the Poudre can get pretty damn cold. (December water temperatures can be between 32 and 50 degrees.)
But wear the right gear and you’ll keep balmy enough to enjoy the river in all its winter glory.
Tip: Layer up with insulating but breathable fabric, like a long-sleeve thermal base made by Pagosa Springs’ Voormi; don a pair of high-quality waders, such as Simms’ Gore-Tex variety ($800, pictured); and bring gloves with plenty of hand warmers.
How the Cache la Poudre was Saved For Future Generations
A spate of dam building in the United States during the 1950s and ’60s had environmentalists worried: Would there be any free-flowing waterways left once humans were done constructing their reservoirs? With an eye toward preserving the outdoors for future generations, in 1968 Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects rivers that possess “outstandingly remarkable” beauty, recreation, or other attributes from development that would threaten their natural flow patterns. Half a century later, less than one percent of the nation’s waterways have been honored with the designation—and the only one in Colorado is the Cache la Poudre River. Inducted into the club in 1986, the Poudre is protected for 76 miles, beginning in Rocky Mountain National Park with a section that features exhilarating recreational opportunities, including a class IV ride over Mishawaka Falls. Of course, the Poudre’s currently low, frigid waters mean you won’t be white-water rafting any more this year.