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Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in our November 2018 issue. This version was fact-checked and updated (where possible) with current information for the 2019 edition of 5280 Traveler.
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.
1. Sleep In
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 Cafe in Fort Collins.
Tip: Hit the water between 11 a.m. and 3 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.
2. Dive Deep
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).
3. Don’t Freeze
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 42 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 ($750, pictured); and bring gloves with plenty of hand warmers.