There are two types of anglers in this world: those that fish during winter and those that don't. If you have a local trout fishery that's still running with liquid water, then you're in luck, but many of us only get to chase warm water species during those warm fronts when the ice thaws just long enough to get out and make a few casts.
Winter bass can be easy, but most of the time they'll make you want to pull your hair out. Instead of drifting a nymph under a strike indicator, which might be just as boring as ice fishing, there are so many different ways to catch these fish on a streamer that tying on anything else is wasting time. Once you get the hang of it you can spend a little more time fly fishing than you thought you'd get to this Winter. If your fingers can handle it.
The Subtle One
Careful out there, it may be slippery but it can also be really fishy.
Instead of ripping a streamer throughout the water column and hanging on for a vicious strike, the most likely way to hook up when the water temps have dropped is to work the subtle method. This technique can also be called the "Barely There" method, because the trick is to make your fly look barely there, like it's trying to slowly move along the bottom without being noticed.
Let out a cast and count down until your fly reaches the bottom. Stay alert on the drop, because this is the time that you have the highest chance of hooking up. Once your fly touches bottom give it a rest for as long as you can take it. Some wait 15 seconds, some 30, others wait nearly a whole minute before moving it again. Give the fly a soft, slow twitch and then let it fall again. Repeat. If you've soaked your fly for a few minutes without a hit recast in a different spot and try again. Patience, you must have, young padawan.
There's probably fish right under your frostbitten nose right now.
Sometimes you can piss off a lethargic bass just enough to strike, even though they may not want to eat. It's like that guy at work that taps his pen on his desk all day long. Eventually, you're gonna snap and throw that damn pen out the window.
There are two ways to make your streamer the aggressor. You can either move the fly along the bottom quickly and hope to get in the face of a bass, but that's less likely and less precise than the second method. My preferred method is to let the fly sink to the bottom again, but once it hits the bottom, I'll twitch my rod tip constantly so that the fly bounces along the bottom, but very slowly. The key is to make your fly move slow enough so that if you get into a fish's face, the fly will be in the strike zone long enough to piss it off and cause a strike.
The Slow Pull
A big flashy streamer can be a great, aggressive pattern for getting winter bass to bite.
As you can tell, most of your winter fishing is going to involved going deep, going slow and a lot of patience. For the third tactic it's more of the same, but a tad bit steadier. Once you get your fly down to the bottom of the river or the pond/lake, grab hold of your line up at the lead guide (the bottom one) with your free hand and slowly pull the line slowly and steadily all the way back just past the reel. Repeat until you go crazy.
After a few casts I'll usually get bored and start to mix it up just a little bit. Start experimenting with pauses, subtle twitches, bursts of speed with a bigger pause afterwards, or whatever you can come up with to keep yourself fairly warm and mildly focused. Sometimes that little change in the retrieve can be the difference between a fish following your fly and striking it.
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