The water deepened and the color transitioned from clear to dark green. A velocity moving faster than a brisk walk carried the water over the cobbles and boulders. It was a perfect run. My casts were crisp and accurate. The drifts appeared to be in the strike zone. Not a single pause or hop in the sighter. So I changed flies and weight and ticked the bottom from time to time. Still nothing. And my feet were getting cold. 

I moved upstream past the head of the riffle and past the shallow glassy-surfaced glide. A slow run, not quite a pool and relatively nondescript laid out in front of me. I stepped onto the shallow point bar to get my feet into some sunshine. Reaching into the front pocket of my waders, I found an airlock indicator. I attached the white bobber to my line above the bottom of the sighter. 

Wiggling my toes to get some feeling back in my feet, I cast the nymph rig into the deeper portion of the channel over some large boulders surrounded by sand and small gravel. I look down at my feet and back to the indicator. A slight pause drew my concentration. Immediately the indicator pulled down, and I lifted the rod, quickly retrieving all the slack. A head shake.

This was a good-sized fish. I kept pressure on the line and pulled the fish toward the shallow water, keeping the fish upstream. The fish tired and I lifted its head as I scooped the net under its body. A beautiful 11” or 12” brown trout flipped in the net. The barbless hook fell out and I was able to release the fish. 

Wild Brown Trout

For the remainder of my time on the water, I fished the “marginal” water. I managed to bring eight more fish to the net. It was a good day spent fishing water I may usually skip over. I keep a record of the fish I catch, the flies and rigs I use, the types of water I catch the fish in, and sometimes, but not always, water temperature. Going through my records, I was surprised to see that since December, over 80% of the fish I have caught were in pools or marginal water similar to what I fished this day. It hadn’t registered, and I continued to selectively fish deeper, faster runs. The very deepest pools hadn’t been that productive for me, it was the areas with subtle velocity, large boulders, and slightly deeper waters where I had caught the most fish. 

Stretch of “Marginal” Water that produced several hungry trout

Sitting at breakfast with my wife on Saturday, we talked through plans for marketing our ideas and efforts. Play books from some marketing gurus and business mentors focus on using social media and finding your audience. Often, I will aim for the good water to pitch an idea or present myself, only to find minimal responses, blank stares, and silence. It struck me this weekend that maybe it’s better to find your water, not the ideal or picture perfect, but the space where what you have to offer can find a ready audience. 

Successful anglers can be versatile and capable of adjusting to any situation. They can fish dry flies, nymphs, streamers, or wet flies. They can be nimble and adaptive. Or they can know their lane and develop tremendous expertise. I may not develop the skills to be adaptive to any situation or an expert in any particular skill, but I can find where I am in the moment and offer what I have. If I’m open to the moment and true to myself, I may be able to find connections that are meaningful and lasting. Lifting the judgment of what is optimal and what is marginal may open the spaces where I can set the hook.    

2 Replies to “Why You Should Re-think Winter Water Choices”

  1. Hi Scott!
    Many years ago, I discovered that the idea that trout seek out deeper, slower areas during the Winter was just a theory, not always accurate, especially in tailwaters, spring creeks or any stream with limestone or spring influences. Now, I have found it more often true on freestone streams. In almost all my Winter videos, you can see how I actually catch fish in the exact same water in the Winter as I do in other seasons, and most times in the early morning. So, fly fishermen shouldn’t limit themselves to certain water types, no matter what time of the year. Explore, search out and confidently fish all types of water. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of fish that go against the typical generalizations of where they should be and when they should feed. I always say, the best time to fish is whenever you can get on the water. Now, there are times when you may predict certain bug activity which may trigger trout to feed at a certain time, and by all means, use that information to your advantage. Like when you’ve experienced a midge hatch in the Winter at a certain time and the fish started to feed, if the next day or two has similar weather, there’s a good chance you can hit that same feeding window again. But again, don’t be surprised or beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen. Like you said, be versatile, be adaptive and open to learn and accept when are expectations are met and when they’re not. So much fun, learning this game and trying to figure out trout.

    1. Thanks Scott! I often fish for short windows of time and I have gotten in a bad habit of cherry picking water to save time. But that caused me to lose versatility. Your comments and recommendations are great and on point! Thank you as always!

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