“The colors are gone. It’s now a tableau of black and white and shades of gray. The water is inky black with a silver screen of snow reflected on its surface. There are little mists rising. Yet, even in the midst of the worst storm, right at the water’s edge there is a little band of green where the grass is as bright as if it were spring. This little oasis never goes away because the water temperature, still at 48º F, fresh from the headspring, warms the ground, leaving a little patch of land that never knows winter.”
-John Judy, Seasons of the Metolius
Late fall and winter can be a marvelous time on the Metolius River. The crowds thin out, as most people are unwilling to wade waist deep into the river when the air temperature is barely breaking the 20º F mark. And you can hardly blame them; it is cold out there right now. Frozen guides, frozen fly lines, and frozen hands are provided at no extra charge when you spend a day on the Metolius this time of year.
The fishing remains a challenge, as always, on this perplexing and humbling stream. The fish certainly react to the brisk air temperatures, as do the bugs, primarily because there is less sun striking the surface during the increasingly shorter days that define December. Typically they wont move as far for a fly, whether that is correlated to the ambient temperature or their biological clocks beginning to shift toward an urge to move into the upper river to spawn in the coming months, who knows. That being said, you can still have some awesome afternoons full of beautiful, willing fish right now.
The past few outings have proven that. Concentrating our efforts during the afternoon hours when the sun is on the water and the outside temperature is more bearable, rainbows, whitefish, and a few bull trout have been eating a variety of nymphs. There have also been small mayflies fluttering around in the back eddies, and if you get a period of sunshine on the water, the trout have been feeding on the surface as well.
Mayfly nymphs are a good choice this time of year on the Metolius. The most important thing is that your setup is heavy enough to get down to the fish in the deep, turbulent water in which they often hold. Pheasant Tails, Possie Buggers, and Morrish’s Anato May are good places to start in combination with a heavier stonefly for the depth charge. In terms of dry fly patterns, small Thorax BWOs and small Parachute Adams are the ticket.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to get your fix, remember that the spring-fed Metolius remains an option 365 days a year. Keep your eye on the forecast, as warmer temperatures will bring heightened insect activity and more eager trout.
As always, the mantra of my mates and I when we venture to this river is be prepared for absolutely anything and be prepared to catch absolutely nothing. The joy of the Metolius comes from standing on the bank, the sun warming your face, the old growth trees towering what seems like an infinite height above your head, and Mt. Jefferson looming ever present in the distance. An elk bugles upstream, mergansers soar downstream, and here you are situated in the middle of it all.