Our recent cold winter weather has trout focused on conserving energy. With a slower metabolism, fish will be especially picky and choose what meals are worth expounding energy for. The warmest part of the day will be most productive; there is no need to get to the river terribly early. Keeping this in mind and using it to educate your approach in the winter can make for a productive day despite the cold temperatures and lethargic fish.
This time of year, there is less room for error regarding fly choice, and you must pinpoint where fish are holding as they are not willing to move far for a meal on cold days. Fish will be holding in softer water in the winter months, and other lies which require less energy to hold their position. These are places around large rocks, near the bottom, and close to other structures. Lately, fish have been concentrated towards the head and tailouts of pools where their meals will come directly to them. Direct your attention to the soft side of seams, and foam lines through more calm water.
Nymphing is by far the most productive lately, and is a smart place to start. Most of the insects in the rivers are size 14 and smaller other than the older, more mature stonefly nymphs. Running a double nymph rig under an indicator is productive. Pairing a flashy pattern with a more natural one can be productive. Flashy attractor patterns work great; they will attract the fish’s attention, and are often eaten. If the fish doesn’t want to eat the attractor, there is a more natural nymph nearby that it will often take. Swinging soft hackles and small nymphs can be very effective if there is a hatch going on. It doesn’t hurt to let your nymphs swing towards the end of your drift before casting again. Mountain whitefish are spawning now as well, so nymphing a small, lighter colored egg pattern can be productive too.
- Jigged PCP #14-16, Jigged Rainbow Warrior #14-16, Purple Classic Perdigon #14, Dally’s Tailwater Jig #14, Morrish’s Dirty Bird #16, Beadhead Silver Lightning Bug #16, or Tungsten Split Case BWO #18 make great options for smaller nymphs.
- Jigged Pennington D-Rib Stonefly #10-12, Jigged Lazy J Stone # 10, Sili Leg Stonefly #8-10, Mega Prince #8-12, or a Double Bead Epoxyback Peacock #8-10 will work great for imitating the larger stonefly nymphs in the river and getting your nymphs deep.
- Soft BWO Mayfly Emerger #16-18, Partridge and Pheasant #16, or an Olive Simple Wet Soft Hackle #16 are the best soft hackles to use currently.
Dry fly fishing can still be productive during the middle of the day, especially on warmer days. There will be a BWO hatch on most warm days; this takes place only in the afternoon once the water has warmed. You will see them riding downstream drying their wings when it’s warmer out. Fish are still taking October caddis flies too. A productive setup consists of tagging a small BWO imitation off of the back of a larger October caddis dry. This gives fish two choices, and the larger dry helps you keep track of your smaller one.
- J’s October Hi-Tie Caddis #10, Moorish’s October Caddis Adult #8, or a Rubber Legs Orange Stimulator #8-10 work great for imitating lingering October Caddis.
- Hatch Matcher BWO #16-18, Morrish May Day BWO #17-19, Film Critic BWO, Baetis Cripple #18-20, or Almost Dun BWO #16 are good BWO imitations
The lower Mckenzie river is a little bit high, but you can still find soft water to run your nymphs through. In areas with higher water, using larger nymphs works great; swinging and stripping a wooly bugger can work really well too. The upper Mckenzie river is moving slower, but it will be more challenging to get fish to eat at higher elevations where it gets colder. Water levels on the Middle Fork Willamette are fairly normal, and it is fishing well. Good luck out there and Happy Holidays!