Winter Flyfishing in Texas – insights from a seasoned outfitter and an Orvis execJanuary 13, 2023
The water is clear as glass, the banks can often be crowded with anglers fishing for trout, and the temps can fluctuate by nearly 30 degrees in an afternoon. For some, approaching the river in winter with a rod in hand can be an intimidating experience. However, winter flyfishing in Texas can be extremely productive and rewarding. Whether you’re looking to land trout, bass, or carp, anglers need to be aware of the conditions and present flies with focused intention.
For Cari Ray of Fisher of the Zen (podcaster, guide, and singer-songwriter), winter flyfishing is all about taking it slow, watching the water, and trying different types of retrieves. Spending a few extra minutes observing the behaviors trout are exhibiting can lead to more productive winter outings. “In the winter, everything bass do is slower. When there are long stints of cold weather, the fish are seeking deeper water because temperatures are stable. Fish can’t regulate their body temperature so they’re going deeper where the water temperature remains at more of a constant.”
If you’re fly fishing and coming up with an empty net, Cari suggests using different types of retrieves. “Let the fly sink for 5 seconds and then retrieve. Before you think of changing your fly from the trusted woolly bugger, or a baitfish, try switching up your retrieves. Add more seconds to your retrieve time to see if that will increase your chances of success. The longer you wait, the deeper the fly can float to where the fish are.”
A good cast, a convincing fly, and an accurate reading of the water are critical elements in your success. “Across the board,” says Cari, “it’s always important, especially for warm water species and fly anglers, to present in a way to tempt the fish to bite. I’m a big believer that it’s the angler that “sells” the fly…or as my pal, Justin, says, “presentation over pattern.” I’d choose a perfect drift of a mediocre fly over the perfect pattern poorly drifted every time.”
When fishing the Hill Country rivers in the winter, like the Pedernales, Blanco, and the Llano, the water is exceptionally clear. The water can be so clear that you will be able to see the fish and they will be able to see you. “Move slowly and deliberately,” says Cari. “I wear neutral colors, and often take off my sun hat and lay it down. I approach the water slowly and pay attention to what’s going on in the water. An effective and longer cast can also allow you to stay further back and out of sight.”
As a self-proclaimed fair-weather sportsman, Rebecca Jones, Chief People Officer at Orvis, anything cold weather has always been a mystery to her. “The trick I, like many, have learned over the years is with the right gear, the right attitude, and the right people to show you around, fishing in the middle of winter can be a total joy!”
When Rebecca’s not fishing the neighborhood lakes with her husband and 4-year-old, she’s out with Mitch Kempe from Fatties on the Fly. “We will either float or wade depending on the weather, the location, and the water flow.” During trout stock release days, Rebecca works her way down the river, away from the crowd and closer to peace and quiet.
The right gear for Rebecca is the real game changer. “I am a total Orvis devotee for the obvious reason (I work for Orvis), but also simply because the gear is just so good…its innovative, reliable and there are multiple options regardless of gender, size, experience, and finances. In life, I wear and use a mix of high and low products and clothes, and this extends to my sports gear and equipment.”
For gear, her personal rod is an Orvis Recon 6wt with a Battenkill Disc Reel. “I’ve just started to learn how to tie my own flies (Tom Rosenbauer’s online courses are the best for this if you can’t get to lessons in Orvis stores or local outfitters!) and have had success with my own Clousers and Woolly Buggers (the all-round get-it-done flies!). Bass Poppers and Poppers with a Clouser dropper and Gamechangers have helped me land bass.”
Another important tip, while it may seem obvious, is to layer your clothing. Temps in the morning can be in the 30s or 40s and by the afternoon, it’s back up into the 70s so being adaptable and shedding layers is key for staying comfortable and fishing longer. Jones’ tip for layering is to mix base layers. “I am mostly repurposing my summer gear underneath the waders, but when it gets super chilly, my go-to base is the Orvis PRO fleece half-zip pullover.”
To combat the cold when Rebecca is wading, she wears the Orvis women’s Ultralight Waders in Petite. “It’s the perfect length and fit for someone who is under 5’4”! I pair these with the Orvis Pro Boa wading boot. The boa lacing system on wading boots is a total winner.”
Fishing, especially trout fishing, can be a great opportunity to get the kids outside . It’s a fun activity, and trout are stocked throughout bodies of water in Texas, from neighborhood ponds to rivers and lakes. Plus, you can take trout home, cook it your favorite way, and enjoy a delicious dinner. Even if your net comes up empty, an appreciation can be found for all that Texas has to offer – scenic vistas, pristine waterways, and abundant wildlife.
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