The air is too cold, the water is too cold, and the fish just will not bite in the wintertime.
That is a popular sentiment among trout anglers in Central Oregon.
But it is not necessarily the reality. By employing the right techniques, gear and timing, anglers can comfortably catch trout in the winter on the four major rivers that cut through our High Desert.
The predominant hatches on the Crooked, Deschutes, Fall and Metolius rivers this time of year are blue wing olives and midges. Nymphing is typically the most reliable cold-weather tactic, so anglers should always choose one small nymph to match the hatch.
Trout will be the most active during the warmest periods of the day, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“There’s no need to get up really early,” says Ira Miller of the Patient Angler Fly Shop in Bend. “Let the water warm up a little bit and let the insects get more active.”
Anglers should always dress in layers during the winter, and Miller recommends taking along an extra pair of gloves, in case one pair gets wet.
In extremely chilly weather, the guides on a fly rod can freeze, which can tear brand new fly line. Miller suggests minimizing the amount of line that passes through the guides and fishing with old fly line.
“Don’t cast too far, or you have to strip more (line) in,” Miller says. “If nymphing, you can cast pretty close and do well.”
Riffles on rivers where anglers reeled in trout after trout during the summer will not necessarily hold as many fish during the winter. According to fish biologists, in cooler water, fish will seek out slack water closer to the banks, where the fish do not need to expend as much energy as they do in faster water.
On warmer overcast winter days, with air temperatures perhaps in the 30s or above, blue wing olive hatches can occur.
“That’s always something to keep an eye on,” Miller says. “It’s always good to have dry-fly fishing in January or February.”
The Crooked River is a favorite among cold-weather fishermen looking for rainbow trout and whitefish. With water flows currently at about 155 cubic feet per second, the stream is ripe for fishing.
Whitefish spawn in the Crooked River during December, so small, pale-colored egg patterns that imitate those eggs are productive, according to Miller.
Sometimes, those egg patterns need weight to reach the bottom of the river. Miller recommends using a cased caddis, and then dropping an egg off the back end of the line.
Miller says the fishing on the Crooked River recently has been “really good.”
The Deschutes River downstream of Bend has high flows during most of the winter, so the best section to fish is usually from Bend upstream to Benham Falls. The sections above Benham Falls are closed during the winter.
Larger stonefly nymphs with a dropper often bring in rainbow or brown trout on the Deschutes, according to Miller. A blue wing olive fly with an emerger can work as well.
The Fall River boasts a big hatch of blue wing olives throughout the winter, Miller says.
In February, a small black stonefly hatch occurs on the river. This can be matched with a black caddis pattern, according to Miller.
Egg patterns and midges can also lead to success for rainbow trout on the Fall River during the winter months.
“And don’t count out streamers,” Miller says.
Because the Metolius is a fly-fishing-only river, anglers cannot add weight to their lines to get their nymphs to the bottom of the river. Using a big, heavy stonefly is an effective way to get the fly to the bottom, Miller says.
If fishing for bull trout, streamers can work well, he adds.
Bull trout fishing on the Metolius is available throughout the year, and it stays good throughout the winter months, Miller says.
No matter where anglers venture for their wintertime fishing, they should go prepared and stay warm.
And remember, the fish have to bite something, sometime.