CHILLY GILLS!

article and images by Bill Byrd.

In many parts of the country, fly fishers enjoy moderate winters. In those areas, an amazing potential for off-season warm water fly fishing exists. Have you ever extended your fishing season to year 'round? Give it a try and be prepared to be amazed by the wonderful fishing that you will discover in your own nearby waters.

In mid-November, I was invited to fish with a new acquaintance, who is also an avid fly fisher. He invited me down to fish a favorite lake in central Georgia. The invitation was more than I could pass up, so I drove down to meet him and to fish. The air temperature was in the high 50s and the water temperature was only 45 degrees. We were fly fishing for bass, bluegills, and big shellcrackers in the winter. Had we lost our minds? P R O B A B L Y!

We used ultralight fly rods, floating fly line, long leaders and tippets, and subsurface flies to get down deep -- to 10 feet or more. I was using my familiar series of bead head nymphs, dubbed body, black marabou tail -- a trout and bluegill favorite. He was using flies that he had tied specifically to slowly sink.

We selected the best looking water and cast to likely spots. Then after a ten count, we SLOWLY strip retrieved the deep fly in 2 inch strips. When the line stopped, or jerked slightly, or moved off to the side, we raised the rod and that telltale arc formed in the rod as the hook set. Then a surprisingly strong bluegill, bass, or shellcracker would take off for a good run before coming to the float tube. I was amazed that the activity level was so good in water this cold. We fished another three and a half hours and caught more bass and bluegills than I ever imagined we could in these southern winter conditions. After that very positive experience, I decided to make a study of fishing the entire winter season to see what results I could produce. The flies we had used took forever to sink, and when we stripped them, the flies rose toward the surface. The first thing was to develop flies that would sink rapidly to greater depths and stay there. Then I had to determine deep fishing presentations that worked best. I developed the flies and deep fishing system and the results were incredible!

You can fish water as cold as 40 degrees and be pleasantly surprised. Use these simple methods and once you build confidence and skill fishing with them, you will be amazed. You will catch off-season bluegills and bass, and other warm water species and you'll have the water to yourself.

Take your favorite fly rod rigged with floating line, a long leader, and a long tippet stiff enough to turn over your choice of sinking fly, but thin enough to allow the fly to sink readily. Get together warm clothes, dry waders, and your choice of float tube or boat, and go to your favorite small lake or pond. Most people have to double-haul or "lob cast" these heavy flies. The double haul is described in most fly fishing books. The "lob cast" works best by doing the following: Use the water to load your rod into your backcast. When you begin your forward cast, push your rod up and over toward the target. The line will make a wide open loop and the heavy fly will follow. It isn't classic form, but the "lob" will get that fly to your target if you are fishing over open water.

Concentrate on small ponds and lakes, or small areas in bigger lakes not deeper than 20 feet like creek arms or flats. Working these smaller areas will increase your odds for success dramatically. In these shallower ponds, if you find a breakline, a ledge, a deep hole, fish it. In 15 feet of water or less, you can get your fly in front of the fish and he'll hit it. You'll also find small schools of bass and bluegills holding on underwater structure or suspended over and around it. Fish it thoroughly and slowly. Fish points and shoreline irregularities. Fish blow downs over 6 to 15 feet of water. Fish 6 to 8 foot deep flats, especially near slightly deeper water. Even with visibilities of 1 to 2 feet, you will catch good numbers of fish.

Check and monitor the water temperature. In these small bodies of water in just a day, direct sun can raise water temperature 2 to 4 degrees and the fish can become surprisingly active. Start working the depths SLOWLY with your deep flies. Cast to your target, then give a five, ten, or fifteen count. Use two inch short strip retrieves to bump the bottom or suspend the fly just above it where the fish are holding. In shallow water shorten the sink count and speed up the retrieve slightly. Experiment with depth until you encounter fish. Find out what the fish want, and give it to them. Then be prepared -- anything can happen!

Take a good selection of deep sinking wet flies. Have a selection of bead heads, prince nymphs, girdle bugs, wooly buggers, but be sure to carry some small heavy streamers. Buy them in sizes-14 thru -8, and be sure to buy some with black body and wing, and black body with chartreuse wing. Then experiment with color combinations.

Fish small ponds and lakes with water shallower than twenty feet, temperature above 40 degrees. In transitional seasons when the fish are just starting to move shallow, probe the deeper water this way and hang on. When the water heats up and the fish head for deeper water, use this method to go deep again!

Try these simple methods for your never ending year 'round bass and bluegill season -- be prepared to love the results!


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