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By Greg LaBonte, CEO of Maine Fly Guys
Winter fly fishing in Maine can be comfortable, successful, and extremely fun if you are well prepared. Few anglers take to the rivers consistently in Maine during the months of January, February, and March, although many like to claim they do. For the anglers that continually fish through the winter months in Maine, they all share one thing in common and that’s their preperation.
Below will highlight 5 Do’s and Don’ts to help you enjoy fly-fishing in Maine right through the winter time!
1. Don’t put on three layers of socks
Of course everyone will bundle up and dress warm, but what about your feet? Once your feet get too cold, the day is over. You’ll be standing in 35 degree water all day and many people think more socks = more warmth. Truth is, more socks = less blood flow. By investing in one really nice pair of wool socks, the blood flow to your feet will stay regular and your feet will have the insulation they need. I’ve had tremendous luck with redhead wool socks, but there are many brands that will do the trick. Spend the extra $10 on a nicer pair, your feet will thank you.
2. Spray pam on guides
There are many old tricks to unfreeze your guides. Spraying pam, chapstick, spraying other anti-freeze solutions. Why not? Two main reasons – 1) whatever you put on your line/rod is going directly into the river. I prefer not to spray pam into our rivers. 2) The oily substance is a dirt magnet. Want to shorten the life of your rod and fly line? Spray some pam on it and fish with it for a day. How to avoid ice build up? You live with it, you want the 32 degree days to be a part of your life, ice build up on your rod is a necessary evil.
3. Don’t fish on days below 25F degrees
Maine winters are cold, but not terribly. Every winter, there are a plethora of days (particularly in the afternoon) where the air temp exceeds 25-30F. For fish health, I don’t fish when temps are below 30F. Removing a fish from the water sub-30F can lead to gill and corneal (eye) damage, which is obviously not ideal for fish survival. I know you want to fish (trust me I do to), but at what cost? There are times you need to think about putting the fish first.
4. Don’t fish waters that aren’t open
Maine has a set list of waters that are open year round. If you want to fish in your area in January, check the rule book first.
You can find it here. Fishing waters that are not open can be penalized by a pretty hefty fine and nobody wants that! So take the time to check whether or not you are being a law abiding angler or not!
5. Don’t have high expectations
Most likely, you won’t be having 50 fish days in January. The fishing can be slow, as fish metabolism has slowed, and so feeding times can be quite particular throughout the day. If your soul goal is to catch as many fish as possible, winter fishing might not be the most fun for you. If your goal is to get out and break up the monotony that is Maine winter and maybe catch a few fish, then winter fishing in Maine is right for you. Follow these 5 don’ts to make the experience fun for you and safe for the fish!
1. Use a variety of flies
I only use two styles of flies all winter – streamers and nymphs. Some days, streamers just seem to work better than anything else. Big, gomby, sex dungeon looking things too, sometimes the bigger the better. White, yellow, olive, who knows, mixing it up frequently is a great way to find out what’s working. As far as nymphs go, I have little success with large nymphs, small jig style nymphs or midges seem to always do the trick. The basic zebra midge in a wide variety of colors will likely get a hit if fish are around! Whatever you do though, don’t get stuck on one pattern!
2. Stay Put
Fish are likely holding in areas where you think they are, particularly brook trout. Slower moving pools, tucked behind some rock. Fish are just simply more lethargic in the winter. So, what normally would have taken you 5 casts to produce a bite, might take you 50. If you’re in an area that you feel confident in, don’t leave. Id rather change my fly 15 times than leave a good spot in the winter.
3. Bring a hand towel
You should never touch a trout with gloves on. So, if you catch a fish, it’s likely you will be holding and handling a fish, bare handed, in water that’s 35-40F. Getting wet and staying wet is the best way to end a winter fly fishing day early. Invest in a nice fluffy, microfiber towel to wipe your hands with after touching the fish and water. When your hands are dry, they can withstand and incredibly low temperature compared to when they are wet. You can literally feel the warmth leaving your hand when they are wet, so again, don’t just bring any old rag, spend a few extra dollars for a nice hand towel!
4. Go back
As I’ve said, winter fishing can be slow and hard one day, fast and action packed the next for seemingly no reason. If you get skunked, go back! I’ve been skunked so many times in the month of February, but then, there’s that one magical fu*^ing day and it is the best moment of the entire year. In order to even have a chance at being successful, you will need to go back to the same river, many times over. It may even take a year or two. Eventually, you will learn where fish like to hide, what pockets are best. Wintertime fish will often occupy the same holes, meaning when you catch 1, there is probably another close by! So don’t get discouraged, go back for more!
5. Bring a friend – safety first
You may think you’re a boss, too cool for school, but nobody is stronger than Maine’s winter. I mean it’s one of the most rugged seasons in the US for christ sake. Solidarity is great, fishing alone is great, but friendship makes dealing with the conditions a lot more manageable. Stopping for a 20 minute coffee break in the sun with a buddy can make or break your day. Giving you enough strength, warmth, focus to fish the rest of the day. Who knows, maybe you land a 10 pound sea-run brown in the last hour of the day, and perhaps you would’ve left early if your buddy wasn’t there to give you support. Not to mention it’s a safety thing. If you did happen to take a fall in the icy waters on a cold day, you’re looking at hypothermia in around 10-20 minutes. It might take you that long to just get back to the parking lot and by then it might be too late. Using the buddy system, you at least have a fighting chance!