Tailwaters – great fishing in the winter
By: Jim Kilpatrick TU Member – Avid Fly Fisherman
The winters seems long and cold with the lakes frozen over and your favorite rivers and streams under snow and ice. Where is a person to go to wet a fly and keep your casting arm in shape? Well, I am glad you ask. I suggest a good place is tailwaters. Have you never heard the term tailwaters? Well I had not either until a couple of years ago, as I was fly fishing a stretch of river just below the dam of a lake and another fisherman came up and ask me if the fish were biting in these tailwaters. Tailwaters are that portion of the river or stream exiting just below the dam of a reservoir or lake. Just goes to show you there is always something new to learn. I have no idea who originated the word, but I image they thought is sounded cool and people like we fishermen started regularly using it.
Now that we know that much I am sure you may be asking – why are they a great place to fish in the winter time? First, the temperature of the water coming out from the bottom of the dam is well above freezing and will flow ice. free for anywhere from ½ mile up to 2 miles downriver. Before cooling off enough to start icing up along the banks and covering the rest of the river. The second reason is that the water coming from the dam has a good supply of food like insects, shrimp and small fish in it. Usually the heaviest concentration of fish are within 100 to 300 yards of the dam. Trout love easy pickings, which means that it is also a good place to hook into a big one. But that is not the only place to catch a trout. Anywhere along the open water that there are deeper holes, pools, and pockets behind rocks or trees could be holding your next trophy.
A trout’s metabolism does slow down in the winter with the colder water but they do still have to feed in order to remain alive. So when you present that nymph, scud or midge right in front of them they will be tempted to take it. Get out that 4 or 5 weight rod and put some 5X or 6X leader on with 6X or 7X tippet. I have found it best to use the 2-fly nymphing rig. Upper fly 16 to 18 size Pheasant Tail, Scud Olive, black RS-2 or red – green Copper John. Bottom fly 18 to 22 size bead head Brassie or black – red Zebra Midges. If those don’t seem to be working I will use smaller and darker nymphs and midges until they do start biting. Naturally these are the magic flies that work for me in Colorado, but you will have to find out which ones they are hitting in your area.
I know your saying it’s so cold to be out there fishing, and having to break the ice out of your rod eyelets does not seem like a lot of fun. Well here is my rule of thumb if the day time temperature reaches 45 degrees or higher for three days I going fishing. Don’t let the cold weather keep you from trying tailwaters – great fishing in the winter.