210205_TROUTCATCHER

Steven Colsch holds up a trout he caught in a stream. Catching trout during the winter takes skills acquired from practice and knowledge of how to cast and what makes trout respond to lures.

Conjure up an image of a trout fisher.

Do you see a wiry, weathered man with a wry smile methodically whipping the air with a limber wand?

Conjure a bit more.

Is he wearing a fashionably floppy hat adorned with fishing flies? Smoking a pipe? Facing upstream below a gurgling riffle?

If this is a real-time image in your mind’s eye, you can bet your best Sage rod and Hardy reel this clown isn’t catching any fish.

This is the dead of winter.

When is the last time you chased bugs around the house with a flyswatter or sprayed yourself down with greasy bug juice?

Trout fishing is essentially the only open-water option now for feeding a fishing addiction.

The tug is the drug.

Boat ramps below dam tailwaters in several rivers will open up soon, providing an opportunity to rip walleyes and saugers out of sleepy hibernation to release into grease.

Any inland trout caught now must be quickly released. Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks taste better than trout, anyway.

Setting the hook is one of very few edifying pleasures for outdoors folks in these COVID-19 crazy times.

A little gold or black 1/32-ounce tungsten ice jig is a great vehicle for tempting winter trout when tipped with a little ice fishing plastic. Red is usually a solid color choice.

You can use a fly rod for drifting artificial baits through a stream’s deep water wintering holes. But if the fishin’ mission is “catching” instead of “fishing”, a long ultralight spinning outfit is a more productive tool.

Fly rod folks call a spinning rod “gear”—often said with a condescending, nasal sneer. Those who adhere to the mantra “the tug is the drug” really don’t care.

This boorish breed is more likely to attack trout from upstream, allowing the current to animate tiny black Panther Martin spinners, the smallest Rapalas, Rebel teeny craws or tiny spoons.

Trout almost always orient facing into the current. Tempting them by casting upstream requires frequent “mending” of fly line with a terrestrial fly—pretty much the only “bug” besides a bead-head that will catch fish right now.

Casting “gear” upstream is a recipe of snagging bottom before your hook finds fish lips.

Considerable stealth is required when approaching trout from upstream in the beyond crystal clear, low-water levels of many trout stream in the winter.

Polaroid sunglasses are a must for cutting glare on the water. Snow cammo is strongly advised to blend in with the environment. Knee boots are better than waders when light-footing along a snow-covered, undercut bank. Fishing on cloudy days is usually more productive.

Try fishing in waders by casting downstream while standing in the water and you might as well swap your fishing rod for a big, bass drum.

Polaroid lenses have value beyond just cutting glare—they also help you eliminate unproductive water.

If you can see the bottom the trout can also see you. With water temperature at least 10 degrees colder now than at least nine other months of the year, a trout’s cold-blood metabolism is slower and movement is warier.

It might take patience and a perfect cast to put that tiny spinner or in the ideal orientation to goad a trout into venturing out of cover. But muscle memory in a solid hookset can quickly morph your vision of a serious and successful trouter.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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