The winter trout stream fishery opens today on a snowless landscape, thanks to above-normal temperatures throughout the final month of 2011. In Minnesota, your 2011 fishing license (with trout stamp) will be good until March 31, 2012. Check the regulations to insure that you know the rules! Minnesota streams require barbless hooks and catch-and-release fishing. Iowa offers year-round fishing in its trout streams, but some are listed as catch-and-release only. Check the Iowa DNR website for locations and regulations.
You may want to start the year with a proven favorite pattern, such as a pink squirrel in size 14 or 16. If midges are hatching, you might go to a smaller copper john or zebra midge. Don't expect towering clouds of insects, but a few caddis, blue-wing olives and midges will be winter emergers, especially when temperatures are close to freezing.
Bead-heads, double beads or weighted-body nymphs are good producers as this snow-angel brown trout attests.The double-bead patterns in larger sizes may be productive. If you haven't tied these, have a look at "fishingbobnelson's" instructions over at the Fly Tying Forum.
A new twist for winter trout in North America is the importation of tenkara fishing, a long-time tradition in high-mountain Japanese trout streams. Tenkara fishing uses a "telescoping" 11 to 19-foot rod, a light level line of the same length, and a 3 to 4-foot leader. The line is knotted to the tip of the rod and cast with a single overhead motion for a reach of up to 30 feet. With no reel or line guides to freeze, the simplicity of tenkara fishing, together with the low cost of equipment, brings a new dimension to winter trout fishing.
One final note is to use special care in moving streamside when winter trout fishing. Approaching the stream in winter is hazardous because of shore ice, and ice-covered gravel bars. Use footwear that provides secure footing in snow and ice, and you may find a wading staff useful, not only in the stream, but also for probing the snow ashore to avoid going out over open water on snowdrifts that may be weakly supported by overhanging vegetation. Approach the stream from the weak current side at river-bends, rather than from the high-bank, strong-current side. This will decrease the likelihood of an avalanche that might carry the fisher into water deeper than her/his waders. Do not venture out onto shelf ice extending over the stream. The thickness of such ice is unpredictable and changing daily with variations in air temperature and subsurface flows. Wear clothing that breathes well, and plan to fish within a short distance of your car or a warm shelter. Be especially alert to signs of hypothermia such as shivering, loss of coordination (noticeable in knot-tying) and shallow breathing. Fish with a buddy and arrange to meet or communicate frequently so that help is nearby in the event of a mishap.
Wishing all of our readers the very best for the New Year.