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Winter is officially here in Utah and Wyoming. The temps have been good to this point, but it looks like it is going to start getting cold and we will be socked in for a bit. I have been swinging for trout for a couple of years now and had good success during the spring, summer and fall. I do not feel like I have ever been able to really get the winter season dialed in. Sure I catch a few fish here and there and once in a while feel like I am getting things figured out, but it never lasts and I usually end up scratching my head on the drive home wondering what in the hell just happened. I love getting out in the winter, iced guides and all. I love the solitude of the river to myself and the deep chill of a big breath of mountain air.

Is fishing on the swing in the winter that much different than the rest of the year? What effect does water temperature have on a fish's ability/desire to chase a fly? I have tried fishing a "tip" slow and low with some success which leads me to believe the fish are potentially holding in different water.

Any tips for trouty swinging in the winter?

Scrappy bows by Jake, on Flickr

3$ Dreams by Jake, on Flickr
 

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I think you figured it out, and the last part of your query pegged it!

Fish are sitting deeper, and are more lethargic, and less likely to move from their comfy spot during the winter. In that state, they're also less likely to be holding in water where they'll have to work more. Hence - tips to run deeper, and swing it slower. I'd also be more likely to swing from the same spot twice before stepping down, instead of the standard swing one, step one mode, but that's just me. Maybe I'm a bit lethargic also!!

And you're spot on - there's nothing like the solitary stand, and chilly winter air to remind you of what it's like to be really living!!

Good for you!!
 

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Winter solitude

I myself enjoy winter fishing for the same reasons. Crunching out through 3-4 feet of ice along the edge of the river, enjoying the crisp air and numb feet and hands. That hot lunch on the tailgate of the pickup. Take a few pictures. Good stuff. A fish here and there is about it as I've found. But slow is the key. Long slow drifts for dry top water stuff and slow and deep for whatever your swinging. Man does a hot shower and bed feel extra good when you get home.
 

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Good stuff

A friend of mine and I canoed a local river last late winter/spring. The spring rain had not come so the water was gin clear and on the low side. I saw really nice bows screaming around the water. The temperature was bitter cold. So I don't buy into the lethargic theory. The rainbows we saw were in fast riffles a lot and groups of 3-4. Boy were they fast and big. I think they get lethargic when it's too warm not cold. it's more difficult for them to breath when the temp is high

I do think the fish move around a lot. Depending on the rivers makeup that might dictate where they are and how often. There is a spot locally on a big river. It's an ideal run. If the fish are there you'll do great, big fish a plenty. When they aren't you can stick around for a few hours and eventually something will come by because they have to eat at some point.

On the other hand, when it rains I am sure the local smaller rivers/tribs rise and the fish explore up them to get out of the big rivers flow pressure and mud.

Like you I only swing. When you only swing then you might not have as much success as some other techniques or so those I know who nymph suggest. But that's OK.

If you want to catch a trout or steelhead on a dry bomber, then you fish a dry bomber until you do even if you go bust for months. If you want to catch trout in the winter swinging streamer patters, then do it up and know there will be days you walk away scratching your head. Its still great to be out there and I love casting the 2H as much as hooking up.

The best for me is when you look over the water and pretend you know a fishes'' mind and say, I'd be right there if it were me. Then you make a perfect cast, it all comes together and BAM you hook up with a beauty.

When that happens to me, I pack my gear and just hangout on the river bank watching the river flow :)
 

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I get what you are saying. I know the 2 main rivers I fish in Idaho take different tactics. One is "low and slow" like you mentioned, the other is just giving the fish what they want. They seem to move to the food if interested. I fish sparse smaller streamer patterns with either cone heads or tungsten beads to dredge the bottom. Rarely do I throw on a sink tip. I usually fish patterns that I have confidence in, and present them well. A lot of times in the winter the fish will take it on the dangle more than the swing. So I tend to just let it hang a little longer than normal. The rivers I fish have a lot of structure rather than deep pools. It's just a matter of getting it near them.
 

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I have experience only with brown trout in winter (we have few places with rainbows stocked but they are rare).
When water is cold, fish is slow, lethargic, and doesn't feed very actively. Small dark flies usually work best for me (leeches on size 8-10 hooks). Fish is often found in deepest pools, so sinking leaders are the way to go. But there are exclusions, depending on particular river. the biggest trout I hooked in winter (20" or so) was caught on shallow fast riffle (2' depth) . Also I caught few trout when swinging through waist-deep runs.

Also, even if it's offtopic :), we have some interesting grayling fishing here in Poland... on warm winter days, they circling near the surface, and can take small dry fly! usually smallest ones, on 18-22 size hooks. That's really surprising, since there are no hatches and only few insects flying. That's not very productive way of fishing in winter, but worth to try
 

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I wonder if the fish you observed racing about resulted from being approached by a canoe in low, clear water? Have you had the same experience wading? Most wading anglers would stop and cast from well above a sighted fish.
The only times I've seen fish behave as you describe in similar conditions, I've spooked them (they certainly do all of those things in cold water after they're hooked, yes?)
 

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I wonder if the fish you observed racing about resulted from being approached by a canoe in low, clear water? Have you had the same experience wading? Most wading anglers would stop and cast from well above a sighted fish.
The only times I've seen fish behave as you describe in similar conditions, I've spooked them (they certainly do all of those things in cold water after they're hooked, yes?)
We weren't casting just quietly floating. The rifles I saw them in were big and long runs so it's not as though we spooked them from a pool. But always possible and a good thought. This river doesn't tend to have spooked fish but that could be total rubbish. Lately everyone has been surprised I've never hooked a walleye or brown in it as I fish it all year regularly. Then the guys at the T&T factory and my buddy who guides suggested it was how I was fishing that possibly was the cause for that as I'm always on the swing and therefor in riffles or large pools with decent current. Honestly I enjoyed the fact our dialogue had evolved to that much examination to begin with. What a kick! Still so much to learn
 
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