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As the weather turns cooler, many anglers turn to fishing tailwaters to pass the time until spring. Others quit fly fishing altogether until warmer weather returns. The few that brave the cold and still make it out are often surprised at the fishing that can be had. If you’re expecting the same numbers of fish that you catch during the summer then you will likely be disappointed. You probably won’t have too many fish rise to that #14 Yellow Stimulator either but if you enjoy fishing dries, there are still fish that must eat and they will rise if you know where to find them.

In the colder months, fish often move into the deeper pools. That’s not to say that the faster riffle and pocket water are devoid of fish. Fish are more concerned with finding slow-moving water because their metabolisms have slowed down with the colder water temperatures. Slow water can be found throughout the stream and a careful fisherman will still pull fish out of the seemingly faster water. In any riffle there will be places that trout can hold without expending much energy. Pools tend to provide better dry fly options though.

Midges hatch throughout the winter and during any warm spell the fish will opportunistically feed on the corresponding increase in bug activity. Other hatches to watch for include BWOs and little black stoneflies. For feeding fish in the pools and calm slicks, try a small Griffiths Gnat or other favorite midge pattern. Another good option is to fish a midge pupa just under the surface. I adjust my normal tailwater rig for fishing in the mountains by using a small #18 parachute BWO and dropping a zebra midge about 18 inches under the dry.

Other good techniques include fishing streamers if that is your thing and a standard double nymph rig. Remember to match the food that is available to the trout will increase your success dramatically. A large stonefly nymph, Prince Nymph, or Tellico Nymph with a midge pupa or larva trailing behind will catch fish if you get the flies right down on the bottom.

Whenever fishing in the winter, remember to respect the elements. A great day of fishing can be ruined quickly if you fall in. With water temperatures consistently in the 40’s and often in the 30’s, falling in can be extremely dangerous. For this reason I recommend staying fairly close to your vehicle and whenever possible fish with a buddy. If you must venture into the backcountry be sure to take caution and prepare carefully. Waterproof matches or a lighter (or even better carry both) are a must in case something happens. Carry appropriate clothing for the weather and always take along a few granola bars or other snacks for use in an emergency. Let someone know where you plan to go and when you will be back.

I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than fishing in the Smokies just after a snowfall. The woods are quiet and the tourists sparse. The fishing is fantastic and sometimes the catching isn’t bad either...

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Brook Trout
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