Photo courtesy Kyle Fronrath, Fontana Guide Service
“They Still Need to Eat”
“Winter fly fishing in the Smokies is about the most peaceful activity that you can do, especially if it snows,” says Eugene Shuler, lead guide and owner of Fly Fishing the Smokies fly shop in Bryson City. “There’s just something magical about the cleansing white of winter that refreshes your soul and calms the spirit. Solitude and good fishing await those who dare to bundle up and hit the water.”
“There are a few factors as to why this is true,” he explains. “Big fish are typically nocturnal, meaning they do most of their feeding under the cover of darkness. But in the winter, the lack of night time hatches means the big trout must switch habits and feed during the day when the most food is available.”
“Even though the trout’s metabolism slows in the winter, they still need to eat,” says Shuler. “And because big fish require more calories than smaller ones, the odds of catching a big one greatly increase. By slowing down presentations and looking for calmer water, anglers can catch their personal best fish during the colder months.“
Across town, Shannon Messer of Tuckasegee Fly Shop and Guide Service agrees. “One of the things that makes fishing this time of the year attractive is the tranquility that many anglers enjoy. Oftentimes you can have the water to yourself in the white of winter.”
Dress for Success
Messer offers some tips. “The challenge for some anglers is the cold air and cold water. Using hand and toe warmers will allow you to spend more time on the water. Dressing for success starts with layering properly, beginning with a high quality base layer that provides warmth without the bulk. I keep a hand towel tucked inside my waders to dry my hand off after handling trout.”
Messer carries a thermometer to check the water temperature. He favors the magic range of 52-55 degrees for good trout action. Also the insect activity usually peaks at the warmest times of the day.
Was That a Strike?
“Strikes from the trout may be very subtle and many anglers miss or don’t even detect that a trout has sipped and spit their fly or nymph” says Messer. “Adjusting your leader to match the condition will help with the subtle strikes. I like using leaders with a built in multi colored sighter. When a trout takes the fly or nymph, the sighter shows a reaction in the way it drifts in the water column. To be on the safe side, I always do a hook set when any change takes place.”
Delayed Harvest Waters
Another factor adds to the appeal of winter fishing in Bryson City and that’s the 2.2 miles of the Tuckasegee River designated Delayed Harvest Waters by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. To encourage trout growth, fishing is limited to catch and release from October to June. This ensures a larger population of larger trout for the winter fisherman.