|....................... ......Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park
Fishing Cold Water - A Lesson Learned
The fishing season for Yellowstone National Park is closed but fishing in
Yellowstone country isn't in many areas. Where it isn't closed, you will find that
fishing cold water is quite different than fishing water warm enough for the trout
to feed aggressively and on the surface. It is possible to catch trout when the
water is around 40 degrees F. In fact, it's possible to catch them when the water
temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees F. It's more difficult because in
general, you must fish small flies, slowly.
To find the fish, ideally there's a need to fish fast to cover more water because
the trout are usually in small confined areas of the stream. However, that
strategy doesn't work at all. What makes catching trout in cold water difficult is
the fact to be successful, you must slow everything down.
Considering you are fishing slow and considering the trout are in small areas of
the stream where they are not aggressively feeding, catching trout in cold water
is usually more difficult than catching them when the water temperature is in
their preferred range. That written, it is very possible to catch a lot of trout in
cold water. Provided you do find where the trout are holding, and provided you
do fish using the right strategies and techniques, you can catch them, and
sometimes rather fast.
We have done that numerous times when the water was below 40 degrees F..
It's usually much easier to catch trout when the water gets around 45 degrees
but you can still catch them when the temperature is low. By the way, this is
exclusive of fishing during the spawn.
Trout are a cold water fish. Water temperatures definitely affect how trout feed
as well as how much they feed; however, to strictly go by the water temperature
alone is a big mistake. It's not that simple. Even when the water temperature is
an ideal 55 degrees F. you may very well have a difficult time catching trout
depending on many things other than water temperature. I'm sure many of
you have experienced that.
There aren't any "trout tournaments" where hundreds of professional anglers
are competing for big money, so there are no statics from which real, worth while
data can be obtained. I'm certainly not suggesting there should be; however,
when it comes to fishing for bass, there are hundreds of cases where data has
been compiled when tournaments were fished in very cold water. Remember,
bass are a warm water fish and their food intake really declines in cold water.
I could give many examples but one specific one that stands out is a trounament
I fished in the early 70's. It had 300 anglers in a BASS tournament held on a
north Mississippi Lake when the water temperature never exceeded 39 degrees.
The lake is very shallow and a thermocline didn't exist.
I realize that bass are not trout but I also realize that largemouth bass in the
South get "lock jaw" much more than trout do in water that cold. Largemouth
Bass are more difficult to catch in cold water than trout. During that tournament,
I learned a lot from the three days of practice and three days of competition.
Close to 200 anglers didn't weigh in a single measuring bass the entire 3 day
tournament. I only managed to catch two that measured 12 inches. It was
Now, you may think under the circumstances that would have been good, but
the facts are, it didn't even place in the top 40 paying positions. The winner (with
a 12 inch length and 7 fish per day limit) caught over 40 pounds. Over forty
anglers caught well over 20 pounds of bass during the tournament. The total 3
day catch for the tournament was about 2000 pounds.
A tournament held during April that same year at Toledo Bend, Texas, with the
same number of anglers and same regulations and rules had a total of over
6000 pounds weighted in. The point is that fishing the cold water dropped the
results down from prime time conditions by about two-thirds; but even so, about
15-20 percent of the anglers still caught a lot of fish.
You may think they used some special tricks but they didn't have any tricks. I
fished in sight of the winner the last day of the tournament. He was fishing small
jigs, straight down under the boat very, very slowly, dropping them down in
submerged brush in four feet of water.
That brings up another misunderstood point. Neither bass or trout flee from cold
water to warm water. They feed more aggressively in warm water, but you have
to remember the fish are not cold in the sense we refer to cold. The are cold
blooded, not warm blooded like us humans. The fish are about the same
temperature as the water. They don't feel the difference.
In this particular tournament, I had the right strategy as to how to fish the cold
water from the first day of practice but I didn't have the confidence or the
patients to stick with the slow method of fishing until I found a concentration of
fish. Those that did, made the majority of us look bad.
My guess is that if you had such a tournament for trout with 300 of the best
anglers in the United States when the water was less than 40 degrees the
results would probably be about the same, except there would probably be even
more trout caught. I believe those that used the right strategy for the
circumstances would still catch a lot of trout. We have caught hundreds of trout
when the water was well below 45 degrees. Don't let anyone tell you that
catching trout is all to do with the water temperature. It's not.
Copyright 2011James Marsh