It's the middle of Nov, I'm sitting at my computer on a Tues morning and it's a beautiful, sunny day in the mid 40 degree range. The Bulkley River and many other steelhead rivers are low and clear yet most fishermen are wearing another hat these days, rod and reel retired to dark closets and cold attics. But, the fish haven't "retired" or "hibernated."
They're still there wondering where everyone went, anxious to provide us sport or make fools of us, just like in Sept. Right now the river is full of fish, all hunkered down in deep slow pools waiting for new arrivals to join the party.
This can be the best time of the year to fly fish our waters, and this season it proved why. With freestone rivers the cold can be a blessing. This season, in late Oct, the Bulkley shrunk up to its best water conditions of the year. Fish were late arriving so certain sections of the river proved to have huge pushes of fresh, chrome, hot steelhead attacking our flies. The cold weather scares most anglers away and allows for some real solitude while fishing. Most days if the temperature rises above 32 degrees, and even much below freezing, it's possible to fish in relative comfort.
Materials to stock up on are Goretex, thermax, Thinsulate, polar fleece, capilene, etc., that have the ability to insulate and wick away moisture from the skin. Down is another great insulator but should be warn under a waterproof layer to protect it.
Muck boot waders with extra large boots to allow for multiple socks is a good starting point.
Now start layering with multiple pairs of long johns. The simms bib does a great of keeping all your body heat distributed evenly. Multiple capilene, multiple Fleece, and a warm windproof fleece jacket or down underneath your rain jacket. Lastly a Balaclava or Ninjaclava will go a long way with a fleece or wool cap on top.
Gloves are always a pain in the but while fly fishing. We tend to tone down the distance of our casts a bit, fishing super deep and giving up on the hang down a little earlier than you normally would.
A solid pair of gloves we have been testing are the Simms Windstopper Gloves. These gloves are very comfortable, less bulky than others and combine a soft shell fabric with a Windstopper membrane. The palm and cuff are made of Polartec hard face fabric that are durable, provide wind resistance and water repellency. We really like the innovative idea of a hand heater pocket for extra warmth. These gloves are expensive for a reason and retail for $49.95.
As far as equipment: I still have not found a way to prevent ice from forming on guides or having my reel occasionally lock up when air temperatures are below freezing. Vaseline on the guides can help, and having many thermos of hot water on hand is key. Short casts, and shooting to a minimum, will help. Shaking the rod off under water will remove ice from guides and free-up a reel. Of course malfunctions will happen. The other day my guests spool popped into the water while fighting a 14 pound steelhead. I scooped it out and held it while he fought the fish by stripping.
There is a stillness and quiet when snow covers the ground that sets the stage for steelhead winter time fly fishing. It isn't always the easiest fishing but each year it leans more and more toward the best. It is a hard feeling to describe, but the tranquility on the river while fishing in the snow lends itself to an experience that cannot be matched any other way. If you think you can deal with the cold, try fishing the Bulkley River with us in Nov and you will see why we all love it so such. The days are much shorter but the fish numbers are incredible high.