With the long winter season coming up ahead of us combined with virus restrictions many of us will be experiencing a little more cabin fever than usual this year. Rather than give in to the seasonal drag this is the time to really bolster that dry fly box and do all your typical winter activities. To help breathe some life into your yearly winter routine I’ve compiled a list of some challenges and activities to help get you through the cold season and defeat cabin fever.
1. Try New Tying Goals
While tying is the standard winter activity, maybe this is the year to change it up a little bit. The box expansion will in turn change up your selection while fishing and you just might find that new confidence pattern you’ve been looking for! The challenge is as follows: Tie 3 new patterns of each respective style (streamer, dry, nymph, etc.). This is the time to experiment and try some of the newer patterns coming from our younger tiers or some of the more out-of-the-box streamer patterns that seem to be invented every day! A couple of really awesome sources for new patterns with material lists and instructions are Fly Fish Food and their YouTube channel, AvidMax, and for streamers, Kelly Galloup is the guy. Instagram also has some extremely talented tiers that are always willing to lend a hand and have some wonderful videos too. Some of my favorites are SvendDiesel, Lucas Utrera, and hopperjuan_fly_fishing.
This is also the time to challenge yourself to pick up or master some tying skills you may be lacking such as spinning deer hair, Catskill-style dry fly wings, or nailing that perfect tapered nymph body. The list is really endless and I promise that it will pay off in the long run (especially if you’re constantly sacrificing to the bottom gods).
Lastly, spin up a box for your favorite charity with a selection of your best producers. A couple of great ones to support are Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery. Both do great work and continue to every year with the help of generous people like you!
2. Develop an Organization System
After a long fishing season, most of our houses and tying rooms look like a tropical storm rolled through last week and it probably smells like it too. Use the wintertime to develop a new organization system that might help you keep things straight during the season, at the bench or in the gear room and maybe even make your significant other happy in the process.
At the bench try using lock-top boxes available from most sporting goods stores or online retailers. The dividers can be “welded” in with a low temp solder iron and be sure to wash before with warm water and a dish detergent to remove the oils. Another great solution is using bead containers from the craft store which in turn can then be organized into standup shelf storage bins, large or small with labels too. The days of double buying or searching frantically for that one material will be over.
In the gear room shelving is an absolute must. Ensure that the shelving is sturdy and on one end you can install some hooks to hang your miscellaneous bags and wading gear. Not only will this help to keep the gear room tidy and easily accessible but it can help to extend the life of your gear as well.
In-the-box organization will save valuable time on the stream and help to keep you fishing, not digging through bags and boxes searching. Organization by specific insect works well when fishing to hatches and if you’re getting into the new Euro tight line craze then organize that box by hook size and weight rather than insect type. Personally, I like to carry a streamer box, double-sided dries, and a single-sided nymph on a typical day of fishing so consider those the “working boxes”. Other boxes can then be set up for specifics like mousing or hopper/dropper. Putting labels or stickers on the outside is a great visual indicator for those late nights or early mornings. Also, don’t forget to put your phone number on your box somewhere, it just might save you a lot of time and money one day!
3. Clean Your Gear
While we all might do a spot clean from time to time, use this downtime to really get in there and scrub out last season's grime. Packs and vests should be emptied of all gear and washed/cleaned as well as let to air out any river funk that they might have gained. Fly lines and reels should be treated as if they were just fished in saltwater and stripped and cleaned all the while ensuring there are no kinks, loops, cuts, or abrasions to your line, leader, or connections. This will guarantee you a clean, fresh spool for the next season and don’t forget to keep your drag dialed back when storing. Rods should be wiped down with light soap and warm water solution removing any mud and ensuring your ferrules, guides, and cork are all in good condition as well. Give your waders and boots a good wash also and then hang them in a cool dry place to store. All of these tips will help to lengthen the life of your gear and keep you smelling halfway decent next season too.
4. Research New Watersheds
Another great way to dream of the next season and the wonderful fish to be caught is to research new watersheds and try to begin mapping out the next season. There are many wonderful tools available for use like the PFBC ArcGIS trout maps which can show Class A, natural reproduction, special regulation, and stocked streams as well as the percentage of land that is public. This map coupled with Google maps can be an extremely powerful tool to show you new areas in our beautiful state that you have yet to explore which will hold gorgeous trout as well! These maps can also be printed out at any scale so you can highlight them and make field maps for when you do end up going out into the wild. Another great source of information is the trout location literature written over the years such as “Keystone Fly Fishing” or “Trout Streams of Pennsylvania”. These two books alone coupled with the previously mentioned maps can help nail down where and when you want to fish next season. In some cases, they can even tell you what hatch you’ll be fishing to and who will be answering on the other end of the line. Another challenge is to research 5 new streams or watersheds that you want to fish with one of them being out of state. Exploring new watersheds can be a boom or bust scenario but half of the fun in fly fishing is the exploration and the things you find along the way!
5. Pick Up a Creative Hobby
This winter may be the year to pick up a new creative hobby like painting or photography. You could even tie it into fly fishing if you want. Some wonderful ideas to get you started are wood carvings, woodworking, starting a sketchbook, or maybe let out your inner Bob Ross. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and enjoying yourself in the process is essential!
Most of us take hundreds if not thousands of pictures over the course of the season ranging from memorable fish to gorgeous landscapes, and that funny picture you took of your fishing buddy at camp. Whether you choose to make a physical or digital book is up to you but compiling the photos with the date, location, and some memorable information will make for even better memories down the road. One of my favorite December activities is to look through all of the year’s albums and find the “Top 10” fish of the year. It’s always a nice flashback to that camping trip or the feeling you had landing that fish and somehow every year a friend makes the list with a photo of them landing their first fish. Do yourself a favor and print those ten photos out and keep them at your desk or toolbox and every time you see them you’ll smile!
7. Practice Casting Mechanics
Winter isn’t always harsh and on the days when it’s tolerable out but there’s no time to make it to a stream head outdoors and practice casting mechanics or casting accuracy. Practice makes perfect and if you get out a couple of days over winter to bust the rust off here and there you will notice the difference. On the days where it’s impossible to make it outdoors, a great exercise is a short-range bow and arrow casting practice. Set up multiple small food storage containers at varying distances and positions in the basement or garage. Make sure you have a couple with the difficulty factor turned up a notch (think overhanging obstructions, strange angle or positioning, etc.). The final challenge is over the season if able try and learn a new cast. Whether it be the bow and arrow, the reach, or any of the mid to upper level casts this is another skill set that will prove very useful next season and potentially net you that fish you’ve been looking for.
Hopefully, this list helped give you some fresh ideas for this winter or maybe got the creative juices of your own flowing. I know I’ll be trying to keep as busy as possible and spring will be here before we know it!
Photograph and "Scud" by Dave Weaver
Wood Carved Trout by Member MathFish
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