Unlike the summer months, when fishing can be excellent at dawn or dusk, winter angling is best at midday. Cold water (high 30s and low 40s) has a profound effect on the aquatic life and the trout’s feeding behavior. Carry a digital thermometer and get into the habit of checking the water temperature regularly. If the water is below 40 degrees the odds are pretty good that the fish will be lethargic and unwilling to cooperate. You may need to go back to the truck and have a hot cup of coffee and wait for the sun to warm the water. It’s not uncommon to find anchor ice or floating slush before 10:00 A.M. If you’re fishing a tailwater, move closer to the dam (warmer water) and that should alleviate most of the ice.
By late November, most of the hatches are done for the season, leaving only sporadic blue-winged olives and intermittent hatches of midges. A trout that would have filled its belly several times a day during the summer months, now consumes only a few morsels of food each day.
The best fishing is typically between 11 A.M. and 3 P.M. Under normal winter conditions, the water temperature will gradually rise a few degrees throughout the day. A 3- to 5-degree temperature increase can make a huge difference in the outcome of your day. On unseasonably warm days, the water may increase 5 to 10 degrees, causing the trout to go on a feeding binge.
Always be on the lookout for any evidence of a midge hatch. If you start to see a few adults buzzing around, you should begin to see a few trout moving from nonfeeding lies into feeding lies, taking advantage of emerging midge pupae. It is important to make the most of this feeding activity while you can—the window of opportunity may only last for an hour or so.