December 14, 2015
If there's one constant for fly fishermen casting a wintertime fly on Colorado's Frying Pan River, it's that the standard issue fly tackle used during the warmer spring, summer and autumn months on nearby big, brawling freestone rivers need not apply.
Because the gin clear and ultra-low water conditions of December, January and February demand that anglers use a more thoughtful approach to their fly gear and tackle when the Pan's famous large and spooky trout are the day's goal.
"One of the secrets of the Frying Pan during the winter months is to definitely use a light leader and tippet," agreed Marty Joseph, fly shop manager at Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, Colo. (www.fryingpananglers.com; (970) 927-3441).
Especially when dry fly patterns – one of the Frying Pan's primary wintertime drawing cards – are being utilized by a fly angler.
"We sell Trouthunter (leaders and tippet material) in sizes all the way down to 10X and Varivas (leaders and tippet material) all the way down to 12X," said Joseph.
Other tapered leaders that Joseph suggests include Rio's Suppleflex Trout leader, which comes in 13 ½-foot lengths from the factory, and other high quality brands that, as a bare minimum, measure out in lengths of at least 9 or 10 feet.
"On those shorter 9- or 10-foot leaders, I'll suggest adding another foot or so or tippet material," said Joseph. "And while I normally use fluorocarbon leaders because of its thin diameter and its ability to disappear in the water, it is heavier than nylon leaders are.
"Because of that, I've noticed that when I go down to a fly in the size #30 range, fluoro has a tendency to pull the fly under," he added.
"Because of that, I'll switch back to nylon in that particular situation."
If subsurface nymph patterns are being used on the Frying Pan, obviously, the extremely long leader lengths aren't as much of a necessity.
But Joseph cautions that neither does that mean that fly anglers can throw caution to the wind either.
"When I'm nymphing in the winter on the Pan, because of the clear and low water conditions, I don't use an indicator," he said. "I let (an) egg pattern be my indicator since in the ultra clear water, you can see subsurface pretty well."
The Frying Pan Anglers fly shop manager has a number of different fly lines at his disposal for an outing on the Colorado tailwater, but even so, his favorite is the Rio Trout LT (Light Touch) model.
"That line is tailor made for presenting a small dry fly lightly on the water and not spooking a fish," said Joseph.
Because of these ultra light tippets and lengthy tapered leaders and tippet material, Joseph suggests that anglers forego their usual trout stream fly rod choices.
"I like to use a fiberglass rod on the Pan in the wintertime," he said. "With a graphite rod and its stiffer action, a decent-size fish can break you off right away.
"But with a Fenwick Fenglass rod in either a 3-weight or a 4-weight model, that softer action and tip helps to protect those delicate tippets."
In other words, a softer fiberglass rod offers a delicate tippet a shock absorber system to absorb the energy of a hard hitting, hard fighting Frying Pan rainbow or brown trout.
Likewise, Joseph likes to avoid using a fly reel with a drag system, once again in order to help protect those delicate tippets.
"Personally, I like to use a Hardy reel with a click-and-pawl action," said Joseph. "If you want to use a reel with a drag for these fish, then you might try the new Hardy Duchess model or a lightweight Lamson model with a good, smooth drag system."
While this might seem a bit much to fly fishermen from other parts of the country, don't forget that the Frying Pan is PhD water for some of the country's biggest and toughest rainbows and browns.
And fishing for December's wary trout on the Frying Pan might be the ultimate challenge.
But when successfully done by a thoughtful and careful angler, it brings some of the sport's ultimate big smile moments.