Frying Pan - Later Winter
For the most part the coldest and darkest part of the year has passed. Fishermen will begin to dust off their gear, get their licenses and start to think about taking a trip on the river.
Usually with February and March comes additional snowfall. The temperatures can vary quite significantly over this period from close to zero to the 30's and even 40's. By now though, the snow has begun to melt a little on the road verges and pullouts, so it is easy to access the river. The road into the dam is well plowed by the Forest Service so it is easy to drive in there and park. The only issue in a big snow year will be actually walking to the edge of the water. A lot of snow can accumulate on the steep banks resulting in a lot of "post-holing" to get through it if the snow is fresh.
The year 2006 should go down in the memory banks as a great year for water flow on the Pan during winter. Usually the flow drops significantly in order to maintain some level in Reudi which will accommodate spring run-off but not run Reudi too low. The level which the Bureau tries to maintains is 60cfs but some times it has been even lower.
In particularly cold years, this is stressful for the fish and permits the build up of anchor ice. The early snow and flow into Reudi in 2005/2006 was such that the Pan ran at around 160cfs for most of the winter. This effectively ensured there was little anchor ice and gave the fish a lot more room to move about during winter. Come early spring and the fish were well spread out early and in great condition.
At this time of year the largest source of trout food will be midges. The ideal rig will be a dry fly such as a #22 - #32 Adams parachute or similar sized adult midges with a trailing midge emerger pattern. We have taken the time to prepare more detailed notes on midges so feel free to refer to them at your convenience.
This time of the year can offer some of the best dry fly action on small flies concievable. The fishing is delicate but the recent introduction of hofer rainbows into the Pan has meant that there are now extremely aggressive rainbows approach 20inches which give one little or no chance of landing them on light tackle if the fish want to object too much. It is a treat to see these larger rainbows actually skating across the surface of the water as they seek to escape from the hook. In a year or so when the fish get larger they will be a challenge for any angler. At this time of the year it has to be some of the best dry fly action on offer anywhere.
Alternatively if the fish are not breaking the surface, try an emerger with a dropper such as a bead head midge pupa or even a lighter colored midge larva in the shallower waters.
At this time of year, I find it useful to seine the water. I have a little seine bag which is attached to my net. Stand down below a line of rising fish in the flow and collect samples of the flies drifting by. You can see the color and size. Often times this is a quickest way to see what size midges are on offer. It is for that reason we have had midges tied down to #32 in both black and gray because that it almost the exact size of the midges drifting through at this time of year.
When fishing midges, if you can spot the feeding fish persist until you get the fly to float right to him. The fish will not move far so the fact that your fly drifts past him evoking no interest should not necessarily be taken as a refusal. Persist until you are absolutely sure the fish has seen the fly right in front of him and has refused it. Then change color or pattern. Maybe from a darker color to a lighter one. It is imperative to get the fly at the same level as the fish, therefore experiment with bead headed flies and various weights to ensure that there is no mistake.
One might try nymphs fished deep and slow. Try an egg pattern with a dropper such as a prince, copper john, or pheasant tail. The rainbows are starting to spawn, so always avoid the redds.
From March through April the baetis nymphs will be moving about in the water so try baetis nymph patterns down deep.
At this time, the young brown fry will be emerging, so a streamer fished deep will also work. This is just the ticket for those large browns.
As ice breaks and moves downstream it will knock nymphs off rocks and the bottom making them vulnerable to hungry fish. Drifting a nymph in these circumstances will work well. From March the pocket water close to Basalt is good fishing with stone fly nymphs. A #14 or #12 20 incher is good pattern to try in this area. It is readily accessible on the edge of town after a small hike down to the water.
We recommend a 4 or 5 weight rod. In terms of length, I actually prefer a shorter (8ft) rod on the Pan because in some tight spots its easier to cast horizontally under overhanging branches. If I know I will be fishing slower water I will use a 3wt for variety sometimes but the problem is that it is hard to control a fish quickly with a 3wt and you want to be able to land the fish and release him quickly to prevent exhaustion.
An 8ft rod is fine for my purposes because I have the luxury of having a range of lengths. If you only have one rod, an 8ft might be a little limiting if you want to be able to fish the Fork as well. Furthermore, the shorter rod limits your ability to mend if you are going to switch between fishing emergers and then nymphing with 2 flies and weight on the same day out. Its all a matter of experimenting and finding your comfort zone.
When fishing very small dry flies, I use lighter fiberglass rods by Hardy. I have discussed the attributes of these rods under Winter fishing.
Be prepared for cold and snow. If the day starts out clear, it will be cold. Overdress. You can always take something off as the day progresses. Try and fish in the sun where a hatch is more likely to occur. Be extra careful wading as ice can break free. In addition, as it warms, be mindful of breaking ice dams upstream. When they break and release a wall of water it can catch the inattentive downstream fisherman unawares. Check with your fly shop on the risks in this respect as the spring progresses.
As noted above, the flies to carry are midges, nymphs, eggs and streamers. The midges should range in size from #18 up. The colors will range from red larva to olive and black pupa and emergers. The dries will be any small black pattern. The Adam's parachute is very reliable and is more visible than some of the other dry patterns. A brooks sprout or winker will also work well.
If the fish are not responding and you are sure of what they are feeding on, put on a smaller fly. We carry up to #32 midge patterns in the shop. Sometimes they just don't respond to the larger patterns.
Alternatively make sure you are fishing right to the fish. We cannot overemphasize the importance of getting you fly to the same level as a fish feeding on midges. As noted above, when a fish ignores a midge pattern just a foot or two to the left, right or above it, it is not a refusal. The fish just won't move that far to take it. Remember the fish is coming out of winter and still the larger insects are scarce. So it is a balance between feeding and conserving energy. If the fish has to expend more energy in taking a fly than the sustenance he will get from it, he won't move.
Fish with the lightest tippet you can manage. At this time of year the water is low and clear. Although the fish have not been disturbed a great deal they are still leader shy. We suggest at least 7x. We carry Varivas midge tippet in the shop down to 12x. So if you really want to test yourself try some. Actually I find the 8x and 9x very manageable and the Varivas product is excellent and almost twice the strength of other brands.
On bright days, make sure you cast across the river or use a hook cast to limit the amount of leader which drifts over the feeding fish. If the terrain suits it can be better to drift the fly into the shade where the leader will not be as visible.
see the list on Winter Fishing
Bead head brassie, red and black #18, #20