Frozen guides, frozen line, frozen everything. Most people in Aroostook County hang up their fly rods when the regular open water fishing season comes to a close in September, but we aren’t most people. The lower Fish River is open for business to anyone who dare throw a fly (or artificial lure) in the winter months, and some exciting action awaits those who are willing to dodge the ice flow in search of trout and salmon. So far, Chris and I seem to be the only ones willing to put our frozen feet forward. Call it crazy, call it addiction, judge us if you need to. The point is, fly fishing in the winter is better than no fly fishing at all. Few experiences offer the solitude that standing in a should-be-frozen river does, and hooking up on frigid days is by far one of the most rewarding feelings fly fishing has to offer.
The air temperature has hovered around 10 degrees throughout the majority of our winter jaunts to the river, accompanied by a mixed-bag of wind, snow, and freezing rain. Most call us crazy, many call us sick, but those who understand our passion just call us on our addiction and tip their hats. This isn’t chasing steelhead on 20 degree days – what northern Maine offers for fly fishing in the dead of winter is a different sort of animal. You have to be willing to layer excessively, pick your spots carefully, and give in to suffering in the name of success – or lack thereof. Open water is not easily found, and most access requires a careful footing and some crafty weight distribution across dangerous ice shelves before you can get your feet wet. When you finally do take the plunge, keeping an eye upriver is essential if you plan on keeping your footing. Ice, slush and other debris cover the surface on most days, and many casts are made blindly in the name of safety. You have to be willing to lay it all on the line in the name of wetting a line. The days of failure will be plenty, but it only takes one fish to warm the soul when hope seems like a distant, frozen memory.
After one month, we’ve found some success on large, meaty wooly buggers thrown across currents and swung into what the steelhead guys refer to as “couch water.” The deep sweep has produced some great fish on some of our coldest days in January, and with every take our confidence grows. The winter learning curve is steep, but with success comes knowledge we can work with to tip the scales in our favor. Below are the fruits of our labor thus far.