Winter fly fishing grows in the Rockies

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. - Each year more and more people are finding they can catch more than powder during a Colorado winter.

And there's no need to get up before the crack of dawn to catch a rainbow trout.

"It's bankers' hours as far as fishing goes," said Bill Perry, owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters. "The fish tend to bite when the weather is warmest and the bug activity is the most intense."

Perry's shop at the base of the Colorado's Beaver Creek Ski Area is 75 yards from the Eagle River, near the ski resort town of Vail.

"We have many locals who catch fresh powder in the morning and then catch the afternoon winter hatch of insects," said Will Sands of the Taylor Creek Fly Shop near Aspen. Fish come to the surface to feed on the emerging gnatlike midges.

Perry's business has quadrupled in the past decade, not just because people are looking for a break from skiing now that high-speed lifts can leave skiers and boarders feeling legless after three hours.

"Winter fly fishing offers tremendous solace, and you can fish civilized hours," Sands said. Compare that with skiing or snowboarding down a mountain with thousands of people of varying abilities.

Perry said guided winter fly fishing is available near most Colorado ski resorts.

The Steamboat Fishing Co. offers winter trips. Telluride Anglers recently got a commercial guiding permit for the Uncompaghre River that will allow it to offer fishing through the winter for the first time.

Blue River Anglers offers winter fishing near Breckenridge, Keystone and Copper Mountain. Three Rivers Resorts offers guided winter trips for skiers and boarders at Crested Butte.

The same advances that have made ski gear lighter and warmer make winter fishing "a walk in the park," said Perry.

Colorado winter fly fishing on the Web:

Vail-Beaver Creek, www.flyfishingoutfitters.net

Aspen-Highlands-Snowmass, www.taylorcreek.com

Crested Butte,www.3riversresort.com

Telluride,www.tellurideoutside.com

Keystone-Breckenridge-Copper Mountain, www.blueriveranglers.com

"First there was wicking underwear that doesn't hold water. It takes moisture from your skin so the skin is always dry. When you are wet or perspiring your body loses heat 17 times faster," said Perry.

"You'd get sweaty driving in a car then put on neoprene waders and struggle to get into some area. Then you'd stand in one spot for an hour and freeze to death."

Waders have been improved and are made with breathable material. As long as a fisherman puts on a layer of clothes, perhaps a fleece body suit for really cold days, wicking socks and underwear, the cold will stay on the outside.

Though a ski jacket could do double duty - an increasing rarity in the sports garment industry - it's best not to wear brightly colored gear.

Outfitters, as in the summer, provide all the fishing gear, including waders.

"Let's talk about standing in the water in winter," said Perry. "A lot of people ask me, 'How do you do it? Are you nuts?' I say we go out skiing in sub-zero weather and as long as you are dressed for it you are OK. If you are dressed for it then all you have to do is connect with the fish."

For skeptics, Perry adds: "Air temperatures in the winter are rarely above 30 degrees. Water temperatures never go below 30 degrees. You are usually standing in water that is much warmer than the air outside."

Guides warn that visitors not familiar with areas should know that ice dams can build, generating ice floes that have claimed lives.

Some waters are warmed by thermal springs. Others are behind dams and can be managed to stay above freezing.

Perry said most of the fishing is done with subsurface nymphs. It can be easier than on a summer's day. "The water flows are smaller so the fish are so much more condensed."



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