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  • Matt Reilly


As of this writing, we are on the back end of some very wet and very cold weather. January fishing has been good, but not without its challenges--high and dirty water, frigid water temperatures, and successive cold fronts. However, the best fishing of the winter will soon be upon us. Every year, the greatest trophy potential for our wintertime wild trout and musky fisheries comes in February and March, and we're gearing up to take full advantage.

Wild trout fishing has been excellent in the last few months. Vacant, uncrowded rivers; good streamflow; and hungry fish make the winter season one of my favorite periods to be in the mountains. Catch numbers can be lower in the winter than in the spring months due to lower water temps and slower metabolism--meaning that fish don't have to eat as often to maintain their body weight--but they don't have to be. Seeking warmer water by fishing systems with spring influence, fishing later in the day (or whenever the daily water temp fluctuations peak), and fishing stretches that receive the most sunlight throughout the day will help you find more active fish, and thus have more action.

The region's mountain streams don't get very dirty with rain, and days with elevated streamflow and dark skies make for great streamer fishing conditions. We've been blessed with a healthy number of such days, this winter, and we've been capitalizing on them. Under average to lower flows and brighter weather, streamer fishing tends to be less effective, and nymphing with attractor nymphs and imitations of natural winter foods is the way to go. From January, and particularly through February, some days (usually overcast days) will see sporadic blue quill and BWO hatches that can be fun to play around with.

The winter musky campaign has brought us some success, with some fish caught and some boatside heartbreakers. After Christmas, I had Ben, an Articulate Fly listener from Winston-Salem, out trying to fulfill his 2019 New Year's resolution of catching a musky on the fly. We made it happen, just four days before the end of the year, boating a fish that he'd been looking for for two years. These are some of my favorite guiding experiences.

January has proven a difficult month for the musky fly angler on the New River system. The upper watershed got smacked with rain while we were at the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival. By the time some sections began to clear, they turned frigid thanks to a few days with overnight temps in the teens, making it difficult to find active fish in favorable conditions. Another inch of rain has brought the river back up, and dirtied it again, but, the silver lining is in the trout streams, which are in prime condition.

The next month and a half should bring generally increasing water and air temps and longer days. The musky and wild rainbows will find themselves deeper in the throes of pre-spawn activity, and I expect some of the best musky and (winter) wild trout fishing to transpire. If you want to get on the water, give me a shout and we'll get you on the calendar!

I look forward to fishing with you!

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