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Class Close-up: Winter Fly Fishing

Hoping that Guides Kenny Romero and Scott Voyles could teach this old dog some new tricks when it comes to winter fly fishing, I participated in their Winter Fly Fishing class this past weekend.  This two-part class – lecture and streamside – was a great way to flatten the learning curve, learn some new approaches, and hone some skills to increase the chances to catch those winter fish.

During the in-shop, lecture portion of the class on Friday evening, Kenny and Scott emphasized the importance of being prepared – and that meant being prepared for weather conditions with clothing choices, and preparing for challenging fishing with the right gear and fly selection.  The 90 minutes that followed were packed with good info.

They both emphasized that safety on the river is always a paramount concern, but anglers need to be even more cautious in the winter.  Falling and getting wet is never a great experience, and in the winter, with the threat of hypothermia, the risk is even greater.  It was a great heads-up before we headed to the river the next day.

With weather in mind, and despite the fact that the weather forecast showed that we would be fishing in temperatures around 50 degrees, Scott went over the necessity of wearing layers in the winter.  Being cold and wet could make an otherwise great day on the river a miserable experience.  With the goal of staying dry and warm, Scott covered everything from the importance of choice of socks, to parkas, hats, gloves, and even whether studded boots are a necessity (some anglers like them, but Scott pointed out that the new technology produces boot soles that are pretty “sticky,” so he rarely wears studs).

Kenny and Scott also talked briefly about wading staffs.  As the oldest guy in the class, I will say that I took my Simms wading staff with me – and was glad that I did.  After class, I fished another stretch of the South Platte before heading home that had a pretty rocky bottom where I crossed.  Would I have fallen if I had not taken the staff out of its sheath?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the staff takes some of the guesswork out of depth of water, evenness of the bottom, and offers a steady “third leg of the stool” in fluctuating currents.  I wear the sheath and staff almost every time I head out (to create the good habit) ,and I have never regretted having it with me; there have been times, though, when I wished I had it available.

After the safety and clothing portion of the portion, they discussed their gear preferences.  While winter nymphing may not call for much different equipment than other seasons – anglers can still use their 5 weight rod, split shot or putty, strike indicators – Scott and Kenny did discuss the importance of tippet.  They covered the benefits of using fluorocarbon over nylon and how the characteristics of fluorocarbon in the water improves the fly fisher’s presentation and increases chances of hooking up.

And that conversation took us into discussing fly selection. Kenny shared a glimpse into his fly box and his Top Ten Winter Flies.  I was sworn to not tell what they are;  let’s say that info is Top Secret and a herd of  wild Zebra Midges couldn’t get me to talk. I wouldn’t want to curse the good mojo of the red Rojo.

At one point, Kenny said “I could talk about this stuff all night!”  No doubt about his enthusiasm and passion for the sport and for teaching others!

When they got to discussing the keys to good presentation – getting depth right, placement of strike indicator, weight, and distance between flies – I was getting antsy to head out to the river!  The 90-minute class was like an extended appetizer at your favorite restaurant – it whets the appetite and makes you hungry for more.

For Saturday’s streamside portion of this class, we headed to Deckers and met behind the fly shop there at 9:00 on Saturday morning.  We made our way to a stretch of water that gave the six of us room to spread out and get instruction from both Kenny and Scott.

Since this was a class and not a guide trip, the main focus was on learning and practicing new techniques.  Of course, the instructors hope that we hook up (spoiler alert: we did), but their primary focus is to provide feedback on presentation, line management, and deepen our knowledge about bug life and reading the river.

Scott and Kenny seine the South Platte, and Scott shows

the class the results of their efforts. 

The morning began with Scott using his seine net to show us what food sources are in the river.  After about five minutes, with Kenny upstream kicking up some “salad” from the riverbed, we saw the results.  Scott pointed out the meaty stonefly captured in the net along with some baetis and even small caddis larva.  While Scott showed the life in the river, Kenny pulled out his fly box to compare the imitations to the real thing.  It convinced me that five minutes of seining the river could improve my chances from the very beginning of getting to the river.

Scott points out the meaty stonefly discovered while 

seining, and Kenny, in the photo to the right, compares

his fly box offerings to the naturals in the seine.

Scott then moved the discussion to presentation.  He demonstrated a casting motion that allows the angler to get the strike indicator, weight, and flies into a natural drift that presents the flies at the proper depth and speed in the water.  Think “Statue of Liberty” and letting the rod and reel do their work!

By this time, my classmates and I were ready to practice.

Kenny and Scott divvied up the class so that they each worked with a small group of three anglers.  They were able to instruct, give feedback, correct some missteps, and encourage each of us when we had that great drift.  We were all encouraged when the strike indicator showed fish were interested and active.

As I mentioned, catching fish is almost a bonus in a streamside session of a class.   We’d hear Kenny call out “Set!” at different times as he watched our technique from over our shoulder.  He pointed out when we missed the subtle bump on our strike indicator.  Kenny’s enthusiasm from the classroom the night before carried over to streamside session.

And score!  Fish on and to the net!

As participants hooked up throughout the morning, Kenny and Scott had the chance to talk about playing the fish, net work, and safe handling of the fish to get a quick picture (or not) and return the fish to the water.

Of course, one important aspect of improving one’s technique is to spend time on the river.  But an important element of time on the river is to get feedback on your technique and to learn new approaches.  And that is the value of taking a class that focuses on the technical aspects of the adventure.

Aaron shows his first of two 

during the class.

Scott’s rainbow and the

vivid colors of Winter.

I have to add that on the drive out a few hours after class ended, I spotted Frank, one of my classmates, netting a nice brown.  Sometimes it pays off to spend some time after school.

 Frank landed this fish — and then

honed his skills after school!

Kenny and Scott will be teaching the Winter Fly Fishing class again on February 1 and 2.  Head on over to our calendar to sign up. Space is limited!

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