Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques Trip Reports Trout & Char

Limestone Stream Winter Fixed Line Nymphing

I started fly fishing around 1992 while attending Penn State. The local limestone spring creeks became my “home waters” and I try to get back to them as much as possible. I was lucky enough to spend a few days on Spring Creek recently getting reacquainted and relearning some lessons.

Winter Fixed Line Nymphing - Anthony Naples - Limestone Stream

A Few Words on Spring Creeks

Limestone spring creeks are special. They are fed completely (or mostly) by springs that arise from subterranean limestone formations. The water from these springs is nutrient rich and supports high quality fisheries with plentiful and rich aquatic life. In general they are also much more stable, with temperatures and flows that don’t vary nearly as much as their freestone mountain stream cousins. The stable flows and temperatures mean that spring creeks can support fantastic winter fishing.

Spring creeks can be found across the country from Maine to California. I’ve spent the most time on the Spring creeks of Pennsylvania but I’ve also fished limestone streams in Maine, Missouri and Wisconsin. People that know the Tenkara Angler crew know that we’re big fans of the Driftless region of Wisconsin and its abundant limestone streams. The Driftless region extends into Minnesota and Iowa as well. Click HERE to investigate the Tenkara Angler articles about the Driftless.

Lessons (Re)learned

Winter Fishing can be Awesome

When I was younger and before I had kids I used to spend a lot of time winter fishing. I would make the 3 hr+ to fish limestone streams throughout the winter. But as things happen I got out of the habit. This trip reminded me how much I miss winter spring creek fishing. The well known spring creeks in Pennsylvania can get crowded but if you’re willing to get out in the winter you may find yourself alone on prime stretches of water. This alone is a great reason to head out in the winter.

It’s unreasonable to expect the same kind of fishy action that May and June can bring. But when you’re out there in the elements with frozen toes and numb fingertips each fish somehow seems more rewarding.

Having a great day of fishing when the flakes are flying and temperatures are low really reminds you how special spring creeks are.

Winter Fixed Line Nymphing - Anthony Naples - Brown Trout

Spring Creeks are Different

If you’re used to fishing freestone streams you may need to recalibrate your fish radar when you head to a limestone stream. Speaking for myself this was (and continues to be) a big lesson. Coming to spring creeks from freestone streams I had to get used to the idea that fish can and will be just about anywhere. I had to get out of the mindset of focusing on pools and deep runs. In spring creeks you’ll often find fish in very shallow pocket water and riffles, or inches of still water right next to the bank. This still surprises me even though it shouldn’t. And this trip was no different.

The weather had turned for the worse. Temperatures had gone from warm to cold in the days just before this trip. The night before my first day on the stream the area had its first snowfall of the year and daytime temps were in the high 20s to low 30s. Not terribly cold but they had nosedived from the 60s and I was thinking the fish would be hunkered down with the sudden change.

With this idea in my head I was focusing on the deeper holes and deep slow runs with limited success. I was already saying to myself “Well it’s just nice to get out”. And then … And then I re-learned that lesson about spring creek trout. As I was moving around in the stream I kicked a few fish out of shallow riffles. So I started fishing the shallow riffles and pocket water and also the slow shallow water near the banks. And success. I started catching fish with regularity. Lesson (re)learned.

In the photo below you can see the kind of water I’m talking about. This section of water circled was generally less than one foot deep and sometimes much shallower. Yet water like this consistently produced decent fish.

Winter Fixed Line Nymphing - Anthony Naples - Shallow Riffles
Trout were hanging out in shallow water pockets like these

DO NOT WALK BACKWARDS!

This is a very specific lesson and reminder for myself. I don’t always fall down when fishing but when I do it’s almost always because I was walking backwards while landing a fish. Maybe by writing it here I’ll remember it. But probably not. While landing that fish pictured below – yes that’s right I still landed it – I took a really bad spill. I had a net in one hand and a tenkara rod in the other, I started walking backward (without looking back), stepped on a rock, lost my balance, spun around and fell with all my weight on my knee. As I write this 11 days later it’s still extremely tender (my daughter thinks I’m just a big wimp). Long-term I think it will be fine but it could have been much worse.

So you (yeah I’m talking to you Anthony) be careful and don’t walk backwards in the stream. Oh, and always take a change of clothes with you so that when you fail to take your own advice and you fall into that stream again, you’ve at least got something dry to change into.

How Was I Rigged and What Was I Using?

On this trip I was doing fixed line nymphing. As a quick primer you can check out this article that I did on the subject: Simple Tenkara Rod Nymphing. My basic set up this time was a 13′ rod with 11′ nylon line and approximately 3′ 7X fluorocarbon tippet. A little while back I bought a DRAGONtail Tenkara Mutant 380z zoom rod, I’ve been digging it lately and that’s what I was using on this trip. To the business end of the tippet I tied various tungsten beadhead nymphs but settled on a single size 16 muskrat beadhead nymph as the most productive for me.

Winter Fixed Line Nymphing - Anthony Naples - Nymphs

When conditions allow (i.e. not too windy) I like to use multicolor nylon nymphing sighter as my entire tenkara line. Due to the density difference nylon lines can be a little harder to cast than fluorocarbon tenkara lines but when using weighted flies such as small tungsten beadhead nymphs the casting difficulties are minimized. I like the nylon sighter material partly because of its suppleness but mainly because it is available in bi-color and tri-color combinations that show up nicely against a variety of backgrounds. Most major fly fishing companies seem to be making sighter tippet these days so there are plenty of options. I’ve used a few brands and one that I like a lot is the Cortland Tri-Color in 0.012″ diameter.

A friend of mine turned me onto Region fluorocarbon tippet which is available on Amazon. It’s a good price and I’ve been using it almost exclusively in 2022 with no complaints. I’ve been using the 6x and 7x and it is performing well and seems quite strong and consistent just based on my experience with it (I haven’t conducted any actual bench testing vs other brands).

Do you like winter fishing? I’d love to hear about how and where you do it in the comments below.


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8 comments

  1. Anthony, I agree. Two weeks ago I fished a stream and did pretty well fishing the edges. Friday I went out to the same stream and there was ice covering all the edges and small pockets. Let’s just say I didn’t take a skunk. It was tough.

    1. Glad to hear that you’re getting out in the winter. I needed a reminder that I still enjoyed it.

  2. Love the idea of sighter for the entire line. I’m a big fan of keep it simple and that certainly is the strength of Tenkara. Not having to tie that piece of sighter in between the main line and tippet obviously eliminates a knot, taking half the main breaking points out of the equation. Plus I’ve been trying to move to lighter weighted nymphs in recent seasons in an attempt to make my weighted nymph fishing more like wet fly fishing. With the main goals being able to use a regular pin point cast vs. a lob cast, keeping the nymph in the strike zone without bumping bottom (trying to avoid bottom snags) and having a more delicate rig allowing more finesse in fly manipulation with nymphs.

    1. Jeff, Good to hear from you. Yes. Lighter nymphs when you can get away with them is a great way to go. Like you say; better casting, better drift, less snags. All plusses.

  3. I wear soccer knee pads and shin guards when fishing, specially in the winter when falling in to the water could have disastrous consequences.

    1. ERiK, I am definitely adding some knee protection to my wading game. Just about three weeks on now and my knee is still far from 100% – really regretting not having using some knee protection

  4. Anthony, inspired by your piece, so out today for an hour on the Root River in Preston, Mn, and had good luck dead drifting moderate riffles with #14 silver beadhead dark nymph. Enjoy your pieces very much.

    1. David, thanks! That’s so nice to hear. Glad that got some inspiration to to get out. I really need to get to MN. I just never make it past WI, but I need to make point of it next season.

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