If the mild weather in Nebraska has you, the avid angler, singing the ice fishing blues, then take note!
There is an open-water fishing option in Nebraska during the coldest part of the year. It involves trout and would give you the chance to work on completing the Trout Slam challenge.
So, grab the neoprene waders and gloves, and rig the spinning rod, it is time to go winter trout stream fishing!
And, guess what? The rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout in these flowing waters can offer some fun fishing action on nice winter afternoons, assuming you play your cards right, that is.
Below are some helpful hints for you to land some of these cold-water fish this time of year.
Where are they in the water and will they put up fight once hooked? The cold-water trout species feed less during the winter as their metabolism has slowed. In waters that are flowing they tend to settle into some of the deepest holes and spots with the least amount of current during the winter to conserve energy. Besides being tucked into holes, some trout remain in the water buried deep under grass-lined banks. Don’t overlook fishing those! When hooked, these trout will battle with almost the same vigor as those hooked in the spring or summer!
Be stealthy, wear camo. When fishing for trout in streams, it’s best to work your way upstream (against the current) whenever possible. This is especially important when fishing for wild and wary fish in clear water. Trout usually face into the current and will be less likely to see you approaching from behind. You can get away with fishing downstream if you are very careful about where you wade. When it comes to clothing, wear camouflage or “natural colors,” and try to avoid brightly colored apparel. Remember to move slowly and disturb the water as little as possible. Don’t dislodge sand or sediment and create cloudy water conditions that spook fish rapidly away from you. Fish a small trout stream like you are still-hunting in the woods for white-tailed deer. A ball cap and polarized glasses will aid you when wading and for seeing fish and fish-holding areas. Trout have great eyesight, feel vibrations and are quite wary in any of these streams as water conditions will be super-clear with lower flows.
Think small to catch trout in winter. Trout in streams during winter eat a variety of prey, and in general, all the typical trout presentations can catch fish in the winter as well as in the summer. Of course, matching the actual prey the fish are eating is always a good place to start. This means going smaller for trout, indeed big trout, with more natural, smaller baits and artificial lures. If you are an ice angler, you know all about using tiny baits, well the same goes for trout fishing in river or stream scenarios.
Fly fish! Fly fishing can be highly effective during the winter months. A variety of beadhead nymphs are especially attractive to trout in streams in the winter, but on a warm afternoon there most likely will be hatches of midges or other small insects and a fly angler can pick up some fish on dry flies or emerger patterns.
Crankbaits, really? Small crankbaits can also catch trout in open water during the winter, however, those must be fished quite slowly – usually just enough to get them wobbling. Frequent and extended pauses might also be needed to trigger fish activity. Neutrally buoyant crankbaits that maintain their depth at slow speeds or even when stopped are often some of the best crankbaits for trout in streams.
Other trout offerings. Waxworms, salmon eggs, prepared baits, small jigs, or tiny spinners or spoons (silver on sunny days and gold on cloudy days) should also not be overlooked for successful winter trout stream fishing.
Fish when it’s warmest. The trout in these northern and western Nebraska streams are more apt to take your lure or bait on the nice, warm winter days, either sunny or cloudy, when the temperature hovers around or rises above freezing. Skip the morning and head out during the peak daytime air temperatures – usually during mid-afternoon.
Little competition. Don’t expect much competition to catch trout on public access areas along popular trout streams such as the East Branch of the Verdigre and Long Pine Creeks. There may not be anyone fishing these creeks on weekdays.
Seek and fish new trout habitat structures. Find and concentrate your fishing efforts near some of the recently constructed or placed trout habitat structures if you are fishing in the waters of Long Pine and Dry Spotted Tail Creeks. From current breaks to large boulders, these areas will most likely be holding trout to catch. The stream modifications should provide anglers with the opportunity to catch more fish – and bigger fish.
Take camera phone pics! Winter can be a wonderful time of year for simply taking iPhone or Android pics while fishing, particularly for landscape photography along streams. Familiar locations around you can be transformed by snow, ice or fog. And with the winter sun lower in the sky, you can capture wonderful light, amazing long shadows and stunning silhouettes. Plus, you can validate your catches!
Know before you go. Be sure to check the 2020 Nebraska Fishing Guide booklet for regulations, orders, laws, etc. pertaining to trout before you go stream side.
Selective harvest; put the big ones back. For conservation purposes and heeding those legal stipulations, keep the more abundant smaller fish for a meal, but return the larger trout to the water to swim and spawn another day! Remember for the fish you plan to release keep the fish in the water as much as possible, particularly in the winter as the outside temperature can harm and possibly kill them.
Clean, drain and dry. Make certain to clean, drain and dry your trout fishing equipment (including your waders) before you go from one stream to another. This needs to be done to prevent the introduction of any invasive species and preserve these invaluable trout stream fisheries.
Safety. Although the splendors of winter trout stream fishing in Nebraska can be fantastic, the downfalls can be tragic. Slipping or falling into an isolated, ice-cold creek can mean more than just numb fingers and toes — it can mean hypothermia! Careful observation of the weather and water you are going to be fishing is vitally important. Pay close attention to weather reports. Winter weather can change fast and you could get stuck out in extremely cold, snowy conditions if you are not prepared for them.
With diligent planning and warm clothing plus the proper equipment and presentations, winter can provide some of the best fishing action of the year in one or more Nebraska’s pristine trout streams!
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America