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The 1st of January opened catch and release season for stream trout in Minnesota and for me began my 3rd full season fishing the Driftless Area creeks that surround me. Although I did manage a trip to Iowa in the off-season it truly felt like it had been forever since I tied on tippet, flies or made a cast. At ~11:30am we arrived at the spot that you can find myself and a friend of mine every January 1st no matter the conditions. Last year saw a high air-temp of 5 degrees and this year was similar with estimates topping out at 9 above during the height of the day with a fairly strong wind. The proper gear was prepared and we hiked to the spot to get comfortable.

Gin clear water with rising rainbows is what was expected as we peered over the bank, however, the ironic and perhaps fickle Minnesota winter had given us a few days of above average temperatures topping out over 40 degrees at my house just prior to the opener, this prompted the melting of close to a foot or more of snow pack muddying the creek and likely lowering the water temp a bit. We only saw two or three rises all afternoon and only a scant few midges on the surface, with the muddy water and minimal midge activity I opted for a recent winter tie. The #18 Orange Hot Spot Scud, a [singlepic id=2136 w=280 h=200 float=left]single fly at the end of my 9ft leader. I fished without an indicator due to the varying depths I wanted to reach without having to play with my line and thus freeze my fingers any more than necessary.

Within the first half an hour each of us had managed a smaller rainbow to the net, with air temps this cold we don’t mess around, a simple photo or two quickly and back in the drink. Fishing no indicator on a slower section of water often means loosing over 50 percent of the strikes and those are just the ones you think you see. The fish were slow, a strike was often just your fly line slowing in the column rather than bouncing or jolting. My advice is set the hook often, when you think your line has done anything to indicate something below lift your rod tip in a quick but not sharp manner. Trout activity increased through ~1:30pm and began to slow after, clouds rolled in and the wind began to [singlepic id=2146 w=380 h=300 float=right]pick up a bit as you can tell by the grey winter photos. We nymphed for a while yet picking up a few more as we explored a few other options on this creek. When my #18 OHS Scud failed to produce any strikes out of a deeper pool I made a decision to swap to a #8 Olive Sprinkle Me Baby.

This fly is a favorite of mine and it should be noted that a fat streamer even in the winter should not go over looked. I wait until I’m finished nymphing my winter holes, before I move on I send a streamer through once or twice maybe more if fish react. Sometimes those larger fish just refuse to move on your #18 Scud but when faced with a #2-8 Streamer you might be surprised. A few passes and I rolled a 14in Rainbow only to lose it at the last moment, I tried a few more times and came up with a 12in and another 14in Rainbow for my efforts both came out of the darkness to slam my #8 SMB as it rose to the surface on the swing. With my hands cold and smelling of trout we hit the road for home at ~3pm, fish were seen, lines were taught and another excellent season of fishing opened. I love winter season in the Driftless Area.

p.s. Thanks to Heath for the excellent video below, it contains footage from our outing on January 1st and a bit from the 2nd of which I’ll write about a bit later.

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  1. Looks cold as hell-I admire your determination.
    Curious if you waded and if so;how did the feet hold up? Nice pictures,tough thing to do in that kind of weather. I am surprised that a season opens in the middle of the winter there, I thought it would be an ice fishing game. Congrats!

    avatar Jim
    1. Jim, most stick to ice fishing but not me. I am one who likes to move and see more than the inside of a shack. We didn’t wade on this trip and for the most part if I can avoid wading during January and February I try but I’ve waded this time of year and my key to keeping warm is to keep moving. Take care man.

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