Shop Orvis Today!

Winter fishing tips from an award-winning guide, with Chip Swanson

Description: This week, since we have not had any hard-core fishing podcasts in awhile, I thought I would give you all some tips on winter fly fishing with Chip Swanson of Breckenridge Outfitters in Colorado. Chip won the Orvis-Endorsed Freshwater Guide of the Year in 2019 for good reason. He's fun, patient, superbly knowledgeable, and a terrific teacher. He also does a lot of fishing and guiding throughout the winter, no matter what the weather. He has some great tips on staying warm, techniques to use, and what conditions are best for winter fly fishing.
Play Podcast

Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly-Fishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And this week we're gonna talk about Winter fishing. You know, we haven't done a lot of hardcore how-to geeky podcasts in quite a few podcasts. We've been concentrating on some other issues. But I wanted to get back into the stuff that I knew a lot of you love. So, I've asked award-winning guide, Chip Swanson of Breckenridge Outfitters who does a lot of Winter fishing, wade guiding and Winter fishing in Colorado, I've asked him on the show to share his tips. And Chip is a really articulate, thoughtful and innovative guide so I know that you're gonna get some good tips on this podcast if you fish in the Winter or just if you fish in cold water in general. I think you're gonna enjoy this podcast.
But before we talk to Chip, let's do the Fly Box. The Fly Box is where you ask questions and I try to answer them for you. If you have a question for me or a comment or a criticism, criticism. You can send me an email at You can either just type your email in the...just type it into your email or you can attach a voice file and perhaps I'll read it on the air.
So, let's start the Fly Box with an email from Kevin. Hey, Tom. I have been targeting sturgeon on the fly in Alberta's Muddy Rivers for the past two years. I do this with a fast sinking 10 weight line and scented flies. The fly pattern is a crawdaddy tied with lots of yarn and a small tungsten rod from the welding industry. I then take crayfish harvested from the local City Slew, blend them into a fine paste and put them in a vacuum sealer bag with the flies and suck all the air out of the bag. I then put the fly in my dehydrator and dry it out. This gives me a fly that starts releasing a scent trail as soon as it hits the water. The fly line and current give me a nice movement on the fly and I wade out about 35 feet above the hole and try to land my fly just in front of the hole. I think this leaves a nice scent trail to my hook versus dropping it deep into the pool with all the back eddies and whatnot.
Anyway, my fishing buddy who's a spin caster says I'm not fly-fishing because I'm using a scented hook. Basically, I'm bait fishing with fly gear. What are your thoughts on this? My other question is how do most fly fishers target sturgeon. There has to be an easier way to target sturgeon than spending two hours stinking up your flies. Also, try the tungsten rod. It beats bearing beads and works awesome for Bow River buggers and other deer hair streamers that need to be weighted.
So, Kevin, first of all, I don't know anything about targeting sturgeon on the fly. I have seen some articles and videos on it and I know people catch them on large streamers. If anybody listening to the podcast has some advice on sturgeon on the fly, please let me know. As far as whether you're fly-fishing or not, that' know what? That's up to you. Scented flies are, you know, looked down on by some people. Some people use them. I don't know if it's any worse than stinking up a fly with head cement or UV epoxy because those leave scent trails in the water. They're probably negative scent trails but they do leave scent trails in the water. And I think as long my opinion, you know, if you need to add scent to your flies, as long as you're moving the fly and not letting it just sit on the bottom like bait fishing then...I don't know. I think it's okay. But, you know, again, you have to decide that. As long as it's legal, do anything you want to target those fish.
And regarding the tungsten rod, I'll have to look into that and might be something that we can all add to our fly-tying materials if we can find a tungsten rod.
Andrew: Hey, Tom. My name's Andrew from Northwest New Jersey. I wanted to touch on two things. One, last week you had a caller about personal watercraft and fishing out of one. I can offer knowledge on what I use. I use a sit on top kayak with a lean bar and it works really well. I've also installed a stand assist rope if need be. So that way it's at the bow and I can just grab it when I wanna stand up. A little pinhole but nothing a little marine silicone can't seal. There's also available outrigger pontoons that help with stability as you said that you use for your canoe. You can also install those on the sit on top kayak. Just be sure to have a strong anchor like a pyramid anchor attached to the pulley system. While I primarily use it for still water, I will use it in moving current like a river and having that anchor attached to a pulley system is a gamechanger and really easy to move from spot to spot.
The second piece I wanted to touch on is first aid kits. So, we often speak about sustainability and longevity on the river but it's often about the fishery and less so ourselves, the anglers. I always recommend a first aid kit to carry depending on the day's events. As a background, I'm a paramedic. I've been doing it for 18 years. It's my primary job that I've been doing. I've also worked in leadership on the tactical side and then wilderness events as well. For one day wade trips close to a city or some urban centers or even if it's a flow trip, bandages, antiseptic, EpiPen for me because I'm allergic to bees but it's always a good thing to carry. An inhaler for my friends that aren't as careful about their asthma and I always carry a CAT tourniquet and QuikClot gauze, two things that you want to have on you. You never wanna be missing on it. Not something that's gonna be super common to happen on the river but you'd be surprised...or maybe you won't be but others will be surprised of how banged up you can get if you take a spill on the river.
If you're doing remote areas or a multiday trip, I always add a GPS locator, daily medications, sting and envenomation kits. Always add butterfly sutures as well, hydration packs, Benadryl and Tylenol along with a couple other things. It's obviously customizable to the angler. If you're guiding, this is kind of a no-brainer. It offers ease of mine for the clients. I always add it to my pre-trip conversations. It's something that's gonna be really helpful. And again, just the ease of mind for both you and anyone else you're with, that's a really nice piece to have. Again, Tom, thanks for everything you do. Talk to you soon.
Tom: Well, Andrew, thanks very much for the tips on kayak fishing and first aid kit. Those are both great advice. And I don't always carry a first aid kit when I'm fishing and I really should so you've inspired me to put a little kit together even for short local trips. So, thank you very much.
This one is from Aron. For the past two years, I have been fly-fishing for small mouth bass and panfish. I recently moved to Eastern Tennessee and decided to try my hand at trout fishing. I went out for the first time yesterday and had a great time despite it being in the 20s and snowing. I even landed my first rainbow trout which was a whopper at nearly four inches long. Okay, maybe it wasn't that big but I still had fun. I hooked 2 other trout in the 8-to-10-inch range but lost them both. I think my cold hands lead to poor knot tying on my part. A few questions for you. First, I had a lot of trouble casting a double nymph rig with split shot and an indicator. I kept getting tangled, wasn't very accurate and wrapped it around the tip of my rod a time or two as well. Any tips for casting this would be appreciated.
Second, the park ranger suggested that I fish nymphs and focus on deep pockets with slower moving water than typical. Not slack water but barely moving. This seemed to work because that is how I hooked all three fish. The air temp was in the 20s and the water temp was right at 40. This got me wondering is there a temperature when you start dry fly-fishing or using a dry dropper instead of an indicator.
Well, those are great questions, Aron. First of all, for casting a double nymph rig and split shot and indicator, there's a number of things you can do. One is you could try euro nymphing and there's some information on that on the Orvis Learning Center that is a different method of casting but there's a lot less junk on your leader and you're less likely probably to get tangled and wrapped around the tip of your rod. Now as far as if you're gonna stick with that indicator and a couple of flies and split shot, first of all, maybe consider using one fly for a while. That may help. But you've gotta open up your casting loop when you're throwing that kinda rig. You don't want the kinda tight loop that you see in the magazine and in a lot of videos. You wanna open up that loop and make it a little sloppier and you get that by increasing the casting arc that you use. And there are...again, there's information on that in the Orvis Learning Center.
Another thing is don't false cast. When you're using a double nymph rig, split shot and an indicator, pick it up and put it back down with a single cast and shoot line if you need at a distance. The other way to do it is to use what's called a water load which is to let the rig hang downstream of you and use the tension of the water to load your rod tight...get your line nice and tight and then just flip it back upstream. But again, don't try to do a lot of false casting with that kind of rig. But you're just gonna get yourself in big trouble.
Now regarding the air temperature, it really depends on the river and the speed of the water and everything when I'd start fishing a dry fly. I know that I've had fish take a poke at a dry fly in 40, 45-degree water occasionally. So, I don't...I think if you're down below 40, probably, you know, you're better off with an indicator. But if there are any insects in the air at all or if you see an occasional rise, then that, you know...and the water's clear, the water's clear and relatively low, then that's a good time to start with a dry dropper. Particularly in small streams where they're shallow and clear. You can get away with a dry dropper at almost any water temperature. Fish are always looking up and looking for something. But, you know, if the water's fast and high and dirty and really cold, no, I wouldn't try a dry dropper. I'd stick with the indicator.
Here's an email from Joel. Howdy, Tom. I'll try to keep this one short and sweet. A podcast or two ago, someone had dropped a question about canoe fishing and I figured that I would add a tip for that listener and perhaps others as well. Seems like a no-brainer but upon discovering it a few years back, it has really expanded my fishing possibilities up here in Northern Minnesota. Fishing from the knees in the boat. This works exceptionally well in solo canoe but also in a double canoe. I found that it gives a lot more clearance for casting than in a sitting position in terms of distance and range. Contrary to what I would imagine, it's also a more comfortable position for me at least. A towel or a life jacket works great for a cushion but please don't use your life jacket if the wind is a gale. I've also seen people wear kneepads. Obviously being able to stand up is the most ideal but if you've ever been in a canoe, you know that's not always so easy. Again, maybe my tip is common sense to some but it has brought me a lot of joy and more fishy situations.
Thanks, Joel. That's a... you know, I never thought of that. I still prefer to stand up in a canoe and that's why I have outriggers in my canoe because I do a lot of sight fishing and I find that casting is much easier. But getting up on your knees, I'll have to try that sometime maybe when it's too windy to stand up. So, thank you.
Scott: Hey, Tom. This is Scott from Fort Collins, Colorado. Hey, thanks so much for your podcasts. I've become a hungry listener so please keep them coming. I had a question for you and a tip for your listeners. Recent podcasts from Robert O'Harrow on mayflies and John McMillan on water temp emphasized some of the challenges we have ahead of us in cold water fisheries. And I've seen firsthand how climate change can affect us whit the Colorado Cameron Peak fire of late 2020. That became one of the largest wildfires in Colorado's recorded history and it burned over 200,000 acres. Nobody died, thank goodness. But unfortunately, this affected my local go-to stream, the Poudre River, only a few miles from my home. The river had nice, rocky bottoms, was 15, 20 feet across for the most part and occasional deep pools holding lots of small browns and the occasional rainbow. The fire absolutely trashed the river with large fish kills and a truly unbelievable amount of fine silt and sediment that got washed down which turned the river into a mucky bottom stream in all my best holes. It's really depressing.
The water is now a continuous brown coffee color with four or five inches of visibility always. I still see occasionally splashy rises so I know not all the fish are gone but a lot have died and the fishing is simply dead as well. In December, volunteers stocked 115,000 fry back in the river so perhaps that will make a difference. But hey, in short, I'm looking for some hope from you. I realize I'm asking you to generalize but how long do rivers take to recover from something like this? Do you have any examples which might give me hope when the fishing might recover? And will the Spring runoffs eventually reveal the great, rocky bottom that used to be there?
And lastly, I have a tip. Listening to some old podcasts, I heard a number of questions on anglers breaking knots and ending up with a pigtail on the end of their line. Explanations are varied but nobody mentioned something which happened to me. I fished for over 40 years so my knot skills are pretty good. Helped with your book, by the way, Tom, on knots. A little plug for you. On a fishing trip to Montana in 2018 fishing 4X and 3X tippet, I was breaking fish off one after another on my first day. Over and over. My friend insisted I was setting too hard but I knew I wasn't. Break after break, often with a pigtail at the ends of my line. Looking at my tippet spools hanging proudly in the sun off my fishing vest made me wonder how old they were. In Colorado and Montana, the sun bears on you nearly every day. I've burned through a ton of 5X tippet in Colorado but my 4X spool looks suspiciously old. I bought two new 4X and 5X spools that night and lo and behold, no more problems. The 4X and 3X spools were old and clearly, they were damaged by UV. I think we forget how many years go by with our gear hanging on our vests. This has led me to do two things. One, I mark the date on every spool I purchase with permanent marker and I replace them every two years max to keep them fresh and healthy.
So, life is simply too short to fish potentially UV damaged tippet. Thanks for all you do for fly-fishing, Tom.
Tom: Well, Scott, I don't know how long it's gonna take the Poudre River to recover. I do know that Yellowstone suffered the same thing back in the 1980s and it didn't take long before the rivers recover but it really depends on, you know, how many flushing floods you have and what the land use is on the surrounding land, how long that ash is gonna keep washing into the river. So, you know, I don't have any idea. I can assure you that once the silt cleans up, there will be fish that survived either in the tributaries or in certain areas of the stream and they'll repopulate it pretty quickly. So, you know, take heart. It's not gonna be forever. But unfortunately, you've probably got a few years before you're gonna have decent fishing in that river. And thank you for your advice on the tippet. That's really smart idea, to mark the spools when you bought them. And don't forget that you only need to do this with nylon. Fluorocarbon unfortunately lasts forever. So, it's never gonna break down. Sunlight and all that other stuff don't hurt it. So, you know, you need to do it with nylon but not for fluorocarbon.
Here's an email from Tanner. I've been fly-fishing for most of my life here in Utah growing up just outside of Park City and five minutes from a Blue Ribbon Fishery but as an avid skier, I've not spent much time fly-fishing in the Winter. Now in my mid-20s, throwing myself off cliffs and skiing hard hurts my body a little more than it used to. Combined the pains of growing older with crowded resorts and mix in your podcasts on Winter fishing, I found myself with the intense fly-fishing bug I usually get in the Spring and Fall. Your tips have helped me get out there and have some amazing days on the river. Keep them coming. One of my favorite tailwater rivers is known for its trophy browns. This river is known for being very technical but like most of the rivers of this type, comes with large rewards if you can outsmart its large browns. It is a lowkey spot with very limited information available about the conditions there. One day a few weeks ago I went out there wanting to find out what it was like in the Winter. The flows are very low. I managed to catch two fish after an entire day of fishing. It was an absolute grind but the fish made it worth it. Two weeks later, I was gonna take one of my good friends to see if we can get him into a big fish.
On our way we stopped at a local fly shop to grab last minute flies. We mentioned that we were going to river X and the guy in the fly shop was not a fan of us fishing the river in the Winter. The reason being that the flows are too low but he never said why. I'm wondering why this is. Can rivers get too low to fish in the Winter when the water temp is very low? Is it a function of oxygen levels? I understand the low flow issue in the Summer but that is majorly because of high temperature water, right. Cold water should hold oxygen better than warm water, right? From my limited research online, I could not find many reasons. We were not fishing the spawn and were steering clear of any reds we saw. For additional context, we fished this Winter, in the Spring and Fall when it is about 150 to 300 CFS. And in the Winter, it's about 30 CFS. The fish are very lively and seem to recover very well when treated properly. Sorry for such a long rant. I also think it is useful to understand the context but looking forward to reply so I can be sure not to harm any fish and keep fly-fishing sustainable.
Well, you know, Tanner, don't ever worry about making your questions long because the context does help. And so, I appreciate that because it's easier to give you an answer. First of all, there's no oxygen problems during the Winter. Cold water holds oxygen a lot better and you're never gonna run into a situation where oxygen is too low. The only time you might is really close to a dam in a tailwater because that water's coming from the bottom of the reservoir. It may not have much oxygen in it. But that's gonna happen year-round in any tailwater. So, the oxygen levels are gonna be good. I think why that person in the fly shop recommended that you not fish that river in the Winter time is because under really low flows, the fish can get concentrated in very discreet places. And so, they get kinda vulnerable because, you know, they're not spread out all over the river. And if you know where they are, you can really target them. But as far as hurting the fishery, you're not gonna hurt the fishery at all. It's gonna make it harder for other people probably to fish it because, you know, again, the fish are concentrated and if you're wailing on those fish when they're concentrated in an area, well, they're gonna get caught and released and be a little tougher and be a little spookier. But I don't think you're doing any damage to the resource by fishing those places.
Here's an email from Paul from Black Mountain, North Carolina. After listening to your podcast [inaudible 00:21:31] these many year and the accolades anglers shower upon you I figured out why you generate so much love. You're one of us. You readily admit when you don't know about a subject posed in a question and you acknowledge that a good bit about what we do is guesswork and trial and error. Plenty of so-called experts give categorical answers which in my experience are suspect and often limited. So, thanks for being honest and knowledgeable.
Question. We know we owe your allegiance to Orvis and the fine products they produce but there are many other fine rod and tackle manufacturers out there that can make purchase decisions more complicated. I'm sure that many of us rely upon equipment reviews when deciding on making an investment in tackle. What reviews in your opinion offer the best insights to help us anglers make the best purchasing choices? Examples I've used in the past are those shootouts posted by George Anderson's Yellowstone Angler. What are your favorites? Keep up the great work.
Well, first of all, Paul, I'm not gonna play any favorites with any particular reviews but like with any expensive product, don't just go by one review. You need to, you know...if you're gonna go on reviews for making a purchase decision, read a bunch of them and read, you know, read some of the comments on blogs and things like that about different rods. Really the best reviews are those where the rods or reels or waders or whatever were sent out to people who fished them for, you know, a season or half a season or even a month before writing their review. I would question reviews where somebody took a bunch of fly rods out in the parking lot and cast them in a parking lot and then made some value judgments on those rods. I don't think those are terribly helpful.
And also, bear in mind that the choice of a fly rod or a reel is a very subjective thing and it's gonna be subject to that individual's tastes in fly rods and the way they like to cast. You know, if you read wader reviews and you read something about a wader not leaking or a wader leaking after a month of use, yeah, that's probably pretty valid. But with a lot of these reviews, it is totally subjective. Obviously, the best way to evaluate a new rod or a reel is to go into a fly shop and cast it or pick up the reel and open it up and look at it and test the drag and see how it sounds and feels and how it looks. Even fly lines, you know, at some fly shops. A little bit tougher with fly lines but some fly shops will have various types of fly lines loaded up and they'll let you try them. So that's the very best. But again, with reviews, read as many as you can and then I'd put more value in the reviews where things are actually sent out in the field and fished by experienced anglers or guides.
Here's an email from Steve. Hello, Tom. I have been tying flies for a while with a C clamp vise that I use on my workbench in the basement. It has worked well and still works well for the limited flies I tie for my use. I recently came into possession of a very nice rolltop desk and would like to move my fly-tying activities upstairs to the land of the living. The problem is the desk does not have sufficient ledge around the perimeter to secure the C clamp. There's a writing board that slides out from the side that will accept the clamp and I'm using that for the time being. The biggest downside is the board does have a tendency to move. I think to get most of the desk and to gain flexibility I would like to invest in a pedestal base. In one of the first books I read on fly tying, the author specifically advised against aluminum pedestals yet most of the pedestals out there are aluminum and weigh about two pounds. I did find a steel pedestal that weighs in at four pounds and that is the one that I am considering for purchase. I'm curious...use a pedestal vise for your tying in the instructional videos you create. What is the base material and approximate weight you use and would recommend this for others? Also, are there other features that you have found helpful like depressions for holding items, pads on the underside to prevent marring of the wood surface and sliding? Are there other features or characteristics a base should not have? Looking for input from someone who's used the pedestal vise for some time and has had a chance to see the good and the not so good in the various constructions. Thank you for taking the time to consider my question.
Well, yeah, Steve. I can't remember the last time I used a C clamp vise. It must've been a long, long time ago because I just...I always use pedestal vises. They obviously move around much easier and you can use them anywhere. So, I just use pedestal bases. And I've never actually found one that I either loved or hated. You know, I used a Renzetti pedestal and the Regal pedestal and they're both plenty heavy enough. And, you know, any good pedestal is gonna have something on the bottom for not marring a surface and for reducing sliding. And if it doesn't, you can always buy those little things you put under furniture legs to put on the bottom of it. So that's not a problem. And, you know, I don't even know how much they weigh but they weigh enough. And probably two or three pounds. And that's plenty. One time a pedestal vise could be a little annoying is if you're tying something where you have to put a lot of upward pressure on a hook with really strong thread. I'm thinking, like, tying glow bugs or, you know, some big saltwater flies. And then sometimes you have to hold onto the pedestal while you pull up. But it's not a big deal.
So, you know, I don't think there' know, if you find a decent pedestal out there, I would just get it. I don't think there's that much difference in them. The little depressions are nice. I find they get full of hair and junk and, yeah, I use them but...and most of the pedestals these days have those little depressions. So anyway, I would just go get a pedestal, modify it any way you see fit. If it doesn't have those little depressions, you could glue a little bowl or petri dish or something onto it to hold stuff. So just go get one. I don't think you'll ever look back and you'll probably never use your C clamp again.
Here's an email from Regan. Greetings from Asbury Park. What are your top 10 tying materials currently? Maybe two lists, salt and sweet. Curious what Tom is tying up currently. Thanks for the time and resources you and Orvis dedicate to education. May your year be full of fish. Well, Regan, yeah, you know, I don't like favorite this and favorite that. But I thought this one was interesting and kinda fun to do so I put together two lists. For fresh water, besides hooks and thread, here are the top 10 things that I would always have available. Good dry fly hackle, good deer hair for whatever I'm tying, whether it's, you know, fine hair for a Comparadun or sparkle dun or a little bit coarser hair for my other minnow head. Pheasant tail, hare's ears and hare's themselves, not blended hare's ear. But I like the real hare's ears and there's...Hareline has a great dubbing tool or dubbing scraper that is really good for removing the fur and the hairs from hare's ears. It's relatively expensive but it really, really makes a short work of taking the fur off hare's ears. EP trigger point fiber for making wings and shucks and all kinds of things. Spinner wings, dun wings, parachute posts. Antron yarn for shucks, tungsten beads, foam, marabou and peacock curl.
So those are my top 10 fresh water tying materials. For salt water, number one, EP fiber. I use it for lots and lots and lots of things. Number two, bucktail. I don't think there's a synthetic that certain situations that quite matches bucktail. Krystal flash. And I usually just use pearl. I don't worry about different colors of Krystal flash. Dumbbell eyes. You know, lead eyes, weighted eyes. Number five, saddle hackle. Number six, rubber legs. Number seven, marabou. Number eight, dragon tails even though they're not that durable. They sure work. Number nine, crystal chenille or Estaz for bodies and mainly for bonefish flies and permit flies. And number 10, foam mainly for making gurglers. So those are my top 10 fresh and salt.
And then currently what I'm tying are small parachute Adams in 18s and 20s. I hate tying parachute Adams. It's my nemesis. And I decided that...I looked at my fly boxes and they look pretty full. I'm in pretty good shape for most of the stuff I'm gonna need both for an upcoming trip to Chile this Winter and then Spring fishing. So, I decided I was going to just bite the bullet and tie size 18, 20 and 22 parachute Adams because I can never have enough of them. They work. And they're really tough and at small size. So that's what I'm trying, little parachute Adams. And if you don't think I'm really, really fussy and looking through all my hackle to try to get just the right hackle for those flies, you're greatly mistaken. So anyway, thanks for your question and those are my answers.
Ian: Hey there, Tom. This is Ian calling in from New Jersey. I wanna say thanks of course for all the great resources you have out there. It's really helped me as I've picked up fly-fishing in the last year. I am calling in with a comment and a question. Comment first. So, I'm a land steward in New Jersey. Manage about 10,000 acres of park land and open space with a wonderful team. And just wanted to talk about something that you discussed with Robert O'Harrow a couple of weeks ago in the mayflies podcast. Love these conservation oriented and biodiversity focused podcast interviews. Keep those coming. They're great. One thing that I just wanna bring up is the discussion about insecticides and herbicides and how they are cast in such an evil light. They definitely can be used poorly. I'm not gonna try to argue against that and that's a really bad thing. They're persistent and can be really nasty. But I think it's important for everybody to remember that they're also a really important tool in the arsenal for land managers to combat invasive species. You know, things like the spotted lantern fly of course on the East Coast right now but also tons of invasive plants. And, you know, biodiversity is so important that we need to give our native plants and our native insects as much of an advantage as we can.
So, using these herbicides and insecticides sometimes is the most effective way to do so and can set up for a really great, you know, long-term success. So, I just want people to keep that in mind, that they're not always a bad thing. The question I had is about tippet scraps. Drives me nuts to lose tippet scraps, you know, onto the ground after I tie on a new fly or a new section of tippet to my leader. Anybody, you, Tom, or any of the listeners have a good idea for how to control those things? I've tried sticking them in my pockets or Ziplock bags but they just always seem to get out of my hands and fall on the ground and that just drives me nuts when I can't find them. So, I wanna try to decrease my footprint and really leave no trace. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much again, Tom.
Tom: Well, Ian, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this. It still gives me heartburn and it still keeps me up at night, the overuse of insecticides and herbicides and... I mean, I don't think you're gonna stop any kind of invasive insect invasion with pesticides. I think that we're either gonna have to find a better way, a biological predator of those beetles or we're just gonna have to live with them. I don't think there's ever been a population of invasive insects that has been stopped by pesticides. And, you know, as far as the herbicides are concerned, you know, I have a trout stream in my backyard and there is Japanese knotweed in various parts of the valley that I live in. But if somebody wants to come in and control my Japanese knotweed with herbicides, it ain't gonna happen.
I've just decided that I'm gonna learn to live with invasive plants on my property and I found that, you know, I've learned to love eating invasive plants like parsnip and dame's rocket and I just think we're gonna have to either figure out a better way to control these invasives or learn to live with them. You know, you can control invasive plants or insects on a small plot of land with herbicides or insecticides but you're not gonna stop the spread of those things. And if we try to do it everywhere, I'm afraid we're just gonna have too many chemicals in the system.
Regarding your question, yeah, tippet scraps are a problem. There are some clever devices to hold tippet scraps. One of them is called the Monomaster which is probably...from what I've seen, is the best one to hold tippet scraps. But there's another way you can do it. You can take a small plastic container. And we all hate plastics but, you know, what you can do is reuse something like a bottle that prescription pills come in, one with a softer plastic lid and just cut a slit in that. And then you can just take your scraps and push them through that slit and hold them in that bottle until you get to a place where you can dispose of them. So, and I'm sure you can, you know, you can look at some other things that are on the market and figure out your own way of reusing some sort of little plastic bottle to hold your tippet scraps. But yeah, Ziplock bags are a pain and just putting them in your pocket, they often get lost.
I promise you that I have tried to let you know about new products that have come out from Orvis. And this week's product is...are the new pro fishing bibs. These are super rugged, durable and waterproof bibs that, you know, are bibs. They come up to your chest and they go down to your ankles. They're the same materials as our pro waders. So, they're really, really durable and waterproof. They have great fit. They have great ease of movement, generous pocket space. They have lower zips for getting them on and off without removing your deck boots. And, you know, I know a lot of people who are really excited about this product coming out and had been asking about it for a while. Things like boat fishing where you really don't want a pair of waders in a boat, especially if you have studs on your boots. Fishing from a jetty where you're gonna get splashed but you don't really wanna wear waders. And then just bank fishing. You know, if you're just fishing from the bank in high water and you wanna just wear a pair of rubber boots and keep your legs dry, these are great. They are not cheap because there's a lot of work that goes into these and expensive wader material. They're 398 bucks. But, you know, for somebody who does a lot of that kinda fishing, they're gonna make your life very pleasant.
Anyway, that is the Fly Box and the product for this week. Let's go talk to Chip about Winter fishing.
Well, my guest today is Chip Swanson. Chip is an award-winning fly-fishing guide. Chip works for Breckenridge Outfitters in Breckinridge, Colorado and, Chip, you won the Guide of the Year. What year was that?
Chip: 2019.
Tom: 2019. And Chip's been around the block. How long have you been guiding, Chip?
Chip: Lord. Probably 11 or 12 years now, somewhere in there.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: Yeah, I've been fishing since about '95. Started in college.
Tom: And I can vouch for Chip's prowess on the water and also for the fact that he's just a wonderful person to be in a boat with. We had a really nice float on the upper Colorado one morning when it started out at 18 degrees this past Fall and I was a little apprehensive about what the fishing would be like but got us into fish. We had a great day and caught a pile of fish and had a wonderful float.
Chip: Yeah, it was a wonderful float. There were some good pictures and really the coldest part was, like, that canyon but it was a great day otherwise.
Tom: It was. It was. It was a really great day. I've had some floats on the upper Colorado that were kinda boring but that was a great day. I had a wonderful day.
Chip: Yeah, that was a fun one.
Tom: Yeah. So, we're gonna talk about Winter fishing. You do a lot of...not drift up fishing but you do a lot of walkway guiding during the Winter, right?
Chip: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, most things are frozen over here so here in Winter we're targeting a lot of tailwaters and just doing the walking wade thing. So yeah, it's definitely a challenge, you know. The morning we went was cold but it's been really cold up here, you know. In case people haven't been here, you know, up here in Summit County, Breckinridge area, we're sitting at, like, 9,000 feet. It can be very, very cold, you know. Some mornings I wake up for guide trips and it's, you know, 0, 2, you know, 5, 10. So kind of...we'll kinda get into this. I mean, the first trick here to this Winter fishing is just staying warm. You know, that's...I feel like that's the major thing, is to get any significant time out there, you do need to stay warm. So, you know, I'll just kinda run through kind of what I kinda wear real quick. I'm kinda nerding out on some of this stuff. And then we'll get into some of my other little tips and tricks, I guess.
Tom: Great. Awesome.
Chip: So, on the top, I just wear a couple of different base layers and then a mid-layers. So, like, a little bit thicker layer on top of that. And then I go...these next three, I kind of vary based on the temperature. I kinda go, like, a really thin, puffy...kinda like that Orvis Pro jacket or, you know, there's tons of other companies who make that. And then I go a really thick, puffy jacket and then a shell over the top of that. So that kinda covers the top. And then again you can just kinda vary those. So, you know, on those really cold days, I'm wearing it all.
Tom: And the shell's like a rain jacket, right? Just to break the wind?
Chip: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Just to break the wind. And it's just adding those layers. So, you know, you're staying warm and there's that insulation factor of air.
Tom: And what do you use for a base layer, Chip?
Chip: I use merino wool stuff. So, I'm a big fan of merino wool.
Tom: Me too. Me too.
Chip: Yeah. You know, I stay away from kinda the synthetics and whatnot but...yeah, merino wool is my go-to. And then I'll throw synthetics over that but anything next to skin, really tops or bottoms, is merino wool, hands down.
Tom: Okay. And how about your legs? How about your lower body?
Chip: So, legs, yeah. Yeah, merino wool base layer and then I'm gonna do, like, a really thick fleece layer over that. So, I've got some old fleece pants from a long time ago that I just kinda...I cut them about three quarters length. So instead of, like, kinda having it down into your boots, it's just three quarters length really thick fleece on there. And you can either cut them off or, you know, there's commercial things now have stirrups and stuff. But so, I just go two layers there and then obviously a really good pair of waders. That's gonna be, you know, quality.
Tom: Have you tried those Orvis Pro under wader pants?
Chip: I haven't yet but my buddy who I fish with a lot, he loves them. He loves them.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, and they've got a stirrup and they slide in and off...on and off easily and, you know, you can wear them into, like, a restaurant or something. They don't look horribly weird. So yeah.
Chip: Yeah. That's probably one of my next purchases to try out, is some of those babies.
Tom: All right. So, the important things, the tough things, hands and feet, what do you do?
Chip: Yeah, hands and feet. So, for feet, absolutely just no cotton. So, no white cotton socks. You know, we have a lot of beginners up here that happen to take, you know, our trips and they show up with, like, white cotton socks after I told them, "Don't wear that." So, you kinda got two big options, I say. One really thin pair and then one really thick pair of socks or the big gamechanger for me has been heated socks.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: Oh, my Lord.
Tom: Me too.
Chip: Like, they are gamechangers. So, I love them a lot. You know, I kinda got one of those more expensive pairs for a gift but they're Bluetooth compatible so you can just, you know...
Tom: Oh, my, Bluetooth. Oh, my God.
Chip: Oh, yeah.
Tom: Wow.
Chip: So, I can just control it from my phone which is pretty fun. And it makes my customers jealous as well that I can just reach in my pocket and ask for warmer feet or colder feet.
Tom: Where did you get those Bluetooth socks?
Chip: They're made by a company called Hotronic.
Tom: Hotronic.
Chip: Yeah. And so, like, you have an intendent lithium-ion battery on each sock and, you know, you download their app or whatever and it's Bluetooth to it. And so yeah. They're pretty much gamechangers.
Tom: What was that name again? I gotta write that down.
Chip: Hotronic.
Tom: Hotronic. Okay.
Chip: Yeah. And the key there is, like, they are a little bit spendy but when you're spending a lot of time out...I mean, here in, you know, the high Alpine, it's Winter seven months out of the year so it's worth it.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Chip: You know, so it's always worth it.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: I find the hardest part is just remembering to charge them sometimes. If I haven't gone in a few days, like, "Oh, rats. I forgot to charge them last night." But just charge them up. Typically, on, like, the highest setting, I feel like they last between two and three, maybe four hours, like, if you're just blazing them hot. And the thing is that I'm not finding that I'm having, like, hot feet but they're not getting, like, fall off cold or painful, if that makes sense. So, like, they're...yeah. It just makes it so it's a more comfortable experience. Not like, "Oh, my gosh. I'm sitting at home in my warm slippers." That's not what they're all about.
Tom: They're just to make you...enable you to survive a day on the water, right.
Chip: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Like, they take the edge off, you know.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: And then, like, for hands...and also, like, think about when you're...just to finish up with feet, sorry. When you're doing this, like, maybe having...if you're gonna do the two-sock rule, maybe having, like, that one size bigger wader boot, like, if that permits you.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah.
Chip: You know, if you're wealthy enough or whatnot or you have a dedicated Winter boot. Like, maybe going one size up. Again, that helps with circulation. It helps with, you know, getting that second pair of socks in there and whatnot. But otherwise, the next part of this would be hands. The big gamechanger here for me has been nitrile gloves. And I was kinda, like, back and forth on them for a couple of years but I've really fallen in love with them. And the reason is, like, they kinda do keep your hands a little bit warmer. I feel like you can still be pretty dexterous and I've gotten good at them but handling fish, dipping your hands in that water, breaking off ice off the guides, it's's a really nice thing to kinda...I don't know. It keeps you warmer, I feel like. So, I've been rocking those a lot.
Tom: Now do you use a pair of warmer gloves over the nitrile gloves if you're, you know, if you're not getting your hands wet?
Chip: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, I use, like, those hybrid mitten glove kinda combo things where you can fold them in over the top. So, I'll use those or, like, a softshell glove. You know, something like that. Fingerless softshell. And then when I really gotta warm up, I have like, a huge, thick pair of big mittens that I can actually slide know, the hybrid gloves, the nitrile, everything underneath it. So, they're like...they're almost like those big, military issue fury ones that looks like you're wearing a badger on each hand. But it does offer you an opportunity to warm up. So, I kinda keep the big ones tucked in my jacket and then I fish with the nitrile and then either the hybrid or that softshell glove on there.
Tom: Okay. I've gone to using a rechargeable hand warmer, a lithium-ion hand warmer. I found that they last all day long and they' know, you can stick one in each pocket and they're pretty good for rewarming your hands.
Chip: Absolutely. Another trick I have for hand warmers is even if you're using the little chemical ones what you can do...and it's when we use, like, ski patrol and search rescue is actually taking that hand warmer and putting it on your wrist. The inside of your wrist where the radial artery is going and you can toss it in between, you know, two of your base layers or what I've done is tennis sweatbands. So, you know, like, the little Andre Agassi sweatbands. Throw those on and then throw the hand warmer in there. And then that makes it so, like, hands can still be in and out of the water but for me it seems to keep you just a little bit warmer by sometimes tossing those things right on your wrists.
Tom: I've heard of that trick before and I haven't tried it myself but I've heard people swear by it for keeping their hands warm.
Chip: Yeah, it seems to work pretty good. Like, you're not gonna feel that immediate effect but again it's kinda for, like, long-lasting or while you're actually casting and fishing on your own. They can be there while you're moving your hands around and doing your thing, you know. Yeah. I really love doing that old trick.
And then let's see what else we got. Hands and feet. Oh, yeah. For your head, keeping your head warm is also key to keeping, like, your whole body warm. So, I just do, like, as simple as a baseball hat with, you know, a knit hat over it above. That kinda thing.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: Yeah. And then let's see. What else?
Tom: Getting ice out of your guides.
Chip: Oh, getting ice out of your guides, yeah.
Tom: I think we talked about that that day.
Chip: Yeah, yeah. There's a couple tricks to that but it's so hard, you know. I think keeping your line clean is helpful on that. Casting as little as possible. So, you know, keeping the false casting down to a minimum so you're not aeralizing that line. And then frozen guides...I will hold, hold the tip in the water. So, I might, like, cast up stream, make my mend, adjust a little bit and then just hold my guides in the water just for, like, a millisecond or two or at the bottom of the drift before I make that water load cast, I'll just hold those rod guides in the water. But, you know, there's all sorts of things on the market like, you know, ice pastes and I've, you know, I've tried...I feel like I've tried all the little Crisco and PAM and Don and all those with all kinda the same mild effectiveness.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: I don't know. I don't find one that's vastly better than the other. Do you have a favorite?
Tom: No. No. I haven't found anything hear all the time about people with special potions but...ChapStick and everything else but I... they don't work that well for me.
Chip: No. No. I mean, I think what we really need to do is get Sean Combs to create that heated rod and so...I think that would be a gamechanger. But I think there's something with electricity and water. I don't know the whole dynamics there but...yeah, that would be a gamechanger if we could somehow get heated guides.
Tom: Yeah, I think it could be done. The rods would probably be about, like, five grand a piece but I think you could probably do it.
Chip: Yeah, that could be an issue.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: That could be an issue.
Tom: All right. So, let's talk about...oh, everybody wants to talk about what flies to use but let's talk about water types first and techniques, you know, and then we can get into flies.
Chip: Sure. So, fish obviously have that little bit slower metabolism in Winter. So, I'm looking for slower type water, right. Transitional zones, yes, but also just, like, where that...there's kinda those pools. They are definitely looking to not burn a lot of energy and sometimes they're just not gonna move great distances for food. They're kinda posted up in those slower water areas. You know, a lot of the water that we fish in Winter is super-duper clear. Like, you know, all these tailwaters within two, three hours of here, most all that water is, you know, gin clear. So, they can be spooked really easy. And so, you know, keeping that movement to a minimum. You know, low profiles. It's kinda hard when you're six foot five but keeping low profiles and that sorta deal.
And then, you know, there are things that I have seen where you're kinda surprised. Like, heavily pressured water where maybe, you know, anglers have been in that hole before you and the fish are kinda grumpy about it. I have seen them move into, like, the back of a riffles or basically the head of the pool as they've just been spooked so much, you know. And, you know, three guys have been bombing the one hole and they're like, "Hey, we're not catching fish." Well, they've kinda moved up to the riffles to hide, you know. And I don't necessarily think they're feeding in there but they, you know...all trout are opportunistic, I guess. So, you might hook them every once in a while, but they're not up in the fast-fast riffles. It's just, like, where they get a little bit of that cover when they get spooked or heavily pressured.
Tom: Yeah, a lot of people don't realize that riffles are pretty good cover. You know, they're always looking for rocks and logs and weed beds but riffles provide pretty good protection for fish.
Chip: Yeah. I feel like you definitely find them in there. Especially, like, you know, you're seeing ospreys or eagles or whatnot, you know, some avian predators cruising around. I feel like sometimes they're like, "Oh, I'm gonna hide in here."
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Water temperatures. So, is there a water temperature below which you found the fishing is nearly impossible?
Chip: I mean, not impossible but when you are starting got see, like, it looks like a 7-11 slushie, I feel like that's pretty much done, you know. A lot of these tailwaters, it's coming out at 35-to-37-degree range, I feel like. And they'll feed somewhere in that...I feel a little bit closer to that 37-to-39-degree range.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: But yeah. A lot of these tailwaters are just that consistent temperature so until you get, you know, a few miles away from it, it should be pretty clear, you know. It should be, you know, the same temperature as that reservoir that's letting it out. So yeah. Don't see really any high temps. It's all in those mid to high 30s.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: You know, maybe 40s on some of them.
Tom: Now how about time of day and weather where the fishing is better? Have you noticed any consistent patterns there?
Chip: I mean, kinda the old thing in Winter is, you know, the gentlemen's hours from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00, you know, somewhere in there. That said, I've caught some fish right at, you know, 7:15 in the morning. What I do find is there is some catches that tend to come off closer to that 10:00 or 11:00. So, you know, you might start to see some more midges at that 10:00 or 11:00 time or some really small baetis right around that 10:00 or 11:00 time. I feel like cloudy days are a lot better than really sunny days. I don't know if it' know, it hides the indicator or maybe it's just, you know, their eyes. So, it's just, you know, less bright on their eyes and so they're more down to look for food.
I do find that cloudy days are pretty nice. Big, stormy days...I've had some great days on just absolute knockout windy days. Like, a few weeks ago, I had a guy. Never held a rod and it was on a day where you're like, "No, I'm just gonna sit inside and eat soup." And it was...he wanted to go and it was brutal. It was, like, 10 to 20 mile an hour winds, snow going. He wanted to give it a shot and the guy just sat and roped fish.
Tom: Wow.
Chip: Yeah. And no one else was out there. It was kinda, like, one of those days where not a single soul was out and the guy just proceeded to absolutely destroy fish. He's like, "Is this what it's like all the time?" I'm like, "No. No, it's not. No, it's not."
Tom: Yeah, those days are...I mean, those days can be special because you're not gonna have any competition. That's for sure.
Chip: Yeah, yeah. Competition's low. That's for sure. You definitely see that competition heat up whenever, like, air tamps are know, I feel like mid-20s, into the 30s. People are out. You know, people are more apt to go out. When it's, like, those single digits, in the teens, people are like, "Nah, not so much." And so, you tend to find less people but it can be a suffer fest. It really can be a suffer fest.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. All right. So, let's see. Well, let's get to techniques and what kinda stuff you're fishing during the Winter.
Chip: Absolutely. In terms of rigs, I'm typically using, like, a nine-foot 5X leader. And then I'm gonna go 6X tippet onto that. Obviously using fluoro with a nylon leader but then fluoro tippets. I typically use, like, some sort of white indicator and the smallest I can go. And I know there's, you know, different thoughts on colors and all that kinda stuff but Winter, I just tend to stick to the whites or the clear in Winter. And then I go typically small weights. So, like, number nines at the smallest going up to, like, you know, fives, fours maybe above my tippet. And then I'll adjust using tungsten nymphing mud. So that mud, you put on there. You know, the key is to really cool it down. So, I put it on, put it in the water, cool it down and then do your thing. And I kinda like that because I feel like it hides the knot a little bit and then also you can adjust it really easy. So, you can kinda go from a shallow to all of a sudden, you're going to a deeper hole. Toss on a little mud, make your casts, you know, move on to your next one.
Tom: Okay, so those sizes, those nines or whatever...I don't know split shot sizes but I assume those are split shot sizes.
Chip: Yeah, yeah, little split shot sizes. We're talking, like, .05 grams up to, like, you know, .15 grams. So, like, pretty tiny. Like, really, really, really tiny.
Tom: Okay. And you mainly use those to kinda hold the tungsten putty on? That's a good trick.
Chip: Yeah, kinda hold the tungsten putty on.
Tom: Aha, yeah.
Chip: So, it's holding onto the knot and it's also got, like, a piece of metal to grab onto.
Tom: And then you adjust the tungsten putty based on how deep you feel you need to get. Now so where exactly do you put that split shot? Between the 5X and the 6X tippet?
Chip: Correct. Correct. That's exactly where I put it.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: So, I'm kinda covering up that little knot juncture and the split shot with the putty. So, then I kinda...I mean, you know, I don't know how much it matters but it kinda makes it look like that little pebble falling down the river or some other piece of just junk, riffraff that's floating down the river. I don't know if it really matters but I tell myself it does.
Tom: Yeah, well, then you've got confidence in it, right?
Chip: Yeah, I've got confidence in it. And I mean, you can also do other rigs like a California 90-degree rig and, you know, it's just running the line to, you know, your indicator and then either using a tippet ring or one of these micro swivels. And in that case again I'll just run some 5X or some 6X fluoro down below that. And, you know, typically with that rig I use, like, a more weighted fly, like, a tungsten, zebra or whatever, a more weighted fly. And then I kind of eliminate the split shot, if that makes sense. So, like, on the other rig, I'm a big fan of really, really small flies, unweighted. So, whether I'm using, you know, a midge or baetis or a mysis or a scud or one...I try to use a little bit more unweighted and that's just kinda me. But then if I do switch to, like, a California 90 just for switching it up or whatnot, then I add in those weighted bugs.
Tom: Okay. Let's back up a bit for people who don't, you know...people always wanna know exactly how to rig these things. So, in your standard indicator rig, you've got a nine-foot 5X nylon leader on there, right?
Chip: Correct.
Tom: Where do you put your indicator?
Chip: I'm gonna put my indicator about...if we're starting shallow, kinda, like three feet from the end.
Tom: Three feet from the fly?
Chip: Yeah.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: Three feet from the place where I'm gonna tie on my tippet.
Tom: Oh, three feet from the place you're gonna tie on your tippet. Okay, good, okay. So, three feet up the leader from your knot and your weight, okay.
Chip: You got it, yeah, yeah. Just to start short, you know. Like, we're kinda starting shallow.
Tom: And a small indicator. Do you like the plastic kind or do you like yarn?
Chip: I can either go both but personally, I like the plastic or the little, you know, foam kind, the small, little quarter inch ones or whatever is what I mostly use in Winter. So, I'm just...
Tom: And you use white because the water's clear and you think the fish think it might be just another bubble or something like that and not as spooky?
Chip: Yeah, or even snow falling off the trees. Like, the snow will fall on the trees and then all that stuff gets blown into the river. So, they're accustomed to just seeing white falling on the river. And so again that's kinda my little excuse to be stealthy is I'll throw something white on there and they might just think it's a tiny piece of ice know, floating down.
Tom: Okay. And then how long is your 6X tippet gonna be below that weight?
Chip: Below that I go 12 to sometimes 18 inches but typically, about a foot. Somewhere in there.
Tom: Pretty short.
Chip: Yeah.
Tom: Pretty short.
Chip: Pretty short. And then, you know, I'm typically gonna trail a second fly off of that and that piece, I typically make longer. So just for instance, let's say it goes split shot, 14 inches of tippet to my first fly and then off my second or off that fly, I'm gonna do, like, 18 to 24 to, like, a little emerging bug or a pupa or a nymph or something like that. I'm gonna make that distance a little bit longer. I feel like that just gives it a little bit of, like, movement under there or a lot of movement.
Tom: Yep, yep. Okay.
Chip: So yeah. That's kinda my rig there.
Tom: And then are you...when you tie your second fly on, are you using a dropper? Are you tying both to the same eye of the upper fly or are you tying to the bend?
Chip: I tie to the bend.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: So, I tie to the bend. And usually...yeah, again, I use, like, an emerging fly at the very terminal end there and the reason, again, I get a lot of very novice, you know, anglers and so they drag it a lot. And so, at the bottom of that drift, that little tiny fly is just kinda hovering around, giggling around back there and we'll get those hits on the swing. So yeah.
Tom: Did you say giggling around?
Chip: Yeah, giggling around, moving around.
Tom: I like that. I like that term, giggling around. I like that. That's a good one. I'm gonna use that one. Okay. And now for people who, you know, don't know what a right-angle rig is, the California right angle rig, whatever, tell them how you would rig that.
Chip: Sure. So, I would do probably again, like, a nine-foot 5X leader or if you've, like, clipped up that leader a little bit to where it's getting to, like, that 3X, 4X range and it's like, "Oh, I'm just gonna go ahead." And what I do there is I'm just gonna put my bobber on and... or excuse me. I'm gonna tie on tippet ring and then I'm gonna put that bobber on and slide the bobber right to the tippet ring.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: And then from the tippet ring, I'm gonna take...again, depending on what depth, I'm gonna take 5X fluoro and run down to my first fly. Maybe 6X but typically 5X. You know, starting at...again, if we're starting shallow, you know, a couple feet. I've made them all the way up to three feet. You know, three feet long, somewhere in there. And then, yeah, usually again on that one I'm gonna use a more weighted fly instead of using split shot. And then I'm gonna tie that second fly. Again, 18 to 24 inches off the back of that.
Tom: Great. So, for those of you who haven't used that right angle rig, what you have is you have a little bit stiffer leader and then you have your indicator and a light tippet on the end tied to a tippet ring because it's not the greatest thing to tie, like, 5X or 6X to a 3X tippet. Your knots won't hold very well but tippet ring will work. And then so you get a right angle from your bobber or your indicator almost'll hang almost straight down once the weighted fly gets down there. So very effective way to fish.
Chip: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes, you know, when some people are, like, having a hard time casting, I feel like again for, like, new anglers, sometimes it turns it over a little bit easier. Maybe the wind or...yeah, if they're just not good at, you know, stopping the rod, making good casts, that kinda thing.
Tom: Do you ever euro nymph during the Winter?
Chip: Yeah. Yeah. Every now and then. Like, I'm not a huge euro nympher anymore. I used to do it a bunch more. But you absolutely can, you know. I've been running...when I do it, you know, these new perdigons. Slippery, you know, tiny tippets, getting it down as quick as you can using, you know, tungsten stuff and just get it down there.
Tom: Yep, yep.
Chip: And you absolutely can. I do find again, like, we're using such tiny stuff. So, like, at the points or the anchor fly, whichever one you wanna call it, the lowest one on the list, you're gonna use something, you know, heavy but slim and then again using that tinier fly, you know, upstream of that or whatever on the tags. And so, yeah, I typically will go really small up top and then pretty heavy and jigged underneath.
Tom: Okay. Okay. Now do you do much streamer fishing during the Winter time?
Chip: You know, not too much. I get a couple guys here and there that wanna at least try it and so we'll throw a couple passes through the pool when we're about to leave. And if I am doing it, I'm using really know, let's just say woolie bugger variations. So tiny stuff. And just kinda strip them through. So yeah. But not a lot. Not a lot. I have a buddy that uses micro leeches a lot. That could work as well, like, a [inaudible 01:11:23] leech or something like that. But we just typically don't. You know, it kinda, like, blows up the water but again if we're, like, leaving that hole and, you know, cruising up somewhere else, sure. You know, like, let's throw a couple through there.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: Yeah. So not too much streamer fishing. Mostly just...mostly nymphing. Every now and then, you know, we'll get some dry fly-fishing. Like, you know, we were having good baetis hatches up till...I mean, I think it was, like, first or second week of December. We were still having, like, baetis hatches at 11:00.
Tom: Wow.
Chip: So yeah. I was like, "Oh, nymphing all morning." And then all of a sudden, "Oh, wait. Let's, you know, let's throw in a parachute and get some dry fly-fishing in or fish in the film using that dry dropper rig." Just really, you know, close on that second fly. So, let's say I'm using a Griffith's gnat or, you know, a parachute Adams. I'm gonna use maybe only seven to eight inches of fluoro and drag something maybe in the film. So really light fly, really tiny fly right in the film. So RS2, you know, murkier RS2, something like that in the film so it's just not down far but we can also just get, you know, big midge hatches or, you know, baetis hatches in late February and March. Like, you'll start to see them. So, I always carry a couple dry flies in the bag.
Tom: What time of day do you typically see midge hatches there?
Chip: Usually in that 9:00 to 10:00 area.
Tom: Early.
Chip: We'll see them, yeah. Sometimes early and then again that...I feel like that 11:00 o'clock to 2:00 o'clock, you know, timeframe, they'll intermittently come off. So, you'll definitely see them in those times.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: You just gotta be observant, you know, because those fish will be down for a while and then all of a sudden, you'll see a couple of noses poking up. You're like, "What are they eating?" And it's just, like, those uber small midges that are, like, you know, Tinkerbell's fairy dust. They're just so tiny and small, you know. And so, you just gotta, like, put your eyes down by eye level and look around. What do you see, you know?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: Yeah. But they'll come off almost, you know, all year round so you just gotta be there at the right time.
Tom: So, what are some other hot top-secret tips for Winter fishing, Chip?
Chip: Let's see. I don't know. Oh, you know, one thing I always do is I always keep a spare roll of tippet in my jacket because sometimes, like, I use the Orvis waterproof sling and sometimes what'll happen is, like, snow will fall and it'll kinda warm up or whatnot and then that little rubber band that's around the tippet spool gets frozen. Well, if you can just reach in and grab that, you know, that warm roll of tippet out of your bag. So, I always keep, like, some 6X in my bag or keep it in a jacket pocket.
Tom: Aha, okay.
Chip: So that's a good little one. And then always remembering to bring your...really bring your stuff in at night. My first couple of years...yeah, my first couple of years doing this, I had some, like, fatal mornings where I'd gone fishing and then came home, did other chores or whatnot and forgot that I left my boots in the back of my car. Well, it got down to 10. I gotta go for the trip and it's like, "Oh, Lord, what do I do?" And then I'm running inside to get my wife's hairdryer and try and dry out the boots and, you know, frozen waders or, you know, forgot about the net in the back of the pickup truck. Now the net is frozen to the bed of the pickup truck. Oh, no. What do I do? Now you're taking your nice coffee and trying to pour that offer in front of the clients or something and... oh, no, I should've brought that in or thrown it in my car. So just bringing your stuff in. Kinda same deal with liquid floatants and gels. So, like, if you're carrying, you know, one of those in your bag, well, that freezes. So, it can be very beneficial just to bring your junk in at night.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: For sure. And then let's see. Remember, don't stand on ice shelves. That can be a scary little situation. Do you know what I talk about when I'm talking about ice shelves?
Tom: Yeah. I do. Yeah. But describe exactly what they look like for people.
Chip: So, like, sometimes on the big rivers, the edges are gonna freeze up. So, ice shelves can form anywhere from, like, 1 or 2 feet off the bank to, like, 10, 15 feet out into the water and you'll think that...okay, this is stable enough and I'll just go ahead and walk on out there. Well, I'll tell you from personal experience, like, five, seven years ago, let's go up to fish this big river. I got this young kid and I'm like, "Hey, this is a killer hole. Let's kinda creep on out there. This will be fine. Just don't go near the edge." So, we're going. He hooks into a fish and I kinda go towards the edge to net a fish and I'm kinda on my hands and knees trying to disperse my weight thinking I'm smart but I'm obviously not. Big, you know, 200-pound oaf here. And I go to net the fish and the whole ice shelf breaks off.
Tom: Oh, no.
Chip: Well, that's a problem because, you know, the river's moving and all of a sudden you can be under the ice downstream of where the ice shelf just broke off. So, it's a dangerous situation. Yeah. So, like, not wading in too deep or if you are gonna get on that ice shelf, you know, make sure it's only, like, one or two feet deep at the most. You know, you don't wanna be hovering out over that little edge, you know, on the side of the river where it goes from two feet to four feet. Like, that can be a really scary spot. So, stay off those ice shelves. Yeah, it can be for real.
Tom: The other thing is...reminds me of a story Todd Tanner told me. He was fishing in the Winter time and he got hit by a broken off ice shelf and almost got knocked over and drowned. So, you know, keep your eye upstream of you for floating icebergs.
Chip: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That's a big deal. And sometimes, like, when I'm guiding a customer, I will try and stand slightly upstream of them if the situation permits just to kind of, you know, act like that linebacker, you know, kinda blocking them or whatnot. A linemen. Yeah, so watch out for that.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: And then let's see what else. Let me think. Oh, yeah. Like, if you ever have to, like, break out a lot of that ice in your rod tip for instance, what you wanna do is never put your reel into the water or get it into a place where you, like, prop it on a rock and it slides into the water. So, putting it up into the bushes if you've got a bush near. Try and put that reel up into the bush. And then you can break off your ice. The other thing for that is having, like, a small towel tucked into your waders. So, like, a bar towel and that's super useful because again you can put your reel on it if you've gotta break off your ice or if you've got're like, "I'm not gonna wear latex gloves like Chip, you know." It does help you dry off your hands real quick. So, if you have to handle a fish, get a hook out or whatnot, drying off your hands or drying off your cork that might've gotten wet or whatnot, that little bar towel or, you know, whatever you wanna call it, hand towel can be super-duper useful in those situations.
Yeah. So then let's see. Oh, yeah. The other thing kind of in that is if you do drop a reel or, you know, it gets too iced up in there, either having a spare reel in your truck or maybe tucked into your pocket can sometimes save the day because if you do drop it in and then it's at sub-32, the whole thing will just freeze and anchor up. Well, if you can just peel the whole thing off, you know, re-rig or whatnot, that sometimes might be your best option. Otherwise, you're kinda down to taking the whole rod and reel and then putting it, you know, in your jacket and sitting on shore maybe for a couple of minutes to try and warm it up so that you can use your towel to dry the thing off. But sometimes having that second reel can be super helpful there.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: Just switch it right out.
Tom: Speaking of second reels, do you ever use a sinking line during the Winter?
Chip: I'd probably use it again if we were, you know, streamer fishing or using a polyleader, you know. Sometimes again it's just easier for newer anglers I guess instead of, you know, whipping out the 300-grain big guy, you know, to really strip through. But I'd say not that often. But if I get a guy that just wants to throw streamers all day, yeah, I'm bringing it.
Tom: Okay. Okay.
Chip: Yeah. Let's see. I don't know. What else? Other tips. Oh, yeah. Stay out of the water. And that doesn't mean don't get into water but you probably shouldn't be out in the middle of the river. Like, I actually see this a lot up here where anglers are standing, like, right in a hole where they could've been catching fish. So, I kinda try and tell people, "Look, work on that cast. Get that roll cast better. Get that water load cast better for that distance and try and keep your feet as dry as possible." So just, like, staying out of the middle of the river. Again, just because, you know, you'll spook these fish and they'll move know, if you had a really decent cast and a decent mend, you're gonna be fine. And you can cover a lot of our tailwaters with just having those. So, staying out.
Tom: And you're gonna stay warmer too by not wading up to your waist.
Chip: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. The less that's in the water, you will stay warmer.
Tom: Yeah. And falling in in the Winter time is no joke.
Chip: Yeah, it's no joke. That's a game ender. You know, like, when I took that swim with the kid, I looked at him and I think...thank heavens, it was just a half day but I just looked at him and I was like, "Trip over."
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: You know, like, great, we got the fish but hypothermia is no joke. So that's a trip over situation or, you know, if you're on your own, you don't want it to be the end of the day, that's going back to the truck, have a spare pair of clothes in the car. And that can be a big one too is just having a spare pair of clothes to just get warm into.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: But yeah, that's no joke. Hypothermia's no joke. Yeah, I've had so many clients that, you know, show up with cotton socks, wrong equipment, that kinda stuff and then they just bail out. Like, I had a fun, really funny guy a few years ago that...he showed up. I think he hooked a fish in the first 30 minutes, you know. Took a photo of it and he just looked at me and he's like, "My toes are frozen. My fingers are frozen. I just wanna go hang out with some locals. Let's go to the bar." I was like, "You paid for, like, half day." And he's like, "No, we're out." I've also had other people just show up, do the casting clinic, realize this is no joke and they're out the door. Get me out of here. Get me out of here.
Tom: Oh, you know what we haven't talked about is felt soles in the Winter time.
Chip: Absolutely. I'm not a big felt sole guy just because it...I feel like it freezes up a lot. Like, that snow clumps to the bottom a lot.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: I'm more of the rubberized boot with spikes. That's kinda me. I'm excited to try out the new hybrid boot but I haven't gotten to lay my feet in those yet. But I am excited to try that out to see how that would do with, you know, wading through the deep snow and kinda in and out of the snow and in and out of the river. Have you tried them yet in the Winter?
Tom: I haven't tried them in the Winter. I've been wearing them for about...for most of 2022 I wore them. But I think that you'd still...I think with hybrid boots...the hybrid boot is a new Orvis boot by the way with a felt sole, inner sole and then there's an outer ridge of the Michelin rubber so that you get kinda the best of both worlds. But I think you would still have snow buildup because there's a fair amount of felt on those. I'm not sure how good they'd be during the Winter. I think you'd be better off with your cleated rubber soles with studs.
Chip: Yeah, that's...I kinda learned that early on. Like, a few Winters ago I grabbed felt sole boots and we had to know, my customer's, like, trying to climb up and out of stuff and he just had, like, giant snowballs on the end of his feet.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: And yeah. Makes it really hard.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Chip: Yeah. I go rubber.
Tom: Okay.
Chip: Yeah, so I don't know. Have you...the other thing is these new Bootfoot waders or I guess, like, neoprenes. Some people really like those. I don't because of some old ankle injuries and whatnot but I hear those are pretty warm too.
Tom: They are. The new pro Bootfoot waders are gamechangers for me in the Winter time. I'm not sure how the physics work but there's a big difference between having a Bootfoot wader and having a, you know, Stockingfoot wader. I guess it's because the water is closer to your foot. There's one less layer of insulation. But I find them to be...those and electric socks, I find that to be supremely comfortable. And I used feet used to get so cold and I couldn't stand it but now I can fish for hours with that combination.
Chip: That's awesome. That's awesome. I'm gonna have to give those a shot.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. They will definitely keep your feet warmer during the Winter time.
Chip: Nice. How's the ankle support on them, though?
Tom: Well, you know, you're not gonna have as good ankle support. I mean, they're pretty substantial boots but you're not gonna have the same ankle support you would on a good pair of, like, the pro, you know, wading shoes.
Chip: Gotcha. Gotcha. So yeah, I think...I don't know. I think that about covered it.
Tom: I think we got some great tips here. We got some really good advice on Winter fishing.
Chip: Yeah. I think so. I'm trying to just look through any notes that I have. I feel like we touched on a lot of the stuff here.
Tom: Yeah. I think we did. I think you covered the questions I had anyways.
Chip: Yeah, so I'd say just, you know, get out there, try some of the stuff, you know. Heating packs on wrists, keeping things really small. I know people don't like to tie really tiny flies in Winter so...but, you know, when we're talking sizes...again, like, I'm using 20s, 22s, 24s. If you can't tie those flies on, you know...I don't know if you've covered this but grab that little fly with your hemostats and sometimes it's a little bit easier to manipulate. Try practicing tying those tiny flies at home first. So, like, get faster rigging. Get faster tying your knots so your hands are out of your gloves less often and you're back to fishing. So, you know, really practicing those things while you're watching TV or whatnot before you go out and just getting quick at your tying up can really help there.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, that's one of the things about Winter fishing is most of the food is gonna be midge larvae and pupae or little, tiny mayflies and the fish are used to eating that little stuff and they may take a big fly but they may also just ignore it as another piece of debris because they're just not used to eating it.
Chip: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Find the same thing, you know.
Tom: Yeah.
Chip: With the exception of, like, some mysis shrimp and maybe some scuds on certain, you know, certain tailwaters out here. They're onto smalls, they're onto smalls for sure.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, Chip, I wanna thank you. It's always great talking to you and thank you for taking all of this time and sharing your knowledge with us.
Chip: Yeah, you're welcome. It's always great to talk to you, Tom, and hopefully we'll see you out here again at some point.
Tom: Oh, I hope so. So, we had been talking to Chip Swanson, award-winning fly-fishing guide from Breckenridge Outfitters in Breckinridge, Colorado. Chip, thanks so much.
Chip: You're welcome. Have a great one.
Tom: All right. Talk to you soon.
Chip: See you. Bye.
Tom: Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly-Fishing" podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us at in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips on