Winter one-tracked mindedness – a condition I’m totally guilty of! “You going fishing this weekend?” Friends or family ask; “Where are you going?” I hate answering this question as it makes me feel rather unadventurous in a world where we are “supposed” to be out exploring new places, posting photos to check them off one by one like trophy destinations, and I’m finding every chance I get (and not enough I might say) to get down to the same river; that beautiful, powerful, churning river with its magical fishbowl at the end promising its Winter runs of silver bullets.
To be honest, though, Winter’s a time when many completely lose their adventurousness and recline into weekends of binged sport and Netflix, where a walk in the park or to the Dairy for a pack of Doritos and a Perky Nana or two is ‘getting out there!’ When people are whining about how cold it’s been, and you casually mention standing waist-deep in an ice-cold river all weekend and praying for as much rain as possible, you do get some whimsical looks in the lunchroom.
On trips I often feel narrow-focussed watching as friends unpack their quivers of rods and a multitude of reels all ready for this method or that method and this weight in case of these conditions or this weight in case of those conditions; The chance of hitting river X in the morning and Y in the afternoon. Fully opening up their playbooks ready to get those fish. I pull out my 5wt double-handed rod and the one reel I’ve brought and make the hardest decision of my trip – whether to start with a regular OPST Commando head or whether to put on the Groove for a bit of added sink and a slower swing – tube fly or shank? Too many decisions!
Now, it’s not that I’m against going to other rivers in Winter; it’s just that the style of fishing that I love most tends to be most conducive to bigger waters, of which, in the North Island, they are easily hand-countable.
I get into a bit of a pattern these days; the start of July arrives, and my single-handed rods, save my saltwater ones, get placed away to hibernate for the Winter. There they sit lying dormant just waiting for their time to shine on that usually rainy opening weekend in October, and truth to be told I usually end up with the doublehand rod in my hand for another month or so because it’s just so hard to let go of. I used to nymph the Winter and mix it up, but ‘Giving up’ the chuck and duck allowed me to focus solely on one style, one direction and like Jerry Lee Lewis the only way has been down.
The problem with me is, if I have too much gear, the grass always appears greener and then I get an itch to change over. Sometimes that side really does have the better grass, but it is often not the case and the time spent between changing back and forth usually negates the benefit in the long run. One mate I used to kayak fish with a while back was the epitome of this; he used to watch me doing really well on soft plastics. He spent loads of money gearing up with the latest lightweight, responsive rods and beautiful reels, but each time out on the water, he just could not bring himself not to bring ‘just a little’ smelly bait. Every now and then while he was looking keenly at the rod tip jiggling around from the 5-inch bait strippers, the soft bait rod (sitting in the holder of course) would double over violently. By the time he had his hands on it, “Damn, got off mate!” 5 minutes later, his eyes were back keenly on the other rod tip jiggling up and down. He kept his attention happy, but I’m not sure whether I most wanted to laugh or cry in frustration at the end when we were in the carpark and he’d mention, “You know, I’m just not sure how you make this soft baiting work!” with a puzzled look on his face.
The upside to sticking with one method is it forces you to dial into the nuances often missed when playing with a variety of methods; if you only have one method, you have no other option but to try to make it work, even when it things are not going to plan. It lets you put in the precious time and like any pastime, that tenure lends its hand to little discoveries that compile over time to little specs of muddy insight, or so my single-mindedness tells me anyway.
However, with all that being said, on a Winter trip this season, friends reminded me of the fun of a bit of aquatic diversity. The big river had not been easy; fish were being found, but it took absolute perseverance before each of the ‘fish of a 1000 casts’ came to the net. The majority that did come, however, had been in pristine condition with that chrome, translucent shine to them, which made each and every one of them feel like trophies to behold, but truth be told, the pace brought down the morale at times. I was happy enough slugging it out as there was plenty more river to cover and another day is another day – filled with promise and the chance that it might just turn on, and when it did in drips and drabs, it was great. However, others not quite as invested in the big river game were yearning for a change, so we called the audible and drew up new plans for the morning, cleaned the gear well and hit the hay feeling inspired.
We set out into the extremely frosty darkness wanting to get the jump on the crowds. The plan of scrimmage was a proper trek up one of the smaller rivers with the intention to swing it back down with single hand Skagit tactics (apart from me of course cause I neglected to bring a single hand rod of course, but luckily these OPST rods feel a lot more true to weight so I didn’t feel ‘that’ over gunned).
After getting the blood pumping good and proper, the waders with layers of Merino began feeling like the inside of a sauna, but we found ourselves up high up the river and ready to work our way back down. Swinging this small river again reminded me how fun it could be to fish smaller water: trying to inch casts next to the bank, pop them down just off snags; it was all about accuracy. And when the tugs came they were almost novel. The frosty morning gave way to an absolute pearler of the bluebird variety and spirits were high and good times were had. Unintentional swims, countless lost flies in bushes across the river, spotted sight fishing on the swing and a whole lot of water covered made for a great day out. Sometimes something different, a good change in scenery is what you need.
Since then, I’ve had a change in ethos and decided to embrace some diversity in my life throughout the Winter. I’ve decided next trip, I’ll bring a single and a double-handed rod, and you never know, I might even use them both!
It is great fun to mix things up on the river and if you are looking for a change from fishing upstream or just want to give yourself a great excuse to catch a few more fish on the way back to the car, then here’s a few great products to make it happen:
OPST Commando Smooth – Skagit Heads and Running Line
The OPST Commando Smooth is an excellent choice for these smaller rivers. It’s a classic OPST style Skagit head for you to loop a sink tip on and be ready to fish but with the running line integrated into it with no join, just a smooth transition.
Having the integrated line without the join makes it a pleasure to fish on smaller waters, allowing the Skagit head to slip in and out of the guides with no friction. This comes to play when landing a fish in the tighter spots on these smaller rivers or allowing you to strip in more smoothly when you think you have a chaser or just need to fish a shorter line.
Traper ‘Speed Multi’ Length Rod – 9ft & 10’6”
Another great product from the Polish: a 9ft 5wt rod that has an extra section to put in place making it a diverse 10’ 6” machine for Euro nymphing and swinging an OPST Skagit head. I’m yet to get this rod on the river myself, but cannot wait, as when testing on the pond I found it an absolute cannon to cast with a 250gr Commando head and 10ft and 12ft sink tips. I was shooting line effortlessly on it with its increased length. Feedback from good authority is that it performs really nice with a fish on and performed very well both at 9ft for indicator fishing and at 10’6” for Euro nymphing and as a single hand Skagit rod.
Speyco 3.25” Spey Reel – Built for Spey
These are beautiful smaller versions of the 3.5” I normally fish and I’ve been licking my lips every time I get my hands on one. These are great sized reels for either single hand Spey or light two-handed rods in a 3-5wt range, and have that bulletproof Speyco feel and classic drag with a sound that makes you anticipate every single pull.
Traper GST 5/6 Reel – Euro Nymph and lightweight Spey
If a lightweight reel is more of your thing and you want to diversify with a full cage reel perfect for Euro nymphing but also doubling as a single hand Spey reel, then the Traper GST is for you. It’s a beautiful full-caged reel that is super light and will do you well for all types of fly fishing in the playbook.
OPST Micro Skagit Rods
If you are keen on the light double-handed trout Spey, check out these rods in 3-5wt. They are beautifully made and light as a feather.
Designed and tested by Ed Ward, who wouldn’t put his name on anything less than stellar! Enjoy!