Why would anyone want to fish in the middle of winter, with snow and ice covering the riverbanks and water temperatures barely above freezing, why would anyone in their right mind wade out into that cold water to fish?
Well, because you can catch fish, the hatcheries have been busy stocking streams and lakes when weather and road conditions allow. Several area streams have already received a couple stockings and the people willing to endure the cold weather have been catching fish.
The biggest problem when fishing this time of year is staying warm, wading in thirty-degree water requires heavy weight thermal underwear and I prefer fleece or wool pants under chest waders for warmth in the frigid water, chest high waders trap more of your body heat providing more warmth where you need it. Layering is important when you are going to be doing much walking, you don't want to sweat while trudging through snow from one hole to the next just to freeze when you stop to fish so dressing in layers that are easy to remove and add as conditions dictate will increase the time you can spend out in the cold.
I don't like to wear gloves unless I have to but then I like fingerless wool gloves, they keep my hands warm even when wet and they work great for holding onto slippery fish. I also love those little charcoal hand warmers; I stuff them in my pants pockets, in my jacket, and in my gloves to keep my hands warm. Another frustrating thing when the air is cold is ice forming in the guides of your rod but this problem can be solved by using one of the commercial ice off pastes or a little petroleum jelly rubbed on the guides.
Fishing can also be somewhat dangerous at this time of year, a careless footfall can send you for a swim in the icy water and if you are some distance from a warm place or dry clothes, hypothermia is a real risk. There are also other risks, snow covered hazards can twist an ankle or worse if you step into a hole or slip on a root or rock. Take extra care when walking along snow-covered trails and riverbanks.
The good news is that the fish are usually easy to find, trout will be in the holes and deeper runs close to the bottom where the current is not as swift. They like to hold in slack water adjacent to the current where they can leisurely feed on morsels that drift by in the flow. Springs and the mouths of feeder creeks can be another good place to find trout where the water temperature may be a few degrees warmer. Usually at this time of year when you find one trout there will be more nearby, especially in stocked waters. Low, clear water is also a plus in winter making it easy to spot fish and make casts to individual fish, just remember low and slow is the key to catch fish in cold water.
Trout will take a variety of baits during the winter but no matter what you choose to use the name of the game is slow, the trout will not chase or move far to intercept food. The cold water slows down their metabolism so your presentations need to be within a foot or so to entice the fish to strike. Live bait, eggs and powerbait are the most consistent producers in cold water but jigs and flies will also catch good numbers of fish if you prefer to use artificial baits. Sometimes however large baits can trigger a fish to abandon caution and hammer a big minnow or fly, I have caught quite a few big browns this time of year casting large heavily weighted streamers and woolybuggers around boulders and logjams in deeper water where the big fish came charging out of their hiding place and just hammer the bait.
When there isn't much food available it is hard for a large fish to resist a big meal when the opportunity arises. Most of the big browns I catch come early in the year while there is still snow on the ground and usually fall for a big minnow or nightcrawler or when fly-fishing, on large nymphs and streamers.
It doesn't look like winter will be letting up any time soon, so if cabin fever has you climbing the walls or you have some new gear sitting in the corner from Christmas that you have been dying to try out, don't wait any longer. The trout are in the water and hungry, dress for the conditions and get out there, catch some fish, and enjoy the experience.