Winter's disdain brings slow trout and fading fun

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Months definitely have personalities. November is all frisky, heavy with the promise of parties and presents and booziness. July is hazy and lazy and smells of too much suntan oil. April is skippy and happy and best friend with May. January and February, however, are the manic depressives of the calendar. Everyone dreads them and they are just as awful as you remember. Every suggestion of anything fun is spat back at you with disdain and a certain icy dampness.

Months definitely have personalities. November is all frisky, heavy with the promise of parties and presents and booziness. July is hazy and lazy and smells of too much suntan oil. April is skippy and happy and best friend with May. January and February, however, are the manic depressives of the calendar. Everyone dreads them and they are just as awful as you remember. Every suggestion of anything fun is spat back at you with disdain and a certain icy dampness.

Fly fishing in these months is for the hardcore. Unless you're lucky enough to be fishing for early salmon, or late grayling it's mostly done on a boat with minimal chance of movement to keep warm. At times such as these catching fish seems to become a matter of life or death, if for no other reason than the adrenalin rush of playing in a fish keeps you toasty for a good 15 minutes. I once consumed a bus's weight in white, refined carbohydrates in an attempt to stoke my body's thermostat, while on a boat, on a lake. I didn't catch a fish 'til the afternoon - after some five hours' fishing. And they were long, bastard hours.

And it is precisely at times such as those that tactics become coarse. Flies not really worth the name get dragged out of the bottom of the box as everything becomes frantic and tearful. You may start the day all scientific and purist, tying teeny tiny flies on with fingers that still feel like they belong to you. But give it an hour or two and flies that look like frogs, crabs, young birds, rocket launchers... suddenly get attached to the end of a 9-weight line and lobbed out into the middle of a reservoir in desperate attempt to tempt something.

I was once advised to use ultraviolet flies, as the trout would, apparently, go bonkers for them. Sadly, this isn't true. As a trout matures, it loses its ability to see ultraviolet reflections. Juvenile fish have extremely sensitive ultraviolet cones (the cells in your eyes that help you see colour), they need to because it helps them catch their food - food which is near to the surface and gives off ultraviolet reflections. But as trout grow bigger their food source is housed in deeper water and isn't so glowy. And, anyway, ultraviolet light doesn't penetrate fresh water beyond about two metres (however, it can go as deep as 600 metres in salt water which is why ultra-violet reflective flies are very useful if you're fishing in the sea, hopefully, in the summer).

In the depths of winter, fish are pretty much like us. They don't want to move much and if they do move it has to be for something pretty attractive. Despite this seeming fussiness, fish are hungrier in the winter. Although you still get insect hatches - and can therefore still get a fish on a dry fly - the hatches are slower and less frequent. There's generally less to eat. What you need is a more pragmatic approach - you need to try a little bit of everything. I tend to start with a fairly delicate fly, matched to whatever's hatching (remember there will always be something hatching). This is because at start of play I have more patience and my fingers are more nimble. Come 3pm I can usually only tie on something the size of a marlin lure and this is what I move on to. Something bright and big that you hope will provoke a reaction.

Although the trout can come up to the surface of the water - why it's always good to try a dry fly - they tend to be deep and not a little sulky. It's a good idea, if you can, to have a smorgasboard of lines at your disposal (this is why a big boat bag is a very good thing). Some anglers will only go out with a sinking line but if you can, also have an intermediate and a floating line at the ready (although personally I find it such a faff to change lines with cold hands and a sinking heart). The floating line, used with a very long leader and a heavy fly will still get you deep but you retain the sensitivity of the floating line. Although the long leader can be a bugger to cast (this said, is it me or does it seem easier to cast a long line on a crisp winter's day than a sticky summer one? Can any scientist people out there answer why this might be?) I tend to go for an intermediate line with a longish leader, and some dynamite.

Of course, the lovely thing about winter-fishing is that spirit drinking becomes medicinal. I love the tiredness a cold day's fishing brings and that feeling of resuscitation a single malt gives you as it spills down your throat and out through your fingertips.

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