Cold, gin clear, and low water? Go catch big trout.

Atypically low and clear waters presents both a challenge and an opportunity for winter anglers. New Years day and the two months in both directions is my personal favorite time of year to fish for monster trout (as long as my fly rod doesn't freeze up resembling something like a 10ft candy cane). The fishing pressure is low and there are often vast stretches of prime water available, something avid NJ fly fishermen often only dream about.

From October 25th - Nov. 1st, Lake Musconetcong went through it's annual 26" draw down for maintenance.  As a result, streamflow on the Musconetcong river enjoyed healthy flow despite the generally dry conditions (approx. 250 cfs near Bloomsbury) until Dec. 15th.  The flow has now been cut back dramatically as the lake replenishes, now flowing around 60-65cfs, about a third of it's normal flow for this time of year.  With the gin-clear water temp at 40F, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for anglers as well as a great example of how to approach such conditions. 

Low water generally means clear water due to lower energy, reduced sediment transport and associated turbidity as well as lower biological productivity, namely planktonic algae and zooplankton.  During normal or high water levels, large fish can comfortably access expansive (even very shallow and often unexpected) feeding lies. During low water levels, they simply cannot and are more confined to more predictable pools including deep holes, pocket pools, buckets, and runs. This concentrates fish that otherwise may not tolerate each other due to pecking order and other reasons.

Pros of low water (to list a few): It is easier to pinpoint where trout are most likely to be.  The water is simpler to read. The lies are easlier to identify and more clearly defined. This is an excellent time to explore waters you are not intimately familiar with.  This will help you pinpoint the spot on the spot when water levels are normal or higher. During especially low water levels, trout may be edgy and triggered by a territorial strike presentation or in competition for food and therefore MAY be less picky on patterns or size. Line control may be easier due to lower flow and less complex currents leading to better strike identification and proper hook sets. 

Cons: The fish are far more spooky.  Clear water transmits more light and with less distortion due to lower energy and turbulence (calmer). This means they spot and sense you easier.  A trout's lateral line is highly sensitive to vibrations.  They feel you coming by your footsteps, wake, splash of the line etc. and may already be put down or in hiding before you get in range to present a fly.  Reiterating: They are spooky!

Take away for low clear winter water:  Go explore new stretches and learn. Read the waters. Be prepared to stalk fish even if it feels silly at first.  Be prepared to catch very little but have a good mental health day. Also be prepared to catch larger than average fish. I firmly believe the largest of trout are most catchable during the winter in daytime.  A fisherman is a predator and should act like one! Move slowly. Do not get closer than you need to and try not to move (especially in the water) unecessarily. This is much harder than it sounds.  Be patient. Do not cast aimlessly. More time with your fly in the water doesn't necessarily mean more fish. Instead, plan each cast and target them precisely and accurately so that the hook is where you want it at the depth or space it needs to be. Make your first cast your best cast. Scale down your line size and weight. Be prepared for subtle strikes.  If you miss one or catch one, do not be afraid to let the hole rest for a few minutes. There are likely more trout there. The results will pay dividends usually in the form of massive browns and monster rainbows. This brown is from yesterday, the largest of 12 at 26". 


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