Steamboat Springs Local fly-fishing guides want to make something clear: If the Yampa Valley winter’s frigid temperatures haven’t chased you off the ski slopes, they shouldn’t keep you from going knee deep in water with a rod and reel in hand either.
In fact, the colder the weather, the more likely fishers are to land that trophy fish they’ve dreamed of.
“The draw for it (in the winter) honestly is you’ve got an opportunity to land bigger fish,” Straightline Sports guide Daren Mangiaracina said. “They are more lethargic. If you look at a lot of big fish photos, there’s snow in the background.”
Casting in the Yampa River running along downtown Steamboat Springs might not be the best bet this time of year, given its limited availability and frozen conditions, but a trip southwest of town to Stagecoach Reservoir or Catamount is where guides are taking their eager clients in the winter, and business is going just fine, they say.
The day usually starts with a late morning wakeup call, and the winter fishing starts at about 10:30 or 11 a.m. As temperatures climb out of the teens, bug hatches begin, and for four hours or so, opportunities to land a handful of fish — or that one big one — are as good as they are the other three seasons.
“Wintertime for sure is a great time to go,” Bucking Rainbow Outfitters co-owner Jarrett Duty said. “As you see, the Yampa through town starts to close up this time of year, but below the dams of Stagecoach Reservoir and Catamount, the waters stay open because it’s bottom released. The waters stay at constant temperature under the dam all winter long.”
Things even become a little simpler when the temperatures drop. The flies used get a lot smaller, heavier lines can be used and casts can be shorter. Straightline guide Mike Maroney said it’s as good a time as any to learn, too.
Straightline lays claim to Steamboat’s only outfitter with three private winter fishing spots, but the others offer private waters that come a little pricier than public areas. And guided tours from area shops come with a level of uniqueness this time of year.
Clients typically snowmobile to their destination and enjoy a trip along the river where spotting wildlife such as bald eagles is not uncommon. And a guided lesson is usually all-inclusive with waders, boots, rods, reels, flies and lunch.
“We tell them to wear the same stuff they’d wear skiing,” Maroney said. “Then we put them in waders and that’s basically it.”
Business has been steady through the holiday season and will continue to grow, especially as late winter transitions into spring. If the fish aren’t biting now, they are sure to come in waves, the guides say, in late February, March and April.
“February and March become some of the best months of the year,” Duty said. “March is arguably one of the best months of the year. The biggest fish come that month. All the water opens up and the fish are feeding aggressively.”
If fly-fishing doesn’t pique the interest, ice fishing guides are available, as well. It’s a discipline that requires less technique and more of a beer-and-barbecue atmosphere, guides say, but still an opportunity to land some fish nonetheless. Straightline is offering it this season for the first time.
But Duty said that there is such a thing as too cold for fishing, when temperatures dip into single digits — or lower — and lines freeze up. All-day guided lessons just aren’t productive in the winter, either, he said.
But for outdoor enthusiast looking to break away from a pair of skis or their snowboard and cast a line, Steamboat is considered a lot more than its Ski Town USA nickname may suggest.
“What we’ve seen over the years — and we’ve been around for 20 years — is as people get older and bring their families here to ski, those older folks need two or three days off a week" to do something else, Duty said.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll