If you read my latest post State Park Season Sucks you would know that the 2 and a half months that lead up to January 1st is my least favorite time of the year to be a trout fisherman in Minnesota. January 1st though starts my favorite trout fishing month of the year in Minnesota with the 1st being one of my favorite days of the year.
I recently was messaging with Justin at Winona Fly Factory about the January 1st opener. This day also happens to be his favorite day of the year and has been for a number of years. Justin’s love for winter trout fishing and the way he wrote about it in his blog heavily influenced my interest in it and after going out and experiencing it for myself I was hooked.
Fly fishing the Minnesota driftless in January is hard to put into words. In one hand you are surrounded by the beauty of rugged bluffs blanketed in snow and running, spring fed creeks that don’t freeze over on the coldest below zero day and in the other hand there is a fine line between enjoyable day on the water and a miserable day of freezing in the frigid temps. One of my favorite parts is the stillness and quietness at this time of year. In the remote valleys of southeastern Minnesota there is very minimal road traffic and you very seldomly hear any kind of animal noise besides the occasional mid-day eagle cry or owl hoot in the evenings. Mostly it is just the sound of running water, a good conversation with a fishing buddy, and most of the other sounds are dampened out by the snow.
Last year on January 1st the day started out at -13 and it never reached 0 at it’s warmest. Our love for this day and the challenge of trying to catch trout in this kind of weather kept us out all day that day and we did end up catching fish. This year was much nicer with a high topping out at 19.
I met up with Jack and Noah at one of our favorite streams early in the morning. We were excited for the day and expected to have a fun time fishing a stream that hadn’t been touched by humans for the last 2 and a half months.
We started fishing underneath the bridge we parked at as the sun began rising over the snow-covered landscape. 2 casts later and Noah was on the board with a little brown trout caught on a fricks fix streamer.
We were psyched when Noah landed this fish and it set the tone for the day. A few hundred yards upstream from the bridge I ran into my first trout of 2019. Jack followed suit not long after.
Fishing upstream further from the bridge we ran into trout here and there. All three of us were using streamers ranging in size from the fix to a hog snare. Fish were following frequently on the first few casts into a hole but many would turn and refuse the offer. We found the most productive spots in the stream were in runs at the top of pools where we would swing the streamers across and upstream. After a while we found that the smaller streamers were producing more fish and we eventually all sized down to a fix and had a productive outing.
The scenery of the day was right out of a dream and we soaked it up. New snow from the night before hung in the trees and the frequent sunlight was warmly welcomed.
We also ran into another phenomena unique to exploring streams after January 1st. Running into dead deer in and around the trout streams of southeastern Minnesota is a common occurrence in the winter.
Towards the end of the day Noah and Jack had to head back home. Before Jack left he decided that his waders had worked long enough for him and he ran into a metal stake that in return punched a hole in the shin area of his waders. With that unfortunate event, Jack was ready to call it a day and we headed back to the car.
After Jack and Noah left I was able to stay around and fish the remainder of the day so I packed up and drove to a new stream.
I arrived at a pull-off with brown easement signs next to it and another beautiful scene along a new stream. This stream was running slightly off colored and fished completely different than the previous stream. I struggled to find and move fish but at this point in the day that was the least of my worries. I just fished on and appreciated the beauty of the fleeting light at the sunset of the first day of 2019.
Before the light of day ran out I hooked into fish number 19 on the day and probably the last trout I’ll catch in Minnesota for the next few months. In the morning I was headed back to Colorado
Man I love the driftless.