New year, new places to fly-fish

Don Oliver
Photo Credit: Ace Stryker | The Southern Ute Drum

Don OliverChristmas is past.

You found new fly-fishing stuff under the tree. You’ve hand-written your thank-you notes. Now you’re thinking: “2013 is here, it’s winter — where can I go and use my new stuff?”

I have some suggestions.

If time is a consideration — you might have a job or no vacation time — I suggest the Animas or San Juan rivers. Fish get hungry in the winter, and both of those rivers are home to lots of trout.

In fact, one of the best dry-fly days I have ever had was a February day on the San Juan. The air was cold, no wind, not a cloud in the sky, and every trout in the river thought a size-16 Parachute Adams was the most delicious bug they had ever seen. Go figure.

While the Animas is closer, it does have snow and ice along the banks. Be really careful, take a wading staff, and don’t be afraid to try unconventional flies.

I sometimes think cold water can make a trout go braindead. When that happens, all bets for fly selection are off. Just close your eyes and pick a random fly. The results might surprise you.

On the other end of the spectrum for winter fly-fishing, check out the Gulf Coast. This fly-fishing trip means you are either unemployed or have vacation time available, and spending your children’s inheritance is not a problem. From Key West, Fla., to Port Isabel, Texas, the opportunities are endless. Looking at an atlas will show you thousands and thousands of miles to fly-fish in five different states.

Most, if not all, of the coast is public. So finding a spot to cast your fly means you only have to pick one of the five gulf states. Having a guide with a flats boat is a fun way to fish the coast, but is by no means necessary.

The middle ground can be a little more challenging, but just as fun. If you have a few days to travel and fly-fish and a little extra money left over from Christmas, try Arizona.

I know what you’re thinking: “Where in the desert is fishing, of any sort, available?” The answer is the entire middle of the state. To stay warm, go to the southern part of the middle. If you draw a horizontal line that passes through Phoenix as the north boundary, and a second horizontal line that goes from Yuma to the eastern boundary of Arizona, as the southern boundary, you have created a winter fly-fishing playground.

I used a book titled “Paddling Arizona” by Tyler Williams to create this area. In this area, there are 12 distinct places to fly-fish. They vary from lakes to streams to tail waters. All are reachable within a full day’s drive from Durango, and all have lots of restaurants and motels nearby.

The farthest would be the Colorado River in Yuma. The river actually flows through Yuma, so if you’re looking for solitude, this may not be the best place for you. But the winter temperatures are great.

If you like the idea of fly-fishing in an urban setting, try Tempe Town Lake. For the uninitiated, Tempe is a suburb of Phoenix. This lake is home to bass, trout, catfish, and pan-fish. Since my idea of roughing it is bad room service, Tempe holds lots of promise for me.

Other locations in this area include, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake, the Colorado River, and the Lower Salt River.

While I haven’t fished all these places, I have fly-fished in Arizona and highly recommend this Four Corners neighbor. In fact, just as soon as I lose the ice machine attached to my knee, a trip southwest is in the cards.

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