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The Secret of Virginia Trout Fishing in Winter

Trout fishing in winter doesn’t have to be slow and dull, and Virginia’s stocking schedule helps.

There is nothing quite as exciting as a nice rainbow or brown trout striking a spinner in moving water. For many anglers, this often comes to fruition only in the spring months.

Here in Virginia, the state stocks both brown and rainbow trout the majority of the year. Late fall and winter stocks can provide anglers with a nice chance to get out to enjoy the outdoors. Plus, who doesn’t love chasing after a tasty quarry?

Growing up in the Northeast, where during the prolific spring-only stocks, trucks dumped piles of trout into large holes. Waiting anglers were standing elbow to elbow in a chaotic semi circle. Three things make the stocks here in Virginia different:

  1. Stocks are done randomly
  2. Fish are spread out
  3. Stocks are announced via the state website every evening at 4 p.m.

Once hunting season winds down here in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, we often find the best trout action with little angler pressure. We may have to wait for the weather to cooperate, but when the conditions align it makes for great action.

A Typical January Day

My friend Donnie and I enjoyed just such a day on January 14. The temps rose into the upper 40s, the sun was shining, the wind laid down, and we broke out of the house in search of some freshwater trout.

Even though I listed the gear we used down below, the best equipment any hunter or angler in Montgomery County, Virginia can have along is Donnie Wingo. Donnie was born and raised in these mountains, and most of my choices on where to chase any fish or deer usually begin and end with a conversation with him.

“I remember around the spring of ’75 we found a nice hole a few miles down the creek that held some rainbows…” is how one of these talks often begins. With Donnie’s assistance, I had uncovered one of these magical holes, and that was where we headed on this mid-January day.

Our particular venue on this day was Craig Creek.  This tiny stream runs through the property where Donnie was raised and still lives to this day. The particular hole we were going to try to exploit had been dubbed “The Secret Hole.” It was down the creek from Donnie’s property, and neither one of us had ever seen another angler anywhere near it.

I had caught a nice 4-pound brown there last spring, which would have been the fish of the season if not for Donnie’s granddaughter’s 5 plus-pound rainbow caught at a nearby pond (it seems the outdoor passion runs through the family gene pool).

Trout in the Mountains

Upon arriving at our glorious spot, the water conditions were perfect. Mountain trout fishing can be tricky, as water levels are constantly changing.

I have always been an artificial lure man, and on this day we both had no bait with us, only a couple favorite spinners and small Rebel minnows. After nearly 45 minutes of casting with no action, we both felt a bit flummoxed. As we headed back, Donnie produced just what my ears were looking to hear. “There’s this other little set of holes just up the road, lets give them a go.”

One of the keys to fishing these smaller streams is, quite simply, knowledge. If you don’t have it, you have to earn it with many miles of wading the stream to locate prime holes off the beaten path. I have done just such research for the past 40 years, but on this day I had the secret weapon.

He walked us down to a beautiful bend in the stream. Any trout fisherman reading this can already picture it in his head. The bend and current had produced over the years a carved out hole, dark green water, with a nice moving current. The perfect setting for slow dragging 1/32 ounce spinners up the current.

Since my youth I have always been partial to one spinner manufacturer. Panther Martin. My favorite combo of blade and body color I call the Yellowjacket. Gold blade, black body with yellow spots.

My second choice is the Panther Martin 1/32 silver blade, yellow body with red spots. I find carrying both a silver and gold blade allows me to fish changing water colors, and both deeper and shallow runs.

My final weapon in the arsenal that day was the smallest Rebel minnow made, black back, silver sides with a wobble so strong it jogs the rod tip when your working it right.

On Craig Creek the best method of retrieve is usually casting down past the bottom of a hole or run, and very slowly dragging the spinner back against the current. When the current speed and spinner weight reach a magical level of precision, you can almost hold the spinner against the current, producing a vibration trout cannot turn down.

This is exactly what happened on Donnie’s first cast. I could tell he had the perfect run going. It took only a few seconds for the rod to double over and a beautiful rainbow to jump in protest at the end of his line. We repeated this technique over the next hour, landing a few nice fish, both rainbow and brown trout. It made for a glorious January day.

Below is both a gear checklist and some keys to finding these fish. Keep in mind this is what works for me. There are no golden keys, and every angler should use what works best for them. Nothing can replace time spent on the water, experimentation, and success!

Gear

  • Shimano AXUL-S Micro Spin Ultra lite reel
  • Shakespeare Micro Spin Single piece 5 foot ultra lite rod
  • Stren 4 pound test monofilament line
  • Panther Martin 1/32 oz Gold/Black/Yellow, Panther Martin 1/32 oz Silver/Yellow/Red, Rebel Tiny Minnow black back silver side.
  • Bolle’ King Polarized Sunglasses

Tips and Techniques

  • Seek out bends where the force of the current has cut out the bank. Trout love to lay under these banks and any bait trolled by them will produce an explosive reaction.
  • Trout like being near current, not necessarily in it. Current carries the food to them, but they don’t always want to fight the current while waiting for the impending meal. Keep an eye on areas where current creates an eddy, or has a slower moving section of water just off it.
  • I have found once you locate a hole that looks nice, the trout often congregate at the very bottom of the hole. Where the current dies out just a touch, but also where the food traveling down stream will end up on a silver platter.
  • Give your selected area a good number of casts utilizing the entire area and offering different attack angles and depths. Many times I have found, after a number of casts with no success, I will hit the perfect run through the hole, and that is usually when the big boy jumps on.
  • Edges of sand bars where there is a gravel run seem to attract trout. Right at the transition of the sand and gravel is often times a great spot to ambush some nice fish.
  • I prefer holes where I cannot see the bottom (which usually means the fish can’t see me as well either). However, don’t overlook shallower holes. With water that lacks depth, stealth is a key adversary, and polarized glasses are a must. Once the fish see the angler the gig is often up.

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The Secret of Virginia Trout Fishing in Winter