Winter Fishing in the Ozarks

Winter time is fast upon us in the Ozarks which means more power demands and you know what that means— more generation and less fishing opportunities on the areas wonderful Tailwaters fisheries. Do not despair!! Just because the water is deep in the tailwaters doesn’t mean you need to hang up the waders and case the rods. The Ozarks abound with cold weather fly fishing opportunities and all it takes is some good, warm gear and a little information, couple this with a good map or two and you are on the water in no time!!

North Fork of the White
What a fabulous place to spend a winters day! Miles of great trout water, gorgeous scenery and (especially during the week) relative solitude make the North Fork my choice to beat the winter blues. This river is as close as you can come to a western fishery and should be approached accordingly. Fish will tend to hold in the deep, swift runs and, as the water temp declines, so will the feeding urge. Trout will become lethargic and will utilize only necessary energy to feed, making precise, dead drifted presentations a must. Trout will also tend to prefer larger flies, there by making the expended energy seem worth the trouble (until you set the hook that is).

There are so many areas to fish on the ‘Fork that I will only try to cover the most reliably productive runs: Kelly Ford to Blair Bridge- I feel this to be the most productive stretch of river to fish the first riffle around the corner from Kelly is a must, we’ve had several days where we were stuck on the run and had to paddle like crazy to make our pick up at the end of the day. Lots of browns and good numbers of rainbows. The next riffle is good for a few fish, but don’t get caught spending to much time on it. This is a deep, swift run and requires a little more weight and depth to fish.

After McKee bridge comes rainbow alley. This is the next long riffle below the bridge. This is probably the most consistent stretch of water and should be fished meticulously. Rainbow alley starts as a nice, braided riffle and continues to become a great run with an even current and uniform depth. This stretch is appropriately named as there are a good number of rainbows residing therein. Hatches are always heavy and with the uniform current, long drag free drifts are not impossible to achieve. The next riffle you come to are the falls. This area is worth spending some time on, as well. This run is long and swift so fish accordingly. From the falls, the river starts to drop in elevation and there are many riffles and runs worth spending time on.

This stretch can be fished in one day, but a winter camp is always a good idea flies to have with you include all manner of stone fly nymphs, with Kaufmann stones in black, brown and golden being my favorites. Sizes range from 4-16. Brooks stones, Bitch Creeks, Montanas, and Bird style patterns all produce as well. Hares ears, pheasant tails, prince nymphs, and zug bugs are must haves, as are several styles and sizes of caddis larvae and pupae imitations. Dries to have include humpies, adams, blue wing olive (tiny sz 18-24), and elk hair caddis in tan, cream and olive, sizes 14-20. Don’t forget the midges either. I fish small copper brassies as a dropper with good results. Discos in several colors are a good choice as well as Griffiths gnats in sizes 18-22. And don’t forget your woolies!! Olive, black and brown as well as ginger all are proven producers in sizes 8-14.

The next good section of the ‘Fork is the public section above Patrick bridge. I tend to skip the flat water directly above the bridge and head up the trail to the top island. Fish the area from the top island down to below the third island in the same manner as you would for the Kelly Ford stretch. These riffles and runs do hold some great fish and with a little effort, they will take the fly.

Techniques for the winter here are relatively easy to master. For nymph fishing, I use a yarn style indicator. Tippet can be sized up, and I use 3x to 5x with consistent results. Place your indicator at least 2 times the water depth above your fly and use an appropriate size shot to get the fly down. Remember, you are fishing a free stone stream. Water temp is not regulated like from a tailwater. Stream temps can vary and the colder the water, the deeper and less active the fish will be. Vary your depth to match conditions. A dropper rig is a good way to pick up a few extra fish. Use a stone fly pattern as your point fly and attach your dropper ABOVE the point fly by tying an extra piece of tippet via a surgeons knot in the area you want your fly. This technique can greatly increase your catch. Present your rig up and across and mend to allow the fly to reach the desired depth. Watch for flashing fish to indicate that they are feeding and try to drift over these active feeders. Your drift should be as dead as possible and accuracy is a must. Another technique that is proven is to fish woolies on the swing. Start by casting up and across and allowing the fly to sink. Tighten up on your leader as the fly goes by and “swing” the fly to downstream. A few short strips at the end and your ready to do it again.

The North Fork rewards it’s visitors with rich scenery, solitude and the occasional trout, so get out and enjoy it.

Capps Creek
This southwest Missouri gem is oft over looked, but can provide anglers with a very rewarding day of fishing. Situated in eastern Newton county, Capps Creek is a wonderful little freestone that is stocked with browns and has rainbows as well. The MDC has purchased a bunch of land (all the way to Shoal Creek, I think) and access is readily available. I access Capps from Jolly Mill and fish down to Shoal Creek. Take hwy 60 west through Monet and watch for the Jolly Mills signs on the left. Lots of riffles, prolific insect life and lots of cover make this a perfect brown trout stream.

I tend to minimize my fly selection for this one and carry a variety of nymph patterns including hares ears, pheasant tails, princes, and zug bugs as well as several different caddis imitations and woolies. There are good hatches of midges in the winter as well as the Tiny Blue Winged Olive and Tricos, so throw a few of those in to be safe. I always carry a stream thermometer and check water temp as soon as I arrive. If the temp is below 40 degrees I just plan on catching the occasional lazy fish and seeing some beautiful scenery, but I have found that there is a period during even the coldest winter days that the fish turn on for a while. I figure this is the gravy and is keeping in line with paying your dues. But there is no place I would rather be during those brief moments of activity than standing knee deep in cold, flowing water.

Crane Creek
This much heralded creek can be a bit difficult to fish at times, but winter is the best time to get on the water. Less brush and no snakes are a big part of that. Crane is a jewel and should be fished very delicately. It is small and the fish are wound up like two dollar watches, so stay out of it where ever possible. These fish are self sustaining so handle with care!!!!!

Fish this stream from down stream to up if you can and fish light. By that I mean light tippet and delicate presentations. As far as flies go, the basics are a good idea. Hares ears, pt’s, caddis larvae, and various soft hackles such as hares ear, pt, and partridge and orange or partridge and yellow are solid flies to start with. The bead head form of all the afore mentioned flies work well. Crackle backs are at times a great fly on Crane, as are crane fly larvae in light brown or natural hares ear. Brassies and disco midges as well as burlap nymphs and various small midge pupal imitations can cover the midge selection.

Everybody hears how skittish these fish are and it is no joke. I’ve snuck up on hands and knees and simply dropped or “dapped” the fly from the bank, feeding line as the current took it and still spooked fish. If you use and indicator here, go small and unobtrusive, such as a Palsa or cored fly line. And if you line these fish, they’re gone so keep from passing your fly line directly over their line of sight. And always be mindful of which way your shadow is cast. I’ve seen these fish flush like quail at a leaf shadow on the water so a humans would send them fleeing in terror.

There are three access points for the public. Wire Road is north of the town of Crane off of road 13-90. In this area the stream is small and requires a gentle touch to fish. The area in the Crane City Park is a good stretch of water and is oft over looked, so check it out. South of Crane is another public access, the lower Wire Road access. Here the stream opens up a bit and some big fish have been taken. Almost the entire stream is catch and release, artificial only. Forewarned is fore armed. No matter what you say about Crane, it is a sheer joy to fish and you can learn some very important lessons here.

Current River
The Current flows through Montauk state park and is another great brown trout fishery. This is probably a two dayer on account (for those of us in the Branson, Tri-lakes area anyway) of the drive and lodging is available in several locations. Public access is also readily available and I like to fish the area from Tan-Vat down to below Baptist Camp. This area has a great spawn run of browns and can provide some fast and furious action at times. One of my favorite flies there is the green rock worm, a caddis larvae imitation fished dead drifted to feeding fish. Small flash back hares ears, pt’s, and woolies are great patterns to take along. Always carry some Caddis dries like the elk hair, this river is loaded with caddis and they can hatch at any time during a warm spell. Egg patterns produce well through December and a variety of soft hackles are always needed. The current also offers great winter time floating/fishing/camping opportunities and I have spent some memorable times on it’s banks, so close to civilization still so far away.

Roaring River
It’s catch and release time again at Roaring River State Park. The park and river are in great shape, we’ve fished it several times since it opened and the fishing is great!!

Blue wing olives, parachute Adams, blue quills, Griffiths gnats, cream elk hair caddis, humpies and other various dries have all produced fish. Nymphs include, hares ears, pt’s, cased caddis, burlap nymphs, chamois nymphs, scuds, sow bugs, and brassies to name a few. Midging has been great, with discos, krystals, zebra midges, WD 40’s, and suspend-a-midge all producing positive results. I fish these patterns at the onset and during the hatch by greasing the leader down to about 12 inches from the fly and dead drifting in or just below the surface film, at times allowing them to swing and giving them a slight twitch at the end. Crackle backs have also been working well at Roaring, fished either wet or dry and woolies are always effective during winter months. I also carry an assortment of soft hackles with me and fish them either nymph style or on the swing. Try to carry some of these with bead heads as well.

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