If sitting on a 5-gallon bucket and staring at a hole drilled in the ice does not meet your criterion for winter fishing, then take note. There is an open-water fishing option in Nebraska during the coldest part of the year and it involves trout.
So, grab the neoprene waders and gloves, layer your clothing, and rig the spinning rod and go stream trout fishing this winter.
Fed by groundwater springs, many of Nebraska’s trout streams, or at least stretches of them, remain relatively ice-free all winter. The rainbow, brown and brook trout in these waters can give you some fun fishing on some nice winter afternoons.
Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, has the following tips for effective winter angling in Nebraska’s trout streams, which predominantly are found in the north and west.
Where they are in the water: The cold-water trout feed less during the winter as their metabolism has slowed. In flowing water, they tend to settle into some of the deepest holes and spots with the least amount of current during the winter to conserve energy. When hooked, these trout will fight with almost the same vigor as those hooked in the summer.
Be stealthy and wear camo: When fishing for trout in streams, it is best to work your way upstream whenever possible. This is especially important when fishing for wild or spooky fish in clear water. Trout usually face into the current and will be less likely to see you approaching from behind. Wear camouflage clothing or natural colors. Move slowly and disturb the water as little as possible. Trout have great eyesight, feel vibrations and are wary in any of these streams; water conditions will be super-clear with lower flows.
Think small: Winter stream trout eat a variety of prey, and in general all of the typical trout presentations can catch fish in the winter, as well as in the summer. Of course, matching the actual prey the fish are eating is always a good place to start. This means going smaller for trout with more natural baits and artificial lures.
Use crankbaits: Small crankbaits can also catch trout in open water during the winter; however, they have to be fished quite slowly — usually just enough to get them wobbling. Frequent and extended pauses also might be needed to trigger fish. Neutrally buoyant crankbaits that maintain their depth at slow speeds or even when stopped are often some of the best crankbaits for trout in streams.
Other trout attractors: Do not overlook waxworms, salmon eggs, prepared baits, small jigs, or tiny spinners or spoons (silver on sunny days and gold on cloudy days) for successful winter trout stream fishing.
Fish when it is warmest: The trout in these streams are more apt to take your lure or bait on warm winter days, either sunny or cloudy, when the temperature hovers around or rises above freezing. Skip the morning and head out during the peak daytime air temperatures — usually during midafternoon.
For more of Bauer’s tips on fishing trout streams in winter, read my blog, “In the Wild,” at OutdoorNebraska.org.