Off-Season Prep for a Productive Open Water Season

While the snow continues to pile up on my favorite lakes and ponds, the least I can do is prepare for the warmer days ahead. I go into each season with the mindset that it will be my best, and this year is no exception. With countless new tips and techniques I’ve picked up over the winter, I’m itching to get back on the water and make this the best season yet. Before I can do that, though, there is a whole bunch of groundwork that needs to be done to ensure I can make the most of my time on the water.

In order to have a productive season, one must have all their ducks in a row before they venture out on their first trip. One of the first things I do is make sure I replenish and replace any gear I used or broke during the previous season. In addition, I may purchase new gear that I’ve been wanting to give a shot. With a birthday in November and Christmas and Hanukkah in December, I amass a hefty number of gift cards that I put to good use in accomplishing the aforementioned tasks. Before coronavirus struck, I made one or more trips to Bass Pro Shops during the winter. Now, I more frequently do my shopping online at a number of sites, including the ones mentioned in my list of the best online fly shops.

Some of the most frequently overlooked items to purchase during the offseason are those that fit into the category of terminal tackle. For spin fishers, that consists of hooks, sinkers, pegs, swivels, and floats. Fly fishers and tyers should consider hooks, beads, split shot, and strike indicators. Anglers and tyers burn through these items quickly, but are typically too lazy to replace them during the height of the season. Now is a great time to sit down and think about what type of fishing and tying you will be doing, and purchase terminal tackle accordingly. For example, if you were to experiment with a slip bobber rig for crappie this spring, you may contemplate purchasing some floats, pegs, and small jigs.

Another task I prefer to complete during the winter is overhauling my reels. Before the start of the new season, I take all the line off my reels, give the reel components a good wash and some lubrication, then put them back together and spool them with fresh line (or, in the case of fly lines, freshly cleaned line). Line deteriorates and reels collect debris over the course of the season, so it is always prudent to make sure you’ve cleaned your reels thoroughly and replaced your line.

Speaking of line, fly fishers who tie their own tapered leaders know how frustrating it is to constantly have to tie a new one every few fishing trips. This year, I hope to tie a selection of leaders before the season to fit just about every scenario I’ll encounter on the water. These include a 7.5′ 4x leader for small streams, 9′ 5x for typical nymphing, 12′ 6x for stealthy dry flies, 8′ 3x for light streamers, 5.5′ 6x euro nymphing leader (starting from the indicator mono), and a quickly tapering 6′ 15lb. leader for large streamers and other beefy topwater offerings. Though I’m sure many of these leaders will have to be replaced over the course of the season, I hope preparing them beforehand will decrease the often lengthy amount of time I spend preparing for just about every trip.

Tapered leaders take a while to tie, so it’s best to do it before the season.

Along a similar vein, to cut down on time spent doing last-minute fly tying before trips, most fly fishers, myself included, spend the winter filling their boxes with their favorite patterns so they’re ready to go when the season begins. Winter is the unofficial tying season, so many take it upon themselves to tie as many flies as they can this time of year. I try to do things methodically, starting with nymphs, then moving to dries, then streamers, and finally wet flies. In an effort to simplify my selection, I’m attempting to stick with confidence patterns in a wide range of sizes and weights to fill my boxes, and leave other experimental patterns for tying closer to the season.

Winter is also a great time for anglers to hone their casting skills. A recent call-in on the Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast brought to light the wonderful practice-casting surface many of us northerners have access to: snow. Clean snow provides a low-abrasion area where fly, monofilament, and braided lines won’t be nicked as they might be on asphalt or certain lawns. When the mercury climbs above freezing, but time doesn’t allow for a quick fishing trip, try practicing your casting accuracy and speed; you’ll be thankful you did.

If you couldn’t already tell by the brevity of this post and the somewhat random topic, there isn’t a whole lot of “fishy” stuff happening in my world right now other than preparing for the upcoming season. While time constraints and weather have limited my time on the ice this week, I’m sure I’ll be back out there soon. For now, though, I’m enjoying spending some time at the vise and behind the laptop, working on some future projects.

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