Classic Tip: How to Manage the “Winter Blues”

Written by: Justin Collman

Perhaps taking up fly-fishing artwork is a good way to beat the winter blues.
Photo by Illustration by Catherine Griffin

Last month, I found myself sitting cross-legged on a boulder in the middle of my home stream looking through the clear water at the rocks on the bottom. I had given up fishing about an hour before and was morosely reflecting on the transformation of a lively fall brook stream into a seemingly vacant winter stream. Where did all of the fish go? Did they pack up their little trout motor homes and go to the Keys for the winter?

It might sound fanatical to people who don’t fish, but the off-season blues can be a serious problem for anglers. In addition to decreased sunlight, which can cause most of us to get pretty blue, anglers lose one of their most important sources of stress relief, fun, and physical exercise.

When the fishing season ends for me, I definitely notice a change in my mood. I find myself spending more time on the couch staring off into space, eating more unhealthy food and gaining weight, and I find that I’m less efficient at work. When the fishing season begins again, I feel like a different person. I certainly cannot attribute all of my feelings to the end of fishing season, but I feel that fishing offers me some excellent tools for improving my state of mind.

First, I exercise more during fishing season. I hike into mountain streams, wade for hours, and paddle around in my sit-on-top kayak. Exercise is a great way to lift my mood. I guess I could hit the treadmill, but I am not motivated to exercise unless I have a fishing rod in my hand. Second, I spend a lot of time planning and looking forward to weekend trips during the season. During the off season, I lose this little opportunity to mentally escape from my workday. Finally, I lose the opportunity to fish. I’m not sure why fishing makes me so happy, but it does. I feel better before I do it, while I’m doing it, and after I do it.

I like to explain it to non-fishers like this: imagine you had a romantic partner that was attractive, fun, challenging, engaging, and helped you get physically fit just by spending time with her/him? And then how would you feel if that amazing person just up and left you at the beginning of November and didn’t come back until April or even as late as June? Wouldn’t you be down?

Ways to Get By

1. Fly Tying

Since the first crusty English aristocrat thought to place a hook in a vise, fly tyers have long known that tying flies is the next best thing to actually fishing, as well as being the number one tool for making it through the long winter months without having a nervous breakdown. Some people even like tying flies more than fishing. (Few would ever admit to this, though.) If you already tie flies, this is nothing new, but if you are new to the lifestyle, then you might pick up fly tying to stave off the winter blues. Maybe you just finished your first season of fly fishing and have just realized that without your knowledge or consent, you have become a fly-fishing addict. It happens to all of us. Give fly tying a whirl. Coffee, a snuggy, an audiobook, and some fly tying are a great way to pass a cold winter day.

Most Mondays, Tom Rosenbauer hosts a Facebook Live fly-tying sessions on the Orvis Fly Fishing Facebook page.

2. Scouting

I never dedicate enough time to scouting out new water or better access to water when the weather warms up. Once I put on my waders and rig up my rod, I feel an irresistible urge to dash immediately to the water. As a result, I end up navigating a path to the river that in any other situation I would not feel comfortable attempting without ropes and a helmet. Moreover, I do it all with one hand because my rod is in the other hand. The winter is a great time to find easier access to prime fishing locations and explore that small mountain stream you’ve seen on the map but never hiked into to look at.

3. Read Fishing Books

I love to read about fishing, and there are many great fishing writers. For instructional material, I really enjoy Tom Rosenbauer. For humor and storytelling, I’m devoted to John Gierach. Some other great writers to check out include Dana Rikimaru, Ted Leeson, Thomas McGuane, and Norman McLean. [Editor’s note: Here’s a great reading list from William G. Tapply.]

In the end, the off season blues are an unavoidable part of the fishing lifestyle. Do what you will, there is nothing quite like a summer evening of wet-wading your home water with just a handful of dry flies. Good luck in February.

Justin Collmann is an avid fly fisher and tyer. He is a licensed psychologist in Virginia and regularly writes about the psychology of fly fishing.

7 thoughts on “Classic Tip: How to Manage the “Winter Blues””

  1. I’m not really sure why you have a “season” for trout fishing. Sure, spring, summer, and fall are generally better for fishing because the fish are more active. However, they still feed during the winter time, you just have to be more patient, stick with nymphing, and be will to suck it up and deal with the cold. But I’ve had some great days during the winter and when its snowing. In fact, fishing in the mountains of western Maryland when there is a layer of snow on the ground can be one of the most beautiful and enjoyable times to fish. Not to mention, you have the river to yourself because only the hardcore guys are fishing then. However, if you don’t want to fish during the winter, take up hunting–it can be just as rewarding.

    1. Andy, there are lots of states where fishing is actually prohibited in winter. Lucky for us, Vermont did just open several rivers to year-round fishing, but that won’t kick in until January.

  2. Let’s not leave out backyard practice sessions. We can all benefit with more practice whether it is working on your timing or learning new casts and even accuracy. 20 years ago I picked up this addiction and my first casting lessons were on a snow covered backyard and to this day I still get out and practice.

  3. Well, I say you move to a more fishing-friendly state or lobby for less state regulations on the rivers. I assume Maryland is probably headed that way as well though, which is just one more reason I’m moving next year. Too much dang government in the wrong places. Catch and release regulations and water purity rules are great, but making it illegal to fish for long periods of time during the year?!?! That’s a bit too much for me to take.

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