New year, new winter places to go fly-fishing

Christmas has passed. You found new fly-fishing stuff under the tree. You have handwritten your thank-you notes. Now you’re thinking, “2013 is here, it’s winter, where can I go and use my new stuff?” Needless to say, I have some suggestions.

If time is a consideration (i.e., you have a job and no vacation time), I suggest the Animas or San Juan rivers. Fish get hungry in the winter, and both of those rivers are home to lots of trout.

One of the best dry-fly days I ever had was a February day on the San Juan. The air was cold, no wind, not a cloud in the sky and every trout in the river thought a size 16 Parachute Adams was the most delicious bug they had ever seen. Go figure.

While the Animas is closer, it has snow and ice along the banks. Be careful, take a wading staff and don’t be afraid to try unconventional flies. I sometimes think really cold water can make a trout go brain dead. When that happens, all bets for fly selection are off. Just close your eyes and pick a random fly. The results might surprise you.

On the other end of the spectrum for winter fly-fishing, check out the Gulf Coast. This trip means you are either unemployed, have vacation time available or are retired and spending your children’s inheritance is not a problem. From Key West, Fla., to Port Isabel, Texas, the opportunities are endless.

Looking at an atlas will show you thousands and thousands of miles to fly-fish in five states. And most of the Gulf Coast is public water, so finding a spot to cast your fly is no problem. Having a guide with a flats boat is a fun way to fish the coast, but by no means is necessary.

The middle ground can be a little more challenging but just as fun. I define middle ground as having a few days to travel and fly-fish and a little extra money left over from Christmas. Where should you go? Why, Arizona.

I know, you’re thinking, “where in the desert is fishing, of any sort, available?” The answer is: The entire middle of the state. However, to stay warm, you need to go to the southern part of the middle. If you draw horizontal lines through Phoenix and Yuma, in between is a winter fly-fishing playground.

I used a book titled Paddling Arizona by Tyler Williams to create this area, where you will find 12 distinct places to fly-fish. They vary from lakes to streams to tailwaters. All are reachable within a day’s drive from Durango, and all have lots of restaurants and motels nearby.

The farthest is the Colorado River in Yuma. The river actually flows through Yuma, so if you’re looking for solitude, this might not be the best place for you. However, the winter temperatures are great.

If you like the idea of fly-fishing in an urban setting, try Tempe Town Lake. This lake in one of Phoenix’s suburbs is home to bass, trout, catfish and panfish. Because my idea of roughing it is bad room service, Tempe holds lots of promise for me.

Other locations in this area include Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and the Lower Salt River.

While I haven’t fished all these places, I have fly-fished in Arizona and highly recommend this Four Corners neighbor. In fact, just as soon as I lose the ice machine attached to my knee, a trip southwest is in the cards.

Reach Don Oliver at