Although to some it may be hard to comprehend how anyone could want to fish with 2-plus feet of snow in the woods, anglers boldly found their way to the rivers this past weekend. In most years the trout opener in northern Wisconsin draws crowds of anglers to the banks of famous rivers like the Brule or Sioux in search of steelhead. This year anglers found fortune in just making it to the banks and seeing the river run wild.
With record setting cold and snow this winter, early spring fishing takes on a whole new understanding. Not only do you need to pack in your normal fishing gear, but packing in extra clothing to stay warm is a must. Gloves, hats and neck gaiters are a good start, but the proper under layers is the key to being warm and comfortable all day. New thermal base layers are light enough to be layered over but provide the warmth and wicking capabilities you will need moving about the river. With deep snow in the woods, most of your time will be spent wading in the river. This means purchasing a quality pair of neoprene waders (preferably 5mm, 1000 gram Thinsulate) is a necessity and will keep you warm and dry.
As far as the fishing is concerned, during this time of year plan on fishing slow and being very thorough. Fish are going to be a bit lethargic and won't chase flies or spinners very far. Multiple drifts at varying depths will be necessary to get fish interested in what you plan on offering. Seeing as water conditions can be higher than normal and a bit discolored, sturdier leaders are advised. You will running flies on the bottom to be in the strike zone and snags are unavoidable. Consider 9-foot, 7 to 8 weight fly rods coupled with large arbor reels are recommended for this early season fishery or a 7-foot medium/heavy action spinning rod is a handy alternative choice. Steelhead are in the rivers this time of year and you need a rod with enough backbone to turn the fish and keep them out of the wood and rocks.
For those who are ready and willing to brave the deep snow to reach the river, the reward of a steelhead on the line is worth the extra effort, and having the right gear is a must to make this experience enjoyable.