While winter might not be synonymous with solid dry fly fishing, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch fish on top when the weather is cold!
One of the biggest knocks on wintertime fly fishing is that it’s often long days spent watching indicators. The dry fly action certainly isn’t quite as prolific as spring and summer, but plenty of trout can still be caught on the surface. While knowing where and when to go is important, having the appropriate dry fly for the conditions is perhaps the most critical step to success when fishing this way in the winter months!
This is a mainstay in every winter angler’s box as it’s one of the most productive patterns out there. It nicely imitates the adult midge which dominates the wintertime bug activity. They can be a bit tricky to see, but a good rule of thumb is to fish the slower water with this small fly and look in the general vicinity of where it might be floating. Whenever you get a good idea of where the Gnat is drifting look for the tell-tale sipping of a trout inhaling midges. Odds are pretty good that the fish is snacking on this deadly fly!
An orange stimulator is a favorite summer pattern, but it’s not often thought of when the weather turns cold and flows drop. The thing is, trout (specifically freestone wild trout) are opportunistic feeders and this looks like a smorgasbord of calories to a fish hungry in winter. It might buck the trend of “match the hatch,” but it’s going to catch you plenty of trout on a favorite brookie stream. It’s also the perfect choice for running dry-dropper rigs instead of dredging multiple nymphs in water that might be skinny.
If midges are the top bug hatch of winter, the blue winged olive probably comes in second. It’s more prevalent in late fall and early spring, but those seasons can overlap to include winter and trout will happily feed on these mayflies. The parachute adds some nice visibility and allows anglers to fish in faster water that might swallow up other small dries. A killer tactic for winter dry fly rigging is to run a Parachute BWO with a little Griffin’s Gnat trailing behind. The white post makes it easier to locate the flies and gives you a good idea of where the trailing, smaller midge might be.
There’s something serenely beautiful about the thought of flipping a small dry fly at rising fish in winter. Snowy banks, icy stream edges, and low flows combine for an experience that cannot be replicated at any other time of the year. Nymphing will usually be the most effective method of fishing, but there is no shortage of dry fly action for the hardy folks that opt for this technique during the cold months. Knowing what fly to use is the first step in this adventure because trout won’t be terribly forgiving when the water is chilled, but these three patterns are sure to set you up for success!