When winter sets in, it’s easy to opt for the warmth and comfort of home rather than the harsh conditions outside. 

The easy decision isn’t always the right one, however, and that’s never been truer than in the case of winter fly fishing in Colorado.  Don’t be intimidated by freezing temperatures and snowy river banks, because trout actively feed throughout these cold months and it’s the perfect time to visit some of your favorite haunts without all of the crowds.  While visions of gentle falling snow and a beautiful brown trout flopping into our frozen net are easy to get wrapped up in, having the right flies is crucial for our success during the winter season. Here are four favorites that you’ve got to have at the ready! 

Zebra Midge

The quintessential midge pattern for anglers across the country!  When tied in a variety of colors (silver, copper, and red primarily) the zebra midge can imitate any number of insects trout might be feeding on in Colorado tailwaters or freestone streams.  This is a great choice for new water or those days when bug activity seems to be nil.  

Juju Bee Midge

Midges are the name of the game in Colorado from November through February, and the juju bee is near the top of the list in terms of productive flies.  The sparse wings near the head of the fly will move just enough water to stimulate the interest of trout without being too far off from what the naturals look like. 

Hi-Vis Griffith’s Gnat

Colorado sports some of the best midge hatches as many streams maintain a near constant temperature year-around from reservoir releases. This promotes healthy insect populates and activity. Having Griffith’s Gnat in sizes ranging from size #16 to size #22 is a good idea.

When active is low on the surface, you can always perform an unpopular act — sinking your dry fly in a nymphing rig. Placing a small midge dry fly, such as a size #20 or #22 Griffith’s Gnat, can do quite well as a wet fly. In fact, a good friend of mine does this frequently and with success — he actually recommends it every time we take a trip. And, he’s not wrong. It definitely works.

RS2 Emerger

The RS2 Emerger is practically thread on a hook. Despite that and its basic appearance, it is an extremely deadly emerger pattern. We tie these into the upper levels of our multiple fly rigs as midge larvae and other nymphs drift just below the surface.

BWO Perdigons Imitations

The most consistent mayfly activity Colorado anglers can count on is the BWO.  These insects hatch on most waterways throughout the state, making their nymph life stage a must-have in any fly box.  A great strategy can be to fish a baetis BWO along with a midge to cover all ground on what the trout might be feeding on that day! 

Here’s a list of a few other great baetis nymph patterns:

Parachute BWO

Few things match the excitement and feeling of accomplishment like catching trout on dries during the winter months.  Using a BWO is about the only opportunity anglers have of avoiding squinting into the abyss looking for a minuscule midge dry, so carrying a few parachutes in sizes #18 and #20 is key for success.  

Tungsten Tag Jig

Even if you have little knowledge on jig nymphs and the method of tight-line nymphing (euro nymphing), they are a great nymph pattern to add into your arsenal. We discovered these patterns a couple years ago from a guide in Boulder, Colorado, and fished these with success during runoff up in the Boulder Canyon. Since then, it has been a go-to in our staffers’ multi-fly rigs.

Pat’s Rubberlegs

Colorado has a healthy population of stoneflies in nearly every major river, not just the one’s that host salmonflies. Use Pat’s Rubberlegs in a size #14 to #10 as your lead fly through riffles and deep pools.

Trial and error is part of the game when fly fishing in Colorado during these cold months.  Having these four patterns on hand will reduce the time spent cycling through flies and will result in more productive outings to make braving the cold, wind, and snow well worth it!

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