Fly fishing in the winter can be challenging but, also, highly rewarding. Most people do not venture outside their homes so winter fly fishing keeps the crowds away, and often times you’ll have the water all to yourself.
Generally speaking, trout are a smidge sluggish in the winter as they become less active in, literally, wader freezing temperatures. We don’t recommend that you fly fish in the winter because it only adds further stress to fish that have not recovered from the summer.
But, if you were to fly fish during the winter, here are our top winter trout flies:
When growing up, trout are always reminded by their cannibalistic parents to “eat your midges because they will make you big and strong.” Midges are, basically, the most important source of food for trout. In fact, midges are the bulk of a trout’s diet November thru February. Midges are a major food source year-round for trout.
They hatch in freezing temperatures and hatch by the thousands. Basically cockroaches. When aquatic insects are less inactive in the winter, opportunistic trout key in on drifting midge larva. Because midges mature and develop year-round, trout depend on them for easy pick’ins.
Midges hatch by the thousands and you only have 1 fly, clearly, there is going to be a problem. Why would a trout eat yours over the rest? This is where the Two-Fly Nymph Rig comes in handy.
Two-Fly Nymph Rig
The Two-Fly Nymph Rig is an important technique that not only helps present subsurface flies better but also improves your chances. Well, sure, with an extra fly in the water you have a higher probability of catching a trout, but let’s not make this into a numbers game. Trout don’t know numbers. It comes down to the presentation of each individual fly. Trout will only move a few inches to eat an insect so you have to make sure that your fly is presented within those few inches.
With the Two-Fly Nymph Rig, both flies work together to get down into those narrow feeding lanes. The heavier larva/nymph pattern pulling the lighter emerger/pupa down. We both know that illustrations kickass for learning so we put this guide together for you.
Here is a quick “How-To” guide on how to set one up using Clinch Knots.
October thru December, brown and brook trout spawn. During this time, opportunistic trout will lie downstream of the reproductive activity for drifting egg clusters. CAUTION: Please do not target trout on a redd. Redd is the spawning bed and is characterized by turned over gravel (usually bright). Please leave these trout alone so we can expect future generations as they are making more trout.
Great Searching Pattern: Sucker Spawn size 14
Sucker spawn is a cluster of light golden fish eggs. This fly is extremely effective during the spawning season in heavily stocked streams. Fish this fly downstream of the spawning area to awaiting trout. Although, during an abundant midge or baetis hatch, these will often be ignored.
Baetis (Blue Winged Olive)
Baetis (BWO) nymphs are one of the most common nymphs across the United States. During the winter months, you may find BWO’s hatching during a few days of warmer temperatures.
Aquatic worms are totally natural and are a select part of a trout’s diet. They are found in sediment on the stream bed and are constant year-round. We prefer the Squirmy Wormy over the San Juan Worm because its flexible body provides more motion. They may not be as durable, but when winter fly fishing gets tough, you call in the big guns. When scouting for trout we use flashy patterns like this to see if fish respond. Once trout become more selective, we switch to more natural looking patterns like the Pheasant Tail.
Scuds & Sow Bugs
Trout can be found eating scuds and sow bugs year-round. In streams with plentiful underwater vegetation these shrimp’y thingies usually take up most of the food pyramid (sorry carbohydrates). During winter months, trout heavily depend on scuds to make it through the winter. We tend to find that the most natural colors perform better in the winter: olives, browns, blacks, grays.
Streamers & Baitfish
Trout are known not to chase during the winter. They try to exert as little energy as possible and still get what they need. That being said, you should refrain from stripping and, instead, dead-drift or swing your fly. Think like a baitfish, be the baitfish. Give slight twitches to the line so that it adds a little movement to your streamer. Most trout will not pass up streamers either due to hunger or territorial instincts, if presented correctly. Tip: Cast above the pool and allow your line to swing down and across so it looks like your fly is trying to evade being lunch. Following the swing, let your line straighten out and troll your fly for a bit; this pause in motion will give impulsive trout a chance to take the fly.
Winter Fly Fishing & Strategies
- Target a specific fish out of a pod rather than fishing blind
- Concentrate your fishing to deep, slow pools
- Focus on fishing from around 10:00 am to about 3:00 pm. This is when trout become most active during the day.
- Best fishing occurs when water temperatures are around 40 degrees Fahrenheit
- Don’t be afraid to switch patterns frequently
- Dead-drift streamers as baitfish are more inactive