While trout fishing is usually considered a spring to autumn sport with a light rod and dry fly, a few aquatic worm imitations but the winter months offer some great opportunities as well.
Winter fly fishing for trout can be a very productive time of the year to catch fish. It may be harder to get up and out for the day due to the snow and rain, but there is fun to be had once you are out there.
Remember that all the creeks and smaller streams will be closed or iced over, and the boat ramps will be a few feet deep in snow. This allows you to target the mainstream, which will have little to no fishing pressure.
Winter fly fishing is great fun, and as Dave Karczynski Quotes Kelly Galloup’s ” Hunt the fly, don’t hope the fly,” this alone will get you more fish and possibly even a few Merry Christmas, big browns.
Why is streamer fishing in winter so successful?
When the autumn winds start and the winter chills set in, most anglers pack it in the winter. Trout are cold-blooded species, so the trout become more lethargic and lumpish when the water temperatures drop.
Trout are a predatory species that still need to feed in the winter and generally will spend less energy on food sources. So instead of continually feeding on small adult midges and nymphs as they do throughout the summer, most trout will feed on larger food less often.
This is what makes fly fishing streamers so successful. Large rainbows and brown trout will hold in the dark eddy or tail out into a pool smashing small fish and aquatic worms that swim by. These trout feed aggressively throughout the water column, and if something looks like food, it’s usually eaten with vigor.
Remember that in winter, there aren’t many hatches or small nymphs around, so your spring dry fly approach just won’t work. This is why winter fishing with streamers will catch trout and is so much fun! Trout will demolish a small baitfish that swims by or that makes an uncharacteristic sound or vibration.
Winter fly fishing for trout won’t require a soft hackle, zebra midge, or and dry flies, and certainly nothing with pheasant tail. Big streamers with rubber legs have plenty of movement, which is what’s on order.
Fly fishers may need to do wade fishing to get to the right holes and get the correct seam for the dead drift before the fly is stripped back upstream. So a pair of good waders and wading boots will be needed for winter fishing.
You won’t be changing your fly and tippet too often, so a massive vest with all the files and floatants won’t be needed as with the other formats of fly fishing. A fly rod, 6-9wt, would be ideal; an intermediate fly line or a floating line with a sink tip would also work. In the low water, a floating line would be sufficient.
A wading staff is a handy piece of gear to have, especially if you plan to wade the larger rivers. When fishing from the boat make sure you have a long-handled net to net those big brown trout.
Minimal gear is needed for this method of fishing which makes it easy and enjoyable.
Things to consider
Hunting winter trout can be a very tricky thing. Most of the smaller parts of the river will be covered or iced over, which leaves the bigger, more intimidating waters to fish. This means there is plenty of water to fish, so it’s important to remember that if you aren’t getting any action, then move!
Generally, if the fish are there, the winter opportunistic trout will feed. Cover all good-looking areas and work the different water columns. Streamers attract the fish to eat it, so make sure the retrieve is fast and aggressive. Varying the retrieve from time to time can also work.
Fish patterns with less movement
Trout, especially brown trout, are attracted to movement and generally eat impulsively, but in winter, slowing your retrieve and fly movement down can lead to great results. Winter is when all fish slow down, even the smaller fish, so dead drifting the streamers with a few twitches often works well.
Fishing patterns with singular hooks instead of a game-changer style pattern in the cold winter could be a hit. The slower action and retrieve are more relatable to the conditions and just could be the edge needed to catch that steelhead.
Switch patterns regularly
Changing patterns has the same rule as changing locations. If you don’t feel confident with the fly pattern, change it to something a little bigger or smaller, more movement or less. Fishing patterns that give the angler confidence are fundamental.
If you see any food sources swimming around or in the shallows, try to match their winter colors. The river is full of information that anglers can use to up their chances. Thinking practically and not over-complicating this process of which fly to use it very important.
Know where to look
Reading the water and surroundings is something that comes with time on the water and experience. You can read up on the basic lies of trout in the winter months as these change compared to the summer months.
Winter fish will be found in the deeper waters, where the water temperature will be higher. Combine any deeper water with a structure for protection, and you have a winner.
Focus on the deeper eddies off the main current or the larger hydro pockets behind the large boulders; fish often hold in these less turbulent areas waiting for food.
Remember that winter fish try to spend less energy in general. For larger pools and tailouts use, a fly fishing sinking line with a big streamer fished low and slow.
BE READY is one of the most important things anglers fail to do and, in turn, miss loads of fish. When the cast is made, and the fly hits the water, hold the fly line for three seconds before you start to reorganize yourself and retrieve. The chase and eat often happens within this time and is usually missed. Adopting this technique for all your fishing methods will see more fish caught.
Practice the swing.
To swing a streamer is a worthy method to learn for winter streamer fishing. Streamers are cast out across the river and then drift down for the length of line out before they SWING across the current. This movement often triggers a eat.
Don’t forget to hang.
Fishing the hang is a still water technique that is always good to try if things are slow. Basically, you hang the streamers out at the end of the swing for a minute or so. Some anglers twitch the fly like you would for salmon in a European river. This slight change in motion is often what is needed to get the trout to eat.
The fly choice differs from angler to angler but having a few basic patterns is always best.
Single hook flies and double hook flies are the two types of fly styles. The single hook fly has less motion than that the two hook flies. The second hook in these patterns dangles in the tail of the pattern.
Sizes are suggested to start with #6 up to a 1/0. For colors, it’s best to have a few darker patterns and a few bright patterns for when the sun breaks.
Single hook-Wooley buggers, Sculpting, Minkys, Deceivers, Clousers, and Airheads.
Double hook– Game changers and Sex dungeons.
The above selections are tried and tested patterns that produce fish regularly; that said, there are no rules to fly fishing, and every angler has their own thoughts and processes when it comes to fly selection.
Fly fishing for trout in winter is great fun, and with a streamer on the end of your line, excitement levels rise drastically. Whether rainbow or brown trout are the target, the above article will increase your chances of landing that ever-elusive monster.
Remember to fly fish with what you are confident with and to fish to your strengths. Winter outings aren’t the easiest compared to the summer months when the sun’s out and you are nice and warm. Just remember that persistence pays off, and if that means trading warm for cold and wet to get that big brown trout, then that is what needs to be done.