Winter doesn’t mean an end to trout fishing. Thanks to warmer waters from spring-fed rivers and tailwaters, you can enjoy your favorite hobby 365 days a year. Even in winter, trout remain active, and with the right flies, you can catch trout on every trip.
In some parts of the world, like the tailwaters of the Frying Pan River in Colorado, winter fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout is not only possible but also quite rewarding.
To make your winter trout fishing successful, you need the best winter trout flies. In this guide, we introduce you to the essential fly patterns to carry in your winter fly box and the best tactics to fish them. We’ll kick off with the winter flies and then explore the tactics you can use for a successful winter fishing.
The Best Winter Trout Flies
The best flies for winter trout revolve around the natural imitation of two aquatic invertebrates and insects: midge patterns and blue-winged olive dry fly. There are also a few other natural-looking patterns you should have in your fly box.
Remember, in winter, most of the fly patterns you need are going to be in sizes 18-22. As for the color, black flies are the best, but having a bright fly pattern or two can also be useful.
The zebra midge is a classic winter trout fly that keeps on giving. It effectively imitates midge larvae which form the main part of the trout’s diet during winter. You should have these fishing trout flies in your box in sizes 18-22, in colors such as black, copper, and red. It’s also a good idea to have a few bead head options and tungsten bead head flies to reach the feeding trout sitting in deep pools.
Craven’s Jujubee Midge
Charlie Craven, a renowned fly tyer, created the Jujubee Midge nymph, a fly that is potent during winter. This detailed fly fools even the wisest trout in the USA, notably those in Cheesman Canyon of the South Platte. Be sure to get a few of these in blue, black, red, and chartreuse in sizes 18-22.
The pheasant tail nymph is another excellent pattern to have for winter fishing. Ideally, you want it in sizes 18-22 as it imitates the tiny midges that are common after the snow-melt. It is also advisable to have these flies in a range of colors and weights to fish in low water runs and deeper areas.
The rainbow warrior fly is great for winter fishing when the water is a little dirty or high. This is because of its flashy appearance that can be easily spotted by the fish. You’ll need a few of these flies in sizes 18-22 and various weighted heads to match the water depth you’re fly fishing in.
Egg patterns work well anytime between September and April. This is because it’s the spawning season when fish have laid eggs into the gravel. Some of the eggs then get washed downstream and fish love to feed on them. Thus, an egg fly will consistently catch fish.
San Juan Worm
Another fly pattern that works all year round is the San Juan worm fly or other worm flies such as the Squirmy Wormy. The reason these work so well is that worms are always in the river system, and in winter, they are particularly tempting for trout.
If there is one large fly to have in your box during winter, it’s a wooly bugger in olive and black in sizes 2-8. The great thing about this fly is its versatility. You can strip it through a pool like a streamer to tempt a winter fish into grabbing a huge protein dose, or you can dead drift it with a nymph as it looks like a large stonefly nymph.
Brooks Sprout Midge
Dry fly fishing in winter can be effective, and when you see fish rising while snow is falling, you’ll believe me. One of the best dry flies for these occasions is the Brooks sprout. This fly, in black and sizes 18-24, is an excellent choice when fish are sipping emerging midges or baetis off the surface.
We have all heard of this famous dry fly that has fooled fish from New Zealand to the chalk streams of England. In winter, you’ll want a range of Parachute Adams for fishing within sizes 18-24 to imitate the midges and baetis hatching in the winter months that trout love.
The Griffith’s Gnat is another fly you should be fishing for winter risers, especially when no other fly seems to be working. This fly imitates a group of midges that have been stuck together on the surface after emerging.
Winter Fly Fishing Tactics
Where do the trout hold in winter?
When fly fishing in winter, focus on slower pools with deeper water. During winter, trout use most of their energy to stay warm in the freezing cold water, so they prefer to move to slow water to avoid fighting the current and sit in deeper water as it’s warmer.
What are trout eating in winter?
Trout feed mostly on midge larvae or hatched midges in winter along with a few blue-winged olives, some eggs, some worms, and the odd baitfish.
Nymphing In Winter
When fishing with nymphs in winter, you’ll want to fish two flies with a strike indicator. For this, I highly recommend using a dropper rig with your dropper fly being a size 20 or 22 tungsten zebra.
Dry Fly Fishing In Winter
When fishing dries in winter, you’ll want to carry a rod ready-setup with a few midges on the end of the same long leader and 6-7x tippet you’d use when nymphing and again on a floating line.
Streamer Fishing In Wintertime
If you’re stripping a streamer fishing in wintertime, you don’t want to be fishing it as you would in the fall as the fish are not that active. Slow strips through slow deep pools with minimal action are what is required.
Do trout hit dry flies in the winter?
Yes, trout will hit dry flies in the winter, although they may be more likely to hit nymphs and streamers.
What flies to use in snow?
When fishing in the snow, anglers should use brightly colored flies such as orange, yellow, and chartreuse. Flies such as prince nymphs and wooly buggers are often effective.
What’s the best fly to use in December?
The best fly to use in December will depend on the water you are fishing, and the type of trout you are targeting. Generally, nymphs and streamers are the go-to flies during this time of year.
Why is winter fly fishing so hard?
Winter fly fishing can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Cold weather can make it difficult to stay warm and comfortable while fishing, and the water can be slow-moving and frigid.
How cold is too cold to trout fish?
The exact temperature at which fishing for trout becomes too cold will depend on the water temperature. Generally, trout become less active when the water temperature drops below 50°F (10°C).
With these tips and tricks, you should be well-equipped for your winter fishing adventures. Remember, winter fishing can be rewarding if you adapt your techniques and use the right flies. So, don’t let the cold weather deter you. Bundle up, grab your gear, and get out there. Happy fishing!