Proven Winter Dry Fly Patterns

Proven Winter Dry Fly Patterns

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Winter fly fishing, what images conjure up in your mind at the mention of these words? For many anglers, winter fishing brings to mind slow-paced days of drifting nymphs or swinging streamers to catch the occasional trout.

However, ask any fly angler who loves fishing in winter, and they will tell you an entirely different story, one that involves winter dry fly fishing. Yes, you read it right.

The old adage of trout fishing with dry flies in winter is a reality. You just need to know the proven winter dry fly patterns to keep in your dry fly box and understand when you should be out searching for winter risers.

The Inside Scoop On Winter Dry Fly Fishing

The Low Down On Winter Dry Fly Fishing

Successfully targeting rising trout with winter flies requires some time on the water, especially if you don’t want it to turn into a guessing game. The first part is understanding the winter hatches and when they are most likely to occur.
What hatches in winter?

The primary winter hatch that occurs is the midge hatch. Midges hatch year-round, and in winter, they just need a slight increase in temperature to start emerging. This presents some amazing dry fly action, even amidst snowfall.

The other hatch to keep an eye on is the blue-winged olives. While not as common as the midge hatches, when they do occur, the trout start feeding hard. With the right dry flies on the end of your line, you’ll be catching fish after fish. Hence, never forget to carry these midge fly patterns if you plan on winter fly fishing.
When do hatches occur in the winter months?

A great thing about winter dry fly fishing is that you don’t need to be up at dawn or fish into dusk to find a good hatch, unlike in summer or spring. Most hatches happen right in the warmest parts of the day.

Flies need the weather to go from cold to warm to emerge. So, it’s best to fish dry flies between 12 pm and 3 pm. If you keep a keen eye on the surface, you should see flies coming off and trout rising around you as they feed hard on dry flies to maintain their winter energy levels.

Another tip for predicting a hatch is to fish just after a sharp temperature rise. If it moves from 35 to 45 degrees within a day, the midges and olives will be coming off the surface of the river. You’ll experience some of the best winter trout fishing you’ve ever seen.

Winter Dry Fly Patterns

Revealing these fly patterns feels like sharing secrets to an exclusive anglers’ club. Other anglers may laugh about you buying dry flies for winter after reading this article, but trust me, they are missing out.

You’ll find all these flies at your local fly shop, and when you see trout feeding on the surface while snow is falling, these flies will help you catch some fish. Ensure they are available in a range of hook sizes from 18-22.

Griffith’s Gnats

Griffith’s Gnats

The Griffith’s gnat is probably the most effective fly pattern that imitates tiny flies, like midge patterns you can barely see biting you in the dead of winter. Some of these midges are a hook size 28, which is virtually invisible and would be impossible to tie.

The Griffith’s gnat imitates midge clusters where several midges have got stuck together in the surface film of the river. Trout go wild for them, especially in the Rocky Mountains.



The Klinkhammer is an awesome winter searching pattern, and I always have a few rows of these in my fly fishing fly box. What I love about this fly pattern is that the hook and thus the body of the fly sit below the surface. It looks like a midge trying to emerge and always seems to provoke a rising fish.

Anglers should have a few of these flies in their fly box in different colors from brown to black and grey and sizes 18-22 for winter trout.

Cannon’s Snowshoe Hare BWO Emerger

Cannon's Snowshoe Hare BWO Emerger

Another fly easily found at your fly shop is the Cannon’s Snowshoe Hare BWO Emerger. This is a killer fly pattern to pull out of your fly box when nothing else is working as it captures the BWO transition into a flying insect incredibly well.

Catskill Blue Winged Olive

Catskill Blue Winged Olive

A Catskill BWO is one without a parachute on the head, resembling the old-school style before parachute flies took over. In such a small size, the parachute can often scare off wise trout as they have seen the silhouette before, and it looks out of place. All anglers should carry these in sizes 18-22.

Harrop’s CDC Biot Dun BWO

Harrop’s CDC Biot Dun BWO

The Harrop’s CDC Biot Dun BWO is not for dry fly fishing in winter; it’s actually a wet fly. However, it’s a useful fly to have in the armory, and it’s caught thousands of fish. It imitates a BWO emerging and should be cast out under a dry fly and fished on the swing at the end of the drift. If the fish are refusing your dry fly, they will probably take this one. See our post here to understand the difference between wet vs. dry flies.



Probably the most useful dry fly of all time and one we all know and love, the Adams. Whether it’s an old-school one or a parachute style, ensure you have about 10 in sizes 18-22 with you when dry fly fishing in the cold.

RS2 Foam Wing Emerger

RS2 Foam Wing Emerger

The RS2 Foam Wing Emerger is one of the most effective tiny and affordable flies you can use because of its drift and construction. The body is very sparse and resembles an emerging midge or baetis species. When matched to the size of what the fish are eating, it can prove deadly.

The foam head also ensures the fly sits right in the surface film, making it irresistible to trout. Put one of these on in a size 20-22 during a snowy hatch, and you won’t believe how effective they are.

Winter Dry Fly Fishing Tips

Winter Dry Fly Fishing Tips

Small Flies & Long Leaders

Good presentation is key when fishing in the clear water that comes with wintertime. This means presenting your small flies with long leaders between 12-15 feet and with light tippets too.

You should be using a 6-7x line to drift these size 18-22 flies as the trout won’t bite if they suspect something. Also, they will have plenty of time to analyze your drift.

Fish The Slow water

Trout significantly slow down in winter to conserve energy as they are using most of it just to keep warm. This means they move to the slower parts of the river and often shoal up as a result.

Always make a cast into the slower pockets, and if you hook up a fish, don’t leave. There are probably several of them sitting there, so keep casting until the whole shoal is done.

Fish Two Rods

Fish Two Rods

Having two rods ready is never a bad idea, especially when the hatches can turn on and off so quickly. Have one rod ready with your favorite wintertime dries, and then fish with the other with a searching nymph pattern unless you see any surface action, then switch.

Once the rising begins, you might need to change flies, but change them on your nymphing rod as the trout might switch up again. At least you’ll have two offerings ready without any rigging required.

Use Two Flies

Can you see a size 18-22 dry fly drifting downstream easily? I can’t, and I end up following my line on the drift, missing a rise or two now and then because of it. By fishing with two flies, an angler can tie a larger parachute-style fly on the point and then the trailing size 18-22 behind.

This provides a natural strike indicator, and if there are any rises near the top larger, more visible fly, chances are the trout have taken the size 18-22 behind. One can just lift to strike and never miss a slurp again.

Fish Tailwaters & Spring Creeks

If you want to see the best of a winter dry fly hatch, then you had better head to tailwaters and spring creeks. The water feeding these fishy lanes is warmer than others since it’s come out the bottom of a lake, dam, or out of the ground and hasn’t been exposed to frigid temperatures yet.

The warmer water of these areas makes the trout more active, and there will be more hatches too, giving you a double dose of wintertime dry fly action.


Fish Tailwaters & Spring Creeks

Do dry flies work in winter?

Yes, dry flies can work in winter. However, fish may be less active in winter, so you may need to use smaller flies or lighter tippets and exercise more patience when fishing.

What flies to throw in winter?

Common winter flies include streamers, nymphs, midges, and jigs. Depending on the species of fish you are targeting, you may need to adjust the size, color, and shape of your flies.

Do trout take dry flies in winter?

Yes, trout can take dry flies in winter, though they may be less active than in warmer months. It can be helpful to use smaller flies and lighter tippets when fishing for trout in winter.

What flies should I use for trout in the winter?

Common winter flies for trout include streamers, nymphs, midges, and jigs. Depending on the species of trout you are targeting, you may need to adjust the size, color, and shape of your flies

Concluding Comments

Fly fishing in winter can be a rewarding experience, especially when you’re armed with the right knowledge and the right fly patterns. Remember, patience and persistence are key, and fishing smaller flies on longer leaders can significantly enhance your success rate.

So, don’t let the cold weather keep you from your favorite pastime; get out there and test these winter dry fly fishing tips and patterns. Don’t forget to share your experiences and any tricks you’ve learned along the way. You might just inspire other fly fishing enthusiasts to brave the cold and experience the joy of winter fishing.

Have you tried any of these winter fly fishing tips or patterns? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your fellow anglers. Every share, comment, or like helps us bring you more expert advice and tips on all things fly fishing.

Until next time, tight lines!

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