Winter fly fishing, what do you think of when you hear these words? For most anglers, winter fishing creates images of slow days of drifting nymphs or swinging streamers to catch the odd trout.
Any fly angler who loves fly fishing in the winter will tell you a different story and it involves winter dry fly fishing, that’s right it’s not a typo.
The old adage of trout fishing with dries in winter is a reality, you just need to know the proven winter dry fly patterns to out in your dry fly box and when you should be out searching for winter risers.
The Low Down On Winter Dry Fly Fishing
To be able to target rising trout with winter flies for trout successfully, you’re going to have to put in some time on the water, especially if you don’t want it to turn into a crap-shoot and the first part is understanding the winter hatches and when they are most like to occur.
What hatches in winter?
The main winter hatch that occurs is a midge hatch. Midges hatch year-round and in winter they just need the temperature to rise a bit and they’ll start emerging giving you some amazing dry fly action, even whilst it’s snowing.
The other hatch that you’ll need to keep an eye on are the blue-winged olives which aren’t as common as the midge hatches but when they happen, the trout start feeding had and you’ll be catching fish after fish with the right dry flies on the end of your line. Make sure to bring on the these midge fly patterns if you’re going on winter fly fishing.
When do hatches occur in the winter months?
The great thing about flyfishing winter with dry flies is that you don’t need to be up at day break or have to fish into the dusk to find a good hatch like in summer or spring, as most hatches happen smack dab in the warmest parts of the day.
For the flies to emerge, they need the weather to go from cold to warm, so it’s best to fish dries between 12 pm and 3 pm. If you’re lucky and watch the surface, you should see flies coming off and trout rising all around you as they feed hard on dry flies to keep their winter
Other tips for predicting are hatch include fishing just after a sharp temperature rise. If it goes from 35 to 45 degrees in a matter of a day, the midges and olives will be coming off the surface of the river and you’ll be into some of the best winter trout fishing you’ve ever seen.
Winter Dry Fly Patterns
I feel like I’m giving you the keys to an exclusive anglers club but divulging these fly patterns. When other anglers hear you read this article they might have a good laugh about you buying some dry flies for winter, but believe me, they are missing out.
You’ll be able to find all these flies at your local fly shop and when you see trout feeding on the surface while snow is falling, they will catch you some fish just make sure they are in a range of hook sizes from 18-22.
The Griffith’s gnat is probably the most effective fly pattern that imitates flies that are too small to tie, like midge patterns you can barely see biting you in the dead of winter. Some of these midges are a hook size 28, which simply doesn’t exist and would be impossible to tie.
The Griffith’s gnat imitates midge clusters where five or so midges have got stuck together in the surface film of the river and trout go mad 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 body of the fly sit below the surface and 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 the winter trout.
Cannon’s Snowshoe Hare BWO Emerger
Another fly that is easily found at your fly shop is this version of a blue winged olive fly pattern (BWO) emerger. This is a deadly fly pattern to pull out your fly box when nothing else is working as it somehow captures the BWO transition into a flying insect incredibly well.
Catskill Blue Winged Olive
By a Catskill BWO I mean one without a parachute on the head, how they would look back in the day 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 it looks out of place. All anglers should carry these in sizes 18-22.
Harrop’s CDC Biot Dun BWO
The Harrop’s CDC Biot Dun BWO isn’t for dry fly fishing in winter, it’s actually a wet fly but 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 eat this. See our post here to know 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 parachute style, be sure to have about 10 in sizes 18-22 with you when dry fly fishing in the cold.
RS2 Foam Wing Emerger
The RS2 Foam Wing Emerger is one of the most effective tiny and cheap flies you can use and this is because of how it drifts and how it’s tied. The body is very sparse and looks just like an emerging midge or baetis species and when matched to the size of what the fish are eating it can be deadly.
The foam head also ensures the fly sits right in the surface film making it something the trout simply can not refuse. 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
Small Flies & Long Leaders
Good presentation is key when fishing the clear water that comes with wintertime and 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 eat if they suspect something and they will have plenty of time to analyze your drift too.
Fish The Slow water
Trout slow down a lot in winter to conserve energy as they are using most of it just to keep warm. This means they are going to move into the slower parts of the river and they will often shoal up as a result of this.
Always make a cast into the slower pockets and if you hook up a fish, don’t leave as there are probably 5-10 of them sitting there, so cast again until the whole shoal is done.
Fish Two Rods
Fly fishing with 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 unline you see any kind of surface action, then switch.
Once the rising begins, you might have to change flies, but change them on your nymphing rod as the trout might change up again and 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 and miss 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 gives an angler a natural strike indicator and if there are any rises near the top larger more visible fly, chances are the trout has talked the size 18-22 behind and one can just lift to strike and never miss a slurp again.
Do dry flies work in winter?
Yes, dry flies can work in winter. However, the fish may be less active in winter, so you may need to use smaller flies or lighter tippets and be more patient when fishing.
What flies to throw in the 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.
Fish Tailwaters & Spring Creeks
If you want to see the best of a wintertime dry fly hatch, then you had better head to tailwaters and spring creeks. The water feeding these fishy lanes is a lot 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 your a double whammy of wintertime dry fly action.
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