Winter Trout Fly Fishing Tips

When the temperature drops, many anglers assume that the fishing season is over until spring. But there are amazing opportunities to fish for trout all year round, even throughout the winter. You just need to know how and where to look! If you're not ready to pack away your rod just yet, here's what you need to know about winter trout fly fishing!
winter trout fishing

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We’ve got all the fishing tips you need for catching trout during winter, so you can carry on throughout the cooler months. You will need to adapt your techniques, as their behavior changes when the water temperatures drop. We’ve covered everything from the best flies for the winter season, to where you will find trout in the colder months.

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Is Fishing for Trout Good in Cold Weather?

There are excellent opportunities for catching trout throughout the fall and winter, due at least partly to trout stocking programs that run in many states. Although they tend to move around less in the the winter to conserve energy, you can still catch an impressive haul of fish.

The key to successful winter fly fishing is the ability to adapt and change your techniques so that you can draw out those sluggish winter trout. But the extra challenge is exciting – you can really test your limits and improve your skills as a fly angler. Our tips should help you develop a top strategy for luring out trout in cold water temperatures. Just make sure you wrap up warm, and you will have great fun on those beautiful mountain streams and deep lakes during the winter!

Anything from a 4 weight rod to a 6 weight rod should serve you well. Match your line to your rod and take a selection of flies. But most importantly, layer up and take waterproofs so that you can stay dry and warm all day.

winter fly fishing

What Do Trout Eat in the Winter?

Although they aren’t as active as during the spring and summer, they do still feed in the winter. Here’s the lowdown on their feeding patterns from November to February.

There are two main sources of food for trout in the winter. Firstly, they will eat whatever nymphs, small baitfish, and aquatic insects that the current brings their way. They will happily eat crayfish and minnows down near the riverbed, but they won’t move far to chase their prey. Turbulent water can also dislodge worms from the riverbed, and these make a plump, protein-filled mouthful for an nearby brown trout.
For our full post on What Do Trout Eat, see it here.

You’ll also find them rising up on warmer afternoons to eat whatever insects are hatching – mainly stoneflies, mayflies, and midges. So make sure to keep your eye out for BWO mayfly and stonefly hatches, especially in tailwaters where the temperatures remain fairly stable. They go crazy for these emerging bugs.

See also our Best Gloves For Winter Fly Fishing to have a better winter fishing experience.

Finding Winter Trout

Trout change their behavior significantly in the water, switching their focus from eating to conserving energy and hiding from predators. What this means is that trout tend to shelter among in slower-moving currents and pools, especially if there is plenty of structure to protect them.

Look for areas where there are logjams or rocks to provide cover from hungry predators. You don’t want to aim for stagnant cold water, as they rely on slower currents to carry food to them. They may be found near the bank or around natural springs, where the water is normally warmer than the surface water.

How deep do trout go in the winter?

In the winter, they tend to be found deeper in the water, especially on the coldest days. In large lakes, trout might be anywhere from 20 feet to 60 feet deep, and sometimes even 100 foot deep. When the temperature rises slightly on warmer afternoons, they often head to shallower flats where the feeding opportunities are better.

In rivers and streams, they often seek out deep pools, so how deep they can go depends on the depth of the river. That’s why your best bet is almost always to dead drift your nymph flies along the bottom.

cold weather fishing gear

Best Winter Trout Flies

If you are looking for the best flies for winter fly fishing, here are our top recommendations. Tie one of these beauties on and just wait for the strike!

Midge Flies

Midges are a major source of forage all year round for these fish. You’ll find them feeding on midges even on the coldest days, so midges patterns like the Disco Midge work wonders. Opt for a size 20 or 22, fished either as a dry fly on the surface or along the river bed.

San Juan Worm

The fast-flowing water in tailwaters often churns up the riverbed, catching up aquatic worms in the current. A red or tan San Juan Worm looks like a tasty, nutritious bite to eat for the winter trout and is easy prey for a sluggish fish.

Blue Winged Olives

This fly imitates the baetis, or blue-winged olive, mayfly nymphs which are found in almost all waters across the US (and further afield). The water temperature occasionally rises high enough to start a blue winged olive hatch, so keep your eye out and be ready with some olive mayfly patterns to hand.

Baitfish Streamers

You can use baitfish streamers like the classic Wooly Bugger or a Muddler Minnow in the winter. Just be sure to go for a dead-drift technique, as the fish likely won’t chase after your streamer. But if you can get your pattern to float right past a fish’s mouth, you’ll get a bite. Brown, white, and black scud patterns are also productive.

winter fishing gear tips

Winter Trout Fishing Tips

Here are our top tips on how to fly fish effectively for trout during the winter:

Use Light, Long Tippets

The water is often pure and crystal clear in the winter, especially on those cool mountain streams. While this is great for sight fishing, it also means that the fish are more easily spooked. Select a long, light tippet that is less likely to disturb the fish. Even better, go for a transparent fluorocarbon that the fish won’t easily spot.

Go for Nymphs and Streamer Patterns

In the cold temperatures, the trout won’t move far to eat. That’s why it’s essential that you get your fly right up to the fish, or they just won’t bother to use up energy chasing it. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to fish nymphs and streamer patterns with a dead-drift presentation.

Don’t Forget the Strike Indicator

A strike indicator can be invaluable if you are using nymphs down on the riverbed, and you can’t see what’s going on. It can be tricky to feel or spot a strike, so try rigging an indicator to alert you to any strikes. You’ll be able to set your hook quickly, and you’ll lose less fish!

Know When to Stay Home

During the winter months in particular, you’re reliant on the conditions. It’s worth knowing when it’s a waste of your time to head out – you’ll save yourself a long, frustrating day out on the water, freezing and not catching anything!

If the water levels are high, after heavy rains or floods, the fly fishing prospects are very poor. The high water combined with the cold temperatures is a terrible combination, making it almost impossible to catch anything. Instead, spend the day cozily at home, planning your next fishing trip or watching fly fishing videos to glean some new tips and insights!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s where you’ll find answers to all your trout fishing questions!

When can I fish for trout?

You can fish for trout all year round! Fly fishing for trout is one of the most versatile options, as you’ll find opportunities, no matter what season it is.

See also our post on How To Fly Fish for Trout here.

The spring and fall offer great fly fishing all over the US. During the summer, trout retreat to deeper lakes with cooler water temperatures. But fishing out for trout really excels in the winter, when you might not be able to fish for other species.

What is the best weather for fishing trout?

If you’re wondering what the best weather is for catching trout, you might be surprised. Sunny, dry days aren’t ideal for fly fishing for trout. Instead, head out to the river on warm but cloudy days. Light showers can be good too – just don’t go if flash floods are predicted.

winter park fly fishing

The Wrap Up

There’s no reason to hang your rod and fishing gear up for the winter! If you know where to look and how to tempt the trout to take a bite, you can have a load of fun fly fishing for trout all winter long. Our guide should set you up for success – just follow these tips, and don’t forget to wrap up warm!

If you found this guide helpful, check out our articles on trout fishing in the rain.

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