Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t get in some fly fishing. It’s a chance to be off by yourself, or with a friend or two – smaller crowds, and less competition on your favorite runs.
Pick the right place
Tailwaters should be at top of your list in the winter months. On a tailwater, the water being released from the dam is coming from the bottom of the lake. This means the water is typically going to be warmer than the outside temperature, but still in the sweet spot for trout. Check your flow/ discharge from the dam and pick your water accordingly. Look for the slow deep sections of the river. Fish will be a little more lethargic and will be conserving energy by hanging out in these low and slow sections.
Expect to find risers and active feeding fish in spots further down river from the dam that see consistent sunshine throughout the day. A Griffiths Gnat or other midge imitations in the 18-24 range are a good match. Fishing small midges and emergers are the ticket subsurface for picky tailwater trout. Look for subtle takes and eats.
One benefit to fly fishing in the winter is that you get to sleep in if you are so inclined. The fish generally won’t be super active until mid-day. Although if you want to fish earlier, you may be rewarded. Winter days offer a shorter window, but can still be very productive. Target deep pools early and look for top water action as the sun warms the earth.
The majority of trout are hanging out at or near the bottom, fish your flies deep and slow. While you may not use one regularly, consider the use of a split shot pinched on your tippet about 6-8″ above your fly. This allows your fly to sink faster, arriving in the strike zone more quickly.
Flies to Use in Winter
You’ll want to concentrate your efforts subsurface in the winter, and you’ll want your fly to act as natural as possible floating in the current.
Midges are important any time of year, but never more so than during winter. Trout consume midges year-round and they make up the majority of a trout’s diet. What midge to use depends on the region of the country you’ll be fishing. Different areas do have different insect life, which you’ll need to match.
You’ll want duller and more natural colored flies this time of year. Attractor midges can also be productive depending on the water your fish. Flashy purple, red, and pearl are some of my favorites. I also, suggest you consider taking along some blue wing olives and black stoneflies to round out your fly box.
Change Your Weight Before You Change Your Fly Pattern
When you aren’t hooking up, it’s common to think you need to change up the fly pattern. Consider changing your weight first. Maybe your fly isn’t traveling deep enough, or maybe it’s not getting in the fishes zone. If you’re using a weighted fly already, try adding weight on your leader or maybe a lighter fly. Evaluate each situation as you go.
When fishing with a nymph, strike indicators are warranted. You’ll want a long, light tippet, lighter than you might normally use another time of year. Yarn indicators are also very beneficial this time of year for a delicate presentation.
Everything slows down in the winter. So should you, so slow down. Slow your movements, slow your strips, slow your retrieves, and cover water thoroughly.
The backdrop to winter fly fishing is dull and gray. You should match and blend in. Bright clothing will make the fish weary in winter, it’s unexpected. You’ll need to dress in warm layers. Don’t wear cotton, indicated in our previous article here, as it will absorb any moisture and once it gets wet, it stays wet. Take spare socks, extra top and bottom layers, and a spare pair of gloves or mittens. Don’t forget to remove your gloves when handling a fish you catch and try to keep them in the water as much as possible.
There’s no doubt, fly fishing in winter is different, but it’s peaceful and can be rewarding. As is key to fishing any time of year, it takes patience. Fill up a canteen of hot chocolate, make sure you have water and snacks in your pack, and spend the day communing in your own winter wonderland.
Thanks for reading. What are your tips for winter fishing? Let us know in the comments!