Just because winter is here doesn’t mean you need to hang up the fly rod and waders! Sure, you may need to throw on a few extra layers, and de-ice those guides once in a while, but that won’t stop us from hitting the water this winter! Fly fishing in the colder months can be quite peaceful, you will find once busy locations are now...not so busy! There are many opportunities for fly fishing year-round across this great nation. In fact, North America boasts some of the most diverse fishing opportunities anywhere on the planet!
Trout tend to be more sluggish and docile as the water temperatures drop. You may find it necessary to vary up your presentation to initiate a strike. For streamers, try slowing down your retrieve more than you normally would in the high season. For nymphs on an indicator, it may take a little more adjustment to find just the right depth!
Below we highlight 7 great winter fly fishing flies that are sure to step up your game during these colder months:
Eggs are a staple in every Salmonids diet, and its especially so during the cooler months of September to April. As such, anglers can find great success in imitating them with egg patterns. Fish tend to be holding closer to the bottom during these cooler times. We recommend using a weighted egg pattern or adding some slip shot to help get it down into the zone. No one color works best, we recommend keeping an assortment of natural colors such as red, orange, pink, and white. One of my personal favorites is the Egg Juan Kenobi.
Woolly buggers are one of the most effective patterns year-round, and it holds especially true in the winter months. As the variety of aquatic insects and larvae begin to decrease, trout shift their focus to feeding on baitfish, which can be abundant throughout the year. You'll want to work all your streamer patterns slowly; even dead drifting them at times. Stick to darker colors such as black, brown, grey, olive and even purple!
Zonkers and Bunny Leeches
Similar to the aforementioned Woolly Buggers, Zonkers and Bunny Leeches are great for imitating bait fish - which are abundant throughout the winter. Again, with the cooler water, the fish begin to slow down and as such, the presentation is everything. Slow strips with pauses and even dead drifting are the most effective methods to attract a trout's attention in cold water.
Though the aquatic insect ecosystem slows down in the winter, dry fly hatches are still very possible during these months. Midges are present in most water systems year round and unlike many other aquatic insects, they can complete their entire life cycle in the winter time! Temperatures often fluctuate throughout the winter. Often during warming cycles, you can experience other hatches as well such as mayflies and even stoneflies! The flies that do hatch, are much smaller this time of year; sizes between 18-24 can work very well. The Griffiths Gnat is an excellent fly for imitating a variety of midges and small mayflies. Its hi-viz tag makes it easy to spot on those grey winter days!
Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph
The pheasant tail nymph is excellent at imitating mayfly and stonefly larvae and pupae, both of which can be abundant in winter waters. Bugs tend to be smaller during the cold season, so try using sizes 18-22. You'll want to add some split shot in order to get the nymph down as close to the bottom as possible as this is where fish tend to hang out during winter time. Bead Head Hares Ear Nymph
The bead head hares ear is another excellent nymph for imitating a wide variety of cold water aquatic insects. Stick to sizes 18-22 as with all nymphs while fishing in cold waters. I like to use one of these hares ear nymphs in size 18 on point, with a smaller pheasant tail on the tag.
Often winter time can bring high and dirty water. Though darker natural colors work best in the winter time, in high or colored water conditions, we recommend adding a little more flash to your bug. The white head and extended holo tinsel tail on these BFD nymphs work well at attracting trout attention when a plain black hares ear just isn't working.
Before you hit the water, as always, check with your local authorities and/or regulations to ensure the area you plan on fishing is in open season. We recommend handling fish with greater care during these months. Leave trout in the water whenever possible and pinch your barbs to ensure a stress-free release.
The winter and early spring months also happen to coincide with many species spawning seasons. Fish responsibly, never disturb Redds or target spawning fish!