Fly-fish for trout in winter? Some would say that’s crazy. Those in the know say heck yes. Here’s the lowdown on a few of the best winter flies that will get you out of the house and on the water catching winter trout. All too often, winter fly boxes are only filled with the tiny flies on the mistaken belief that only tiny trout food is available in the cold months. Experienced winter trout anglers know winter trout foods come in all sizes.
Chironomids, perhaps better known as midges, live in lakes, rivers, streams and spring creeks, making them the tiny fly of choice. Two excellent patterns are Zebra Midge size 20-24 in black or red and Ice Cream Cone size 16-20 in black.
Some still-water fly-fishermen object to fishing chironomids, especially when the flies are suspended 20 or more feet under a strike indicator. They liken fishing that way to watching paint dry. When done properly, even at those depths, action can be non-stop. When the larvae wiggle their way to the surface to emerge, trout take notice. And so should fly-fishermen.
When fishing deep, the fly should be suspended a foot or so off the substrate. During the emergence in clear water, use a small strike indicator or even a small dry fly to suspend the chironomid close to the surface.
In spring creeks and still waters, trout can key on adult chironomids. The English call them “buzzers” for the way they buzz across the surface. A Griffith’s Gnat size 20 is a good imitation, particularly when the adults form a raft. Cruising trout can chomp a bunch at once.
NOT SO TINY FLIES
Stoneflies. No, not the giant summer stone or equally big salmonflies. Winter means small black stoneflies best imitated by a size 14 Early Black Winter Stonefly Nymph. As winter progresses and the nymphs begin to hatch, the adult can be imitated with a Percolator. Try size 12-14.
Trout love scuds — those crunchy freshwater crustaceans that live most everywhere from desert spring creeks to alpine lakes — that are available year around. Bead Body Scud in size14-16 is a good choice.
Like the stonefly nymph, the scuds should be weighed and slowly drifted along the bottom under a strike indicator when fishing moving water. In still water, fish the weighted fly on a floating line in the nearshore for cruising trout.
All trout are predators. And the bigger the trout, the more likely it will turn from snacking on aquatic invertebrates to dining on full-sized entrees. That’s where streamer patterns come into play. Sculpins of one variety or other swim in most trout waters. A big fly of choice is Chuck’s Sculpin size 4-8. Sculpins live on the bottom. When disturbed, they move a short distance, then settle down. Imitate their behavior for the best results.
Woolly Bugger patterns abound and for good reason, as they flat-out catch fish. An effective variant is tied with dark copper or opal dark olive Estaz and a black straight-cut rabbit tail instead of traditional marabou. In chilly winter water, the key is short and slow strips with pauses between.
In winter, trout have moved out of oxygenated riffles into deeper, slower pools that allow them to conserve energy. Western tailwaters, preferably those below dams with moderate water releases, are excellent cold weather choices.
The cold winter water allows still-water trout to expand their range and move into habitat that was denied to them during the summer heat. Shallow flats hold the most fish food, with the fish often slowly cruising along the shallow/deep water transition zone.
Dress in layers, fill your fly box with these flies and get out on the water.