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  • Writer's pictureCooper Zikan

The Joys of Winter Fly Fishing

 Fly fishing is always a magical moment. A time for all of us to reflect, relax, and enjoy time away from the endless grind. What if I told you that winter fly fishing while cold and miserable at times can provide amazing opportunities for anglers? As long as you have open water, it is fair game. I will be going over the benefits and negatives of winter fly fishing, my top five tips for anyone who wants to start fishing in the winter, and my top five favorite patterns for this time of year.


Benefits of Winter Time Fly Fishing


The Big Fish Cooperate:

I will be honest, this is a personal antidote, but a significant portion of the larger fish I catch are either during winter time or during winter weather during the spring. The less fishing pressure I believe is partly responsible for this.

Get Away From The Pressure:

Once the cold weather comes, most folks hang up their fly rods and do other stuff. Admittedly, these things are lots of fun, but having an entire river all to yourself has to be in consideration. Fewer people fishing often relaxes the fish and lets them settle after a summer of mayhem. The big fish also are more willing to cooperate because they don’t have to worry as much about predators.

Awesome Fishing When Timed Properly:

Timing your winter fishing is the most important part of fly fishing in the winter. No need to get up for the early morning fish. I would recommend looking to only fish when the air temperature is 37 degrees or higher. Ideally 40 degrees or above would be the best. The goal is to have the river warm up a few degrees, which will drastically increase fish activity. Really cold water makes the trout more lethargic so when the temperature bumps, it gives the fish a metaphorical “cup of coffee” to get them moving around a bit.  


Negatives of Fly Fishing in the Winter:

Although there are cons to fly fishing in the Winter, I would argue that there are more pros as long you have the proper gear and mindset.

The Cold:

Many annoying aspects rear their ugly head when fly fishing in the winter. The worst one is the freezing line guides. Having to pick ice out of guides is always an inconvenience. The larger one is keeping yourself warm out there. Good layering systems will help negate this, but having good waders will help as well. Don’t be afraid to break out the old neoprene waders to help with staying warm.


Due to the fluctuating weather, it's tough to determine a period or group of days to make a trip. One day it's supposed to be 40 degrees and sunny, but then when you next check it's going to be 29 degrees and snowing. Being prepared for any scenario is always advantageous during the winter time.


Mostly Subsurface Opportunities:

The surface opportunities that you may have will be extremely limited. Midges are normally the bugs that will hatch during this time. When magic happens, you can have an amazing time out on the water, but you can never expect hatches to happen. If you want to stick to dry flies, then the winter is not for you.




My Top 5 Tips For Fishing in The Winter


Find the slow deeper water:

The traditional riffles and fast slots are not as productive when little bug activity is occurring. As mentioned above, trout will be lazy and look for the path of least resistance. Finding fish can often be easier because they stack up in the deep runs and pools. Often water with no current will produce fish. The deeper water is often better because the water is often gin clear and makes the fish skittish. When the shallow water has minimal insect life, there is no gain for the fish to be shallow. Occasionally you will see trout sitting shallow when the sun is on the water warming themselves, but this is quite rare.


Don’t immediately leave a spot if you're not getting into fish:

Too many anglers make the mistake of leaving a fishing spot early. I always recommend giving a spot at least 30 minutes with multiple bug and weight changes before leaving. Winter fishing is often like picking the lock on a safe. Once you crack the code, it's yours for the taking. A lot of times the fish are there, you just need to crack the code.


Bring a wide selection of Nymphs:

Since winter fish can be quite fickle with what they eat, having the right fly is paramount. During the winter, having some flies with hot orange heads and flash can often help trigger a strike. Downsizing/upsizing your fly can also make a huge difference. Usually, I would recommend downsizing your flies during the wintertime. Still, my 3:3:1 rule applies which is 3 sizes, 3 colors, 1 unique feature for a similar fly pattern.


Fish Tailwaters:

The nice part of fishing tailwaters is that the water temperature remains reasonably stable so the river doesn’t ever freeze up. The aquatic insects are also more consistent, which means they are more consistent in fisheries. In comparison, a freestone river may be frozen for the entire winter depending on the weather conditions.


Time your trips towards the warmest part of the day:

As mentioned already, I repeat this because I cannot emphasize this point enough. Sleeping in is almost always a good idea when fly fishing in the winter.

My favorite winter fly patterns:

Kellers Peach Fuzz Size 12-16

Squirmy Wormy size 12

Ray Charles size 14-18

Pats Rubber Legs 10-12

Copper John 14-18

Tight Lines and Heavy Nets,

Cooper Zikan

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