Winter Fly Fishing Tips
Winter is among the toughest times of year to catch trout in streams. Water temperatures are cold and a trout’s metabolism is slow. Even though a fish doesn’t need to feed as much in cold weather, they will eat if given a chance.
Fly fishing in the winter is different than spring, summer, and fall. Nymphing skills are more important now than any other time of year. Here is our best advice for catching trout on nymphs in the winter.
- 1 Sleep In! – Fishing is rarely very good before 9:00 AM in December, January, and February. In fact, fish may not be moving around much until 11:00 AM or noon. Trout will move most after water temperatures have risen a few degrees. This coincides with increased insect activity. Fishing often slows down by 3:30 or 4:00 but can continue to be good right up until dark on unseasonably warm days.
- 2 Be Picky, Be Selective with the Water You Fish - Your window of opportunity during the winter is limited, choose your spot carefully. The angler that is the most skilled at reading the water is going to catch the most fish. This is most noticeable in the winter time. Your fishing window is minimized, you have to target the water with the greatest probability of success. Forget the riffles. They simply don’t hold fish in the winter. Look for long, deep runs of slow moving water. Cast upstream in to the riffle so you nymph has a chance to drop, but focus on the slow moving water.
- 3 Drift on! One of the best spots is the point where a shallow riffle transitions to deeper, slower water. Cast the fly into the riffle so it has time to sink and falls naturally into the deeper water. Also keep an eye out for slow pockets in stretches of pocket water. Not all pockets will be productive, but some might give you the best opportunity of the day. Patches of dead water framed by swift water are prime.
- 4 Let the Sun Shine In! Watch for stretches of water that receive plenty of sunlight. Direct sunlight provides a little extra warmth to get both bugs and fish moving. We often spend winter days chasing sunny spots and will occasionally find a few rising trout.
- 5 Fair Weather Fisherman - Most anglers fish when they can and squeeze a day into a busy schedule when possible. Keep an eye on the extended forecast during the winter months and try to hit the water on a day that will optimize your chances for success. A string of cold nights with temperatures in the teens and daytime temperatures that struggle to rise into the mid 30’s are sure to provide slow fishing. Water temperatures in freestone mountain streams will often plunge right down to the freezing mark. This is sure to produce a “lockjaw” pandemic among the trout population.
- 6 Fish Hard, Fish Often, Fish On! - Trout are only marginally active when the water gets below 40 degrees. We see the biggest activity swing between 40 and 42 degrees. Fishing is pretty good at 42 but noticeably slower at 40. Get down to 38 or 39 and fishing is extremely slow. One of the best weather features to watch for in the winter is a period of rain when the overnight temperatures stay in the 40’s or barely dip into the 30’s. A rainy 45 degree day brings relatively warm water into a stream and can get fish and bugs moving. This can jump start a stream after a long cold snap and even keep a stream warm for the first day after temperatures have made a sudden dip.
Tight Lines and Screaming Drags