Trouts Journal

How To Fill Your Fly Box For Winter

Ivan Orsic / Jan 13, 2022

Winter Curious - someone who is interested in winter fly fishing but looking for assistance.

There are two types of anglers when it comes to winter fishing, those that embrace the cold and frigid temperatures and those that don't. It truly is that simple. If you happen to be one of the people who has not decided what camp you wish to be in, let's call you "Winter-Curious." Let's cut to the chase, are you cut out for winter angling? Winter fishing is going to be cold, it can at times be a little bit miserable, and there will be times when your fingers are so cold two packets of hot hands won't be able to save you. If that doesn't sound that great to you, well...can we interest you in some of our Fly Tying classes? So, if cold fingers, shorter days, and a slower pace of fishing sound good to you, friend, you are "Winter-Curious."

If your curiosity is piqued, you're in luck. Today, we are going over, "How To Fill You Fly Box For Winter." If you are a seasoned fly-fishing fanatic, then many of these patterns will seem like a no-brainer. If you are new to the sport, know that many of these patterns can be productive all year round. However, the wintertime is when they really shine. Without further ado, let's go over, "How To Fill Your Fly Box for Winter."


During the wintertime, it is best practice to size down your fly selection. The best option? Midges. Often mistaken for mosquitos, non-biting midges are an excellent life cycle pattern to keep in your fly box during the winter. With a life cycle typically lasting about 3 weeks from start to finish, midges are an excellent option and can be found in EVERY tailwater section of Colorado. That being the case, let's go over a few must-have patterns when using midges this winter.

Umpqua Poison Tung

Poison Tung Midge was conceived one winter after reading about the power the color blue has over unsuspecting trout. I tried a variety of different patterns, with varying amounts of blue and found that a simple rib was just enough

Umpqua Tungsten Zebra Midge

The Zebra Midge is arguably one of the best natural subsurface midge imitations. The slim body with accent rib offers great contrast in the water that fish find irresistible. This version with a Tungsten bead allows this fly to sink quickly into the strike zone.

Umpqua Top Secret Midge

The Top Secret Midge was invented during the winter of 2001. It was designed to imitate the millions of midges that hatch on a daily basis along South Platte watershed. Much of the Top Secret Midge success is a result of combining a two-tone thread body (brown and white) with an emerging wing made from Glamour Madeira. The segmented abdomen is “dead-on” when you scrutinize the naturals. The tuft of Glamour Madeira adds a subtle hint of flash without overdoing it. The thorax is tied with rust-brown Superfine dubbing, which helps, highlight the area that contains the wings and legs of the emerging adults. I’ve found having the right silhouette during selective feeding phases can make or break your success. It’s hard to argue with the “size, shape, and color” formula—it has been fool-proof for generations.

Umpqua Demon Midge

The Demon Midge is a great go-to fly whenever midges are around. The thin profile really tends to get those picky fish to eat.

Umpqua Mercury Midge

The Mercury Midge is proof—less is more! The Mercury Midge is a tiers dream, it is quick to tie, durable, and fools finicky, hard fished trout, on both freestones and tailwaters. Much of this patterns success stems from the clear, silver-lined glass bead that mimics a gas bubble that gets trapped in the midge’s thorax as it prepares to emerge. The Mercury Midge got its name because the head-area of the fly contains a silver-lined glass bead that looks like a tiny tube filled with mercury—thus the pattern was called, the Mercury Midge. The Mercury Midge is a great attractor in a tandem nymphing rig as a “dash of flash” draws attention to the dropper flies. Don’t let the simplicity of this pattern fool you


I read once that when it comes to fishing nymphs in the wintertime, often an angler can be confused between what is "ideal" and "practical" when it comes to fly choice options.

Sure, it would be ideal to have every color, weight variation, and size of a nymph in my fly box during the wintertime, but that wouldn't necessarily be practical. While the word Nymph in the context of fly fishing is typically used to encompass a viable option of subsurface flies, it originally was used to describe a specific type of fly called the "Wet Fly." These flies typically will not have wings and come in either weighted or non-weighted varieties, which help them reach specific sections of the water columns. Even though there are many options when it comes to picking out nymphs, there are a few staples that always get the job done. Below are a few that resemble what a "practical" nymph selection should look like for wintertime fly fishing.

Umpqua Two Bit Hooker

Ah…the Two Bit Hooker. This is one of my favorite patterns ever and I can honestly say it’s one found on the end of my tippet most days. I just don’t fish without it. I love to fish it, and it was designed to be fished, on a dropper under a dry fly, but I also use it in a two fly rig when I have to get dirty.

My favorite versions are a size 14 red tied with 3/32″ tungsten beads and a black size 18 tied with 1/16″ tung beads. The dark olive is a huge seller as is the brown version and the new color additions of both pink and purple have been deadly. The short answer is; you can’t really go wrong with a Two Bit. - Charlie Craven

Umpqua Copper John Barr's

The late Bruce Olsen of Umpqua gave the fly its name, the Copper John. The fly sank fast and it caught fish. Over the years there have been material changes and different versions but the basic concept and design has remained unchanged. Wapsi’s Thin Skin replaced the turkey quill for the wing case. Synthetic peacock dubbing replaced the peacock herl for the abdomen and hen back fibers replaced the partridge for the legs.

Umpqua Purple Prince

The Purple Prince is a spin off of the original Prince Nymph. The purple body adds a unique twist to the fly and is a perfect attracter making sure the purple body catches the eyes of those eager fish.

Umpqua Rubberlegs

Large profile, heavily weighted with lots of rubber, the Rubberlegs (stone) is a deadly high-water fly. When fish are hunkered down deep it takes a significant meal to entice feeding. Mottled chenille body, weighted underbody, super-floss legs on a stout Tiemco 5262 hook make this a perfect fly for any heavy water nearby. Also available in beadhead and jigged version.

Umpqua Squirmy Wormie

Don’t let pride stop you from catching fish. When your classic dry flies aren’t bringing fish to the net, swallow your pride and give the fish what they want…protein that is familiar and easy to swallow. When the water is high or off-color, worms are often being washed into feeding channels and this can be an extremely effective pattern.

Dry Flies

If you want to have a successful day on the water, you should know by now that fishing subsurface flies in the game's name. However, when the forecast calls for warm days opting for small dry flies may be the ticket to success. While it is best to use this tactic when you can actively locate rising fish, you can get away with dead drifting a small dry every now and again. The specific pattern of choice? Midges & sometimes, if you're extra lucky, Blue-Winged Olives. Although widespread as far as species go, the most popular pattern this time of year will be variants of the Midge. If you are wanting to fish dry flies this winter it is important to remember that the temperature range for these to hatch will be when the average air temperature is above 30 degrees.

Umpqua Griffith's Gnat

When midges are on the water think Griffith’s Gnat. While at first glance this fly doesn’t really appear to be a great imitation of one of the smallest insects on the water, when midges hatch heavily, they tend to cluster together in the current to create a more significant meal for hungry trout. When fished in combination with a more realistic midge or mayfly nymph as a dropper some amazing fishing can be had. It is the ultimate technical micro dry-dropper rig.

Umpqua Matt's Midge

The reason I tie and came up with Matt's Midge is because it is a single midge pattern and the poly split wing sticks up off the hook which makes it a lot easier to see on the water even in the smallest of sizes. I think the Matt's Midge works well because it can be used as a single midge pattern and the trout might also take it as a cluster when it's in a bigger size than what's actually on the water during that midge hatch.

Umpqua Hackle Stacker BWO

Fish this fly to selective fish with long and fine leader/tippet whenever the fish are turning their noses up to standard offerings. And, watch for the “eat” that may be very subtle.

Umpqua Comparadun B.W.O

The Comparadun defines simplicity, but it is a true fish catching machine. It has one of the most beautiful silhouettes in a mayfly imitation of all time. Due to the nature of the tie the fly rides low in the film and the hollow costal deer hair helps to keep the fly afloat. These comparadune’s are best fished for difficult fish in slow currents where a great imitation is a must. We offer this proven pattern in 22’s through 10’s to match BWO’s to Western Green Drakes.

A Few Insights Into Winter Fly Fishing

Before we wrap this up, I thought I would offer up a few tips and tricks to take with you before you head out to the river. The first is pretty simple; remember to layer up. I know you may not want to hear this but, one day, you will slip and take a spill into the river, and when that time comes, you are going to be very thankful that you have an extra change of clothes waiting for you back at the trailhead, especially during the winter. Also, while on clothing, remember to dress in layers. If you are unsure how to layer appropriately, check out our Layering For Winter blog post.

The next piece of advice - I would give is to lower your expectations for winter fly fishing. Winter fly fishing is tough, and many fish caught will not come quickly. Fishing during the wintertime often will require you to change the depth of your fly or change flies more than you are used to. When fly fishing in the winter, it pays to have patience and be perfectly okay with walking away with zero fish days.

Lastly, lighten up and take your time. Fly fishing in the wintertime means low flows and potentially spooky trout. One of the best ways to fool a trout during the winter is by sizing down your tippet (opt for a size 5X or 6X) and being deliberate with your casts. It will sometimes be necessary to ditch the thingamabobber or NZ Strike Indicator. While these are perfectly capable strike indicators all year round during the winter, the sound of these plopping onto the water could be enough to put a vise grip on the jaws of a trout.

However, sometimes half the battle of fly fishing during the wintertime is just going. Too often, people get intimidated by fly fishing in the wintertime. Even though fly fishing in the winter brings some challenges, the rewards for those who throw on an extra layer can be huge.

So, if you are thinking about fly fishing, this winter just go. More often than not, you will be happy you did.

For those of you that are "Winter Curious," I hope this blog post points you in the right direction when it comes to fly choice for the wintertime. As I mentioned before, many of these patterns should be in your box year-round but, winter is the time when these flies genuinely shine. You may have noticed that a couple of the flies mentioned were taken from this month's more recent Five Flies For January. If you would like an even more in-depth reason why some of these patterns are so successful during the winter, watch the video below! If you are looking for more questions answered, please swing by the shop. We are always here to help.

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