Welcome to part two of this three part series devoted to helping you catch more trout in the months to come. In case you missed part one, I'd encourage you to go back and review our discussion about What Happens To A Trout During Winter. A summertime trout is a much different creature than a wintertime trout, and making some adjustments to fishing for them is key. Knowing the basics of what happens to a trout (and the rivers they're swimming in) during Winter is a must when forming the foundation for your Winter time fishing.
So now that we understand what happens to a trout during Winter, it's time to move on to the next, very important piece of the puzzle- "What Does A Trout Eat During Winter?" Afterall, if you plan on catching trout in the near future, matching your flies to the available food sources is a very important piece of the equation. The good news is, this is arguably the easiest time of the year to 'match the hatch', as we all love to say. I talk to a lot of people here at the shop and on guide trips and one common theme tends to resonate through a majority of the interactions. Any guesses? Here's a hint: I've been guilty of this more times than could be counted and consciously work to avoid repeating. Still no clue? People love to overthink fly selection! The reason for this is obviously a simple one- just walk into our shop! We literally have thousands of fly bins waiting for our customers. Does this mean you need to carry one of everything we have? While I'd love to say 'yes', the true answer is a 'no'.
Without getting too much into a completely seperate topic (which we will at some point down the road), developing confidence in flies is one of the biggest steps to continually catching trout. If you don't have a half dozen "confidence flies" then this needs to at the top of your list. Winter time fishing is more about finding feeding fish, versus fishing the "exact" fly. Keep this in mind.
However, before we start talking too specifically on flies, let's do a brief rundown of what food will be availble for trout hroughout the next several months. The list provided will be applicable for almost any trout river in the country as well and is as follows: Midges, Baetis (Blue Wing Olives), Eggs, Worms. If you're fishing a tailwater system, you could add Scuds, Sowbugs, and possibly Mysis Shrimp to your list. If you're headed to a freestone, add Stoneflies to the list. While that may sound like a long list to some folks, it shouldn't.
Let's start with Midges- these are undoubtedly one of the most consistent producers of Winter trout. Midges are always in the river system, however tend to get overlooked during warmer months when more calorie packed offerings such as Caddis, PMD's, Stoneflies and Grasshoppers are flitting around. Once the cold arrives however and the bigger bugs disappear, Midges regain prominence as food source. I've heard it said that a trout during Winter still needs to eat 3% of it's body weight to survive. While it may not eat this exact percentage every day, it's safe to assume it's a good average. Given the microscopic nature of a Midge, this would mean an average sized trout needs to eat least 500 midges a day to hit 3%! (my source for this calculation is a trustworthy one, I assure you). Simply put, Wintertime trout love midges and so should you!
Moving on to Baetis, also referred to as Blue Wing Olives. We did a more in depth discussion of this miniature mayfly a little while back, and if you'd like to read more click HERE. Otherwise, if knowing that BWO's strut their stuff the most from late Fall through Spring, usually range in the 18-22 size class, and are easily identified by their smoky, blue/olive colored wings, then that works too. The best days for a BWO hatch will typically be the warmer, cloudier days of winter. I rarely go a day during Winter fishing without drifting a small baetis nymph around for a few hours. You'll typically find out quickly if the trout are keying into these insects on that particular day.
Eggs are another very popular fish catcher during the Winter. They represent a calorie filled, easy to attain menu item. Egg patterns work as a great lead fly when fishing a two or three nymph rig system.
San Juan Worms are another proven fish catcher and will work not only in the winter, but year round. Like the egg, worms represent an easy to grab meal that is full of calories. Worms also work as a great lead fly.
If you're fishing a tailwater, check with a local fly shop to get an idea on the importance of scuds/sow bugs/mysis shrimp. If they're there...fish with them.
Lastly, if you're fishing a freestone river known to have Stoneflies, this can also be a great lead fly option. While not active and hatching, Stoneflies can still be an important part of a Winter trout's diet from simply getting knocked loose of the streambed by the current and/or wading anglers and animals.
Now onto flies, Below you will see my top 6 favorite flies for Winter. Rarely will you see me on the water not fishing some combo of these flies. I have supreme confidence in all of these patterns and feel I can go anywhere in the state and catch fish. Not surprising (to me at least), everthing listed above is seen here. An egg, a worm, 3 midges (rojo, poison tung, pure midge) and a baetis nymph (jujubaetis). Learning to simplifying fly selection has been one of the biggest keys to my personal fishing success, particularly around Colorado. I firmly believe that these very 'fished-for' trout around the state want a good drift MUCH more than the right fly. I'm sure I sound like a broken record to some of you with that last sentence, but it's so true I can't help but continue to repeat it.
So there you have it folks! Winter fly selection doesn't have to be complicated (and quite frankly if it is, you're doing it all wrong) A worm, egg, and a few midges or baetis patterns will be more than sufficient to get your rod bent every time you hit the water for the next few months.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series which will be up within the next week. During this final installment, we will discuss the last piece of the puzzle- presentation, reading water, and where to find feeding fish during Winter.
Additionally, mark your calendars for Thursday January 22nd! I will be giving another presentation here at the shop on fishing the South Platte during Winter! Check out our Calendar for more details, as well as see what other exciting events we have coming up!
As always, if you'd like to discuss any of the above in greater detail, please let us know! Everyone here around the shop is more than happy to help in any way possible!