Winter Fly Fishing: A Season Made for Practice

Dec 23, 2016

Author: Tanner Smith

Winter Fly Fishing is Tough... But it offers Great Opportunites to Improve your game for the Long Haul!! 

When it comes to winter fly fishing, there are so many outside factors that go into a successful trip. From road conditions getting there, to having enough warm clothes, the last thing you need to be worried about is the actual fishing aspect. Let’s face it there are going to be days in the upcoming months when fishing will be mediocre at best no matter your ability as an angler or what flies you are using. Are there still rewards of big trout to be had? Sure, but there are opportunities to grow as an angler beyond holding a big tailwater prize. I view the winter and early spring months as the fishing offseason, similar to an athlete's offseason. Not fully giving up on the sport but taking advantage of the slower months to practice things that will help me prepare as an angler for the upcoming late spring, summer and fall seasons. Below I will discuss three things I practice during the "Offseason" that play a major role in my year round success.

Keep Nymph Rigs Simple- The window of opportunity to be successful on the water during the winter is a lot smaller than a warm summer day. This is because days are shorter and fish are cold blooded so the cold weather really puts a hold on their feeding habits. To me the most important part about winter fishing is having flies in the water. Seems obvious right? But the fish will be most actively feeding from the hours of around 10 AM - 3 PM. This means you have a 5 hour window of opportunity to really catch fish. Knowing that the fish aren’t particularly eager to move around and find food, don’t lose time by trying 15 different midge patterns in hopes of finding the “Magic Fly.” Focus your changes more on size than pattern, chances are if they aren’t eating a size 18-20 Black Beauty they aren’t eating eating a size 18-20 JuJubee Midge either. Instead, size down to a 22-24 and spend more time focusing on your drift than fly selection. With the low water fish will move to deeper runs and have plenty of time to analyze your fly before they eat it. This is a great opportunity to work on getting a drag free drift and presenting your flies through the feeding lanes.

A Great Opportunity to Sight Fish- Trust me, I like stripping streamers and tossing dry flies to structure more than anything. With that said, nymphing is going to be the most productive way to catch fish year round. The biggest advantage you have as an angler when fishing a tailwater is spotting a fish before casting. Low winter flows make for a great opportunity to hone in your sight fishing game. This time of the year is a perfect time to challenge yourself to see a fish before casting. Another advantage of sight fishing in the winter is that it will keep you engaged and on the hunt for fish, helping distract you from how cold it is. You will quickly realize that spotting the fish is only the beginning of your challenges. It is inevitable that some fish will spook and move away as soon as you throw your first cast at them. This gets me back to the “Practice” part of winter fishing. Take time to identify the spots where fish are holding and work to position yourself in places that allow you to make cast after cast until you hook the fish. Sighting fish and finding positions to catch them in the winter and spring will create a long term skill for success. By the time warm weather returns to these fisheries, you will know spots to sight and you will see a huge increase in your productivity while on the water.

Don’t Shy Away from New- During the winter and spring  it’s easy to fall victim to complacency. We all have a few go to cold weather spots. If they are taken by the time we get there it’s easy to give a half hearted effort and be back on the road heading home by noon. My favorite way to approach a cold day on the water before going back to my own favorite runs. is to commit to catching a fish in a place I have never caught a fish. By doing this you will really expand your knowledge of the fishery. This will give you confidence during the busy warmer months to find fish rather than be discouraged by the high volumes of people. Another great opportunity for practice during the winter is throwing dry flies. While nymphing will the primary method, it’s not uncommon to find pods of risers slurping midges or baetis. This is especially true along the South Platte. If you come across one of these pods, take the time to change and present a dry fly to them. Generally this time of the year it’s going to take lengthening the leader and laying down a soft presentation of a size 20-24 midge to fool these trout. If you can catch a fish on a dry fly in January, beleive me by the time the Caddis start hatching next summer you will be more than ready.

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