Winter Fly Fishing

Winter fly fishing is a different game. Water is getting colder, hatches are sparse, and the fish are hunkered down.

What to do? Get out and fish! Here is a brown from New Year’s Eve in 2016.


Thanks to a prior Mop Fly post, I’ve had good luck with winter fly fishing. It actually is a fun time to fish. The Winter Wonderland scenery is beautiful, and very few people are out on the water.

The key is an all-mono Euro rig. It’s my favorite rig to fish due to its effectiveness and versatility: With it, you can throw dries, swing wets/streamers, fish with an indicator, Euro-nymph the riffles/seams, and fish deep at the wintering holes. You also can grease it up and “float the sighter” at shallow water, which is really fun.

When fishing the bottom of deep winter lies, I follow Noel’s advice and throw a Mop Fly, which I tie on a competition-style barbless jig hook.

That way, the hook rides point up and reduces the snags. The hooks are extremely sharp and will embed in a fish’s upper jaw, which is ideal. And, the all-mono rig is extremely sensitive to any soft takes, which is key when you’re slowly fishing a fly along the bottom.

Winter also is the time when I’m most open to throwing an indicator. I like to use flies that are substantial and/or bright to encourage the languid fish to move. So, that will mean a colorful anchor, such as a San Juan Worm, blue flies, Rainbow Warrior or a Red Dart.

I’ll team that anchor with something small and innocuous-looking. That way, I give the trout a choice. So, my dropper fly is likely to be a Flashback BWO Emerger or a Midge Larva.

But, prepare to be surprised. In the end, if there is enough biomass in the water, the fish will move forward to faster water and feed. During a very cold period, I pulled out trout over multiple outings at a freestone when the water was 33 °F and the air was 0 °F.


Winter stoneflies were in the drift. The fish were feeding aggressively while holding in moderate riffles. Those were some memorable outings. Snow blowing everywhere, very deep snow to and from the river bank, trout on the line very often, and not a soul in sight.

I fish throughout the winter. It isn’t easy, but, it is fun, and I feel it makes me learn new skills. See you on the water.


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6 thoughts on “Winter Fly Fishing

  1. Interesting Post my friend. Can you describe your winter leader system? I’m using a formula Tory put up some time back. Amnesia/#20 maxima, etc. I would like the flexibility to move back and forth between a tight line euro system and a surface indicator. Your system looks interesting. Thanks again! Just picked up on your earlier post regarding the all mono system. What can I substitute in place of suffix?

  2. We’re fortunate to have the change of seasons and the ability to fish year round. One of the aspects of winter fishing that I appreciate most is the simple fact that I can fish a productive tailwater when most other options are off the table until spring. There’s a peacefulness to the river and the forest in winter that words can’t describe.

  3. The crisp chill in the air, the crunch of snow under your wading boots, the pristine white of fresh snowfall, the warmth of a nice cup of coffee and the subtle take of a sluggish winter trout before the fight begins. Fly fishing in the winter is a thing of beauty that not all can come to fully appreciate. I will certainly be making my pilgrimage to the swift this weekend if the snowy conditions can hold out this week, rainbow warriors, sexy walts, squirmies and P&O’s in tow.

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