Besides Midges, What do Trout Eat all Winter?

Fly fishermen across the west are used to hearing pretty much the same thing from fly shops and guides all winter long. The freezing temperatures and low water have set in for good, and the mayflies, caddis, and terrestrials that we love so much are no longer vulnerable to feeding trout. The mid-day midge hatch has taken center stage, and will stay there for most of the next several months.

I fish a lot during these months and am constantly looking for other ways to catch fish. Part of the reason for this is that I want to catch fish on either end of the main hatch when the fish are not as active, and the other part is that it is simply fun to break up the midge fishing routine. These are a few of the other patterns that I have found effective during the coldest months of the year.


We are fortunate enough in the Vail Valley to have an abundance of large stoneflies in our local rivers, many of which are constantly available to opportunistic trout. A lot of these larger stonefly species take up to three years to fully mature, meaning that there usually is some quantity of big, active stoneflies feeding among the rocks in the faster water. I have noticed that even during the most inactive parts of the day, fish are often eager to take a big, helpless stonefly drifting along a slow, deep seam. The Twenty Incher is the go-to winter stonefly pattern on the Eagle and Roaring Fork.


If you fish in Colorado during the fall and winter, you are probably pretty familiar with the mysis shrimp. The monsters of the Taylor, Frying Pan, and Blue Rivers have been created by the introduction of these little white crustaceans. The shrimp are available year round to these huge fish and it is important to have several different sizes and patterns in your box while fishing any of these popular tail waters.


Streamer fishing has always been one of my favorite tactics throughout the spring and summer, and can work well during the winter as well. Big fish tend to be predators, and they need to eat more than just the tiny midges that are available during the middle of the day. It is important to know where these large fish hide during the mornings and evenings and place your casts accordingly. I look for heavily structured slow water hiding spots where that monster brown is lurking, waiting to ambush my size 8 Slump buster. A midge hatch will activate small fish, exposing them and making them vulnerable to their larger predators. I often seen a midge hatch as more of a small minnow hatch and an opportunity to throw streamers in the middle of the river.


Most fly fishermen tend to save their egg patterns for the main spawning seasons when the rivers are stuffed with naturals from rainbows, browns, and whitefish. With such a large variety of other fish in town, however, eggs have a presence almost year round. I have found that throughout the winter, smaller egg patterns work better when bounced along the bottom of the riverbed.

Keep these patterns and methods in mind as you fish this winter in order to catch more fish and break up the midge monotony. Remember the best fly selection in Eagle county is just through the doors of Vail Valley Anglers.

Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer