A Simple Formula for Winter Fly Fishing Success
From mid-November until mid- March, fly fishing in the Vail area is fairly straight forward. As we have discussed earlier if you find deep, slower pools you have already found trout. These winter fish demand deep nymphing tactics ninety percent of the time.
Strike indicators suspending enough weight to consistently tap bottom and two or even three fly rigs are the ticket to success. Pound the water-one fish landed means more are lurking below. Strikes may be subtle and momentary-set the hook whenever there is any sign of activity that may be a fish eating or trying to spit your fly. Many times in winter a slight pause or slow dip that would be ignored in lieu of an indicator moving quickly and aggressively up stream in summer is all the trout will give you as a sign to set the hook.
Once a preferred depth, speed of current and amount of weight is found stick with that system in every hole you fish until it no longer works due a new hatch or the end of a hatch, change in water temperature or fading daylight. Try to time your outing for a period when the weather and temperatures have been stable or just before or during a snowfall. Avoid sunny, cold snaps the day after a storm if at all possible. That is winter nymphing in a nutshell.
“Hot Flies for Cold Trout” Winter Fly Patterns that Work
Fly choice need not be complicated during winter. I like to tell my clients that if the trout are eating this time of year they’re usually not too picky. Keep it simple rather than trying to find the magic pattern and changing it up every five minutes. With the list below you’ll be all set for winter trout.
- The Egg: Love it or hate it, the Egg catches winter trout. Browns and whitefish have recently spawned and as soon early March some rainbows will begin spawning. My favorite pattern is #14 Oregon Cheese Flashtail Egg. Charteuse, orange and pale yellow have all proven successful. Best fished in tandem with a small midge pattern.
- The Worm: Again this fly has detractors but it hammers otherwise tight-lipped trout. Pink and red seem to be the best winter colors. Micro-chenille, sparkle braid and vinyl rib patterns all work well with or without beads. See Andy Smith’s blog for a quick Worm tying recipe. Fish it as an attractor with a smaller trailing fly.
- Black Beauty: This simple midge larvae has many variations. A beaded version works great as well a version featuring a small emerging wing made out of antron for when midges begin to hatch. Try it black, grey olive and red and cream.
- RS2: A great emerger pattern in black, grey, and olive. Works equally well for midges and small mayflies. Try the sparkle wing version
- Prince: This fly in a wide range of sizes can imitate everything from a midge emerger to a big stonefly. A great lead fly in a two fly setup. The flashy Fly Formerly Known as Prince is one of my favorite year-round patterns.
- Twenty Incher: Golden stoneflies are fairly active in winter and found in all area freestone streams. This pattern is a proven winner for a stonefly imitation. Try our custom rubber-legged version. Will help sink lighter, smaller flies.
- Pat’s Rubber Leg: Simple but effective. A meaty stonefly pattern that devastates trout all year. I prefer a tan/brown pattern for golden stoneflies but solid black and brown also work well.
- Biot Soft Hackle: This midge emerger is my go-to fly when small insects are hatching. It works well dead-drifted and slowly swung and lifted at the end of a drift. Olive, black and gray are all you need.
- Copper John/Bob: Red is a favorite winter color for this heavy attractor nymph but try chartreuse and you will be pleased with the results. I like the version tied on a curved barbless scud/egg hook.
- Disco Midge: This fly imitates olive and cream colored midge larvae well with a slim profile and flashy body with an attractive peacock herl head trout love.
- Crystal Midge: No other midge emerger sports a better emerging wing than the Crystal Midge. The pearl crystal flash wing triggers fish when midges are emerging.
- Barr Emerger: Later in winter blue-winged olive mayfly nymphs become more active. Be ready with the Barr Emerger. A beadless flashback style is my choice.
With these flies in your nymph box and some water like that found in deep holes on the Eagle or Roaring Fork River and a little cooperation from Mother Nature, catching winter trout is not complicated. Check in with the experts at Vail Valley Anglers to find out where the best winter fishing can be found and book your fly fishing trip. We fish all year!
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer