Winter fly fishing etiquette

Winter Fly Fishing Etiquette

If you have hit the local water this year, you’ve probably noticed that the once quiet and peaceful fishing spots in #troutcountry are not so quiet anymore. Whether it’s been a rise in the popularity of fly fishing, more anglers moving to the area, or just a trendy trend, the local rivers have been a little bit busier than we are used to. This even holds true now in the winter months. Anglers alike are tossing on the warm layers and grabbing their rods to hit the water despite the below freezing temperatures.

In anticipation for the winter fly fishing season, we thought it may be beneficial to cover some basics about winter fly fishing etiquette. Be sure to check out the previous “etiquette” themed blogs Wade Fishing Etiquette and Float Fishing Etiquette. Comment below any useful feedback you may have. 

winter fly fishing

Finding Winter Water to Fly Fish: 

Winter fly fishing means one thing when finding a place to fish….there are not as many areas to fish. In the winter the trout move into their winter holes and concentrate in the deeper slow pools. This also concentrates the anglers into specific pieces of water making it harder to find open water to spread out. With this in mind, be aware that it may be a little more challenging to find water to fish on a busy weekend. Do your best to make a game plan and have a few different areas that you might want to fish and don’t plan on fishing one specific hole as someone may already be there.

guided winter fly fishing 

Share the River with Other Fly Anglers: 

For the most part, these winter fishing holes only have space for one group of anglers. If someone is already fishing this specific hole, it’s safe to say they’re most likely will not be room. At times, the angler/s may almost be finished fishing and it’s a good idea to communicate and ask them how long they will be fishing for. A lot of times just having effective communication will solve any sort of misunderstandings on the river. It can go a long way.

Don’t Camp in One Hole All Day:

Be mindful that in the winter months there is not as much water to fish. Don’t be the angler who sits in a hole all day to catch fish after fish. Share the resource with other anglers. Limit your time to under 3-4 hours to allow for other anglers to fish the area. Be approachable when other anglers show up so they can effectively communicate. It goes a long way and could result in some good old fashion fly fishing camaraderie. 

winter fly fishing rig

Know Where to Park: 

In the winter, knowing where to park is very important. To anyone who is not familiar with winters in the Colorado Rockies, the roads are being constantly plowed as new the fresh snow covers the valleys. One way to ruin a day on the water would be to have your vehicle towed or damaged by a snowplow. It’s also worth noting that if you are parking near a ski resort you can expect the parking to be very challenging. Be extra careful of where you park as many vehicles end up being towed for parking illegally.

The Town of Vail is notorious for towing or “booting” vehicles. Put extra effort into making sure you know where to park when accessing certain water along these mountain corridors. 

Be Extra Vigilant of Private Property: 

The snow-covered rivers and banks in the winter can make it more challenging to see private property. And not to mention in the State of Colorado property-owners are not required to post private property signs. Know where private property is and avoid it at all costs. Property owners own the bottom of the river. So you cannot walk up the riverbed like in other states. There are some hotspots in the winter where anglers ending getting in trouble as they are not doing their due diligence in checking property lines. 

winter trout

Don’t Handle the Fish with Gloves:

Most anglers in the winter use some sort of fishing glove whether it may be made of wool, synthetic, or even nitrile. When you handle fish with gloves on, it removes their protective slime coating. This coating acts as an immune system for these fish. When removed the trout is more susceptible to pathogens and diseases. So to avoid this, don’t handle fish with gloves on. If you want to take a picture take your gloves off. If you want to keep your gloves on you can safely release a fish using a rubber landing net, barbless hooks, and forceps.

Don’t Put the Fish in the Snow:

Another point to make in regards to fish handling is to avoid putting the fish in snow. Similar to using gloves, the snow will remove the trout’s slime coating making them more susceptible to disease. Use a net and keep them wet! 

Always Check Regulations: 

The end of fall means the brown trout are finishing up their spawning. The early spring is when the rainbows begin to spawn in Colorado. Be sure to check the Colorado fishing regulations to understand where there may be any sort of closures due to spawning activity. 

Stay Warm and Help One Another:

The rivers are definitely quieter in the winter, the below-freezing temperatures can pose a danger to anglers who may be out there fishing by themselves. Make sure to be properly outfitted with warm weather clothing, familiar with the weather patterns, and extra vigilant of ice shelves. Take care of other anglers who may be in danger, and be willing to lend an extra hand. 

winter snow fly fishing

To Conclude: 

For many, winter fly fishing is an escape to the snowy solitude where the fishing may not be as good as the summer months but the scenery is top-notch.  As anglers let’s band together to cherish the great resources we have and follow a basic code of etiquette so we all can enjoy these great resources for years to come. There is only so much water to fly fish in the winter so let’s work together to make winter fly enjoyable for anyone who puts in the effort to get out there in the cold. If you have any more tips for winter fly fishing etiquette please comment below.

For up-to-date fishing reports and fishing closures be sure to check out our fishing reports. If you ever have a question pertaining to access or regulations about a specific river or area that we guide and fish, give us a call at 970.926.0900. 

Patrick Perry, Former Float Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor.