Winter Fly Fishing Tactics

Reading Water for Winter Trout

Reading water is a crucial tactic for successful winter fly fishing for trout. Fly fishing for winter trout may have a few drawbacks when compared to the balmy temperatures and thick hatches of July but at Vail Valley Anglers we pride ourselves on finding and catching trout all year long and winter is no exception. Anglers familiar with winter fly fishing know that the cold months do offer some opportunities that are lacking during summer. The obvious lack of competition from other fly fishermen is enough to keep many fishermen happy. A quiet winter afternoon on a secluded stretch of river offers solitude that is hard to find during the busy season.

Find Feeding Trout

Trout do feed during the coldest months and catching them is sometimes easier than one might think. The right conditions of steady or rising temperatures will spur trout into a few hours of eating small midge larvae, mayfly nymphs and fish eggs. Finding these willing fish is the trick during winter. Once they are located anglers can enjoy great fishing without a lot of moving around.

Wade or Float

This is one time of year when wading fly fisherman may have the upper hand over float fishermen. Fishing during the warmest part of the day is the best choice so early rising is unnecessary. Half day wade trips coincide with the most productive fishing times and focusing for that length of time on the best water is crucial. Floating is also a good choice during late winter when the ice has broken up and several big holes can be fished in a single day. Full day trips are ideal at this time.

Reading Water for Success

For anglers that are only familiar with summer trout slurping dry flies in fast riffles or hugging a shallow grassy bank, finding and catching winter trout may seem daunting. Fortunately a pretty simple formula will lead to success and locating winter trout is really pretty easy. There are exceptions, especially with dam controlled tailwater fisheries where water temperatures are affected very little by cold weather but even those trout tend to follow the same script as freestone fish like our Eagle River or Roaring Fork River trout.

Winter trout generally do not use the same water that they are found in during summer. Shallow, faster water is devoid of fish. Ignore it even if that is where you found dozens of risers a few months back. Some anglers love to thoroughly dissect every inch of river searching for fish but in winter this is mostly a waste of time. In late summer and through fall as flows drop and water temperatures fall, trout migrate to winter holding areas. This move may only be a few yards or as much as a mile to prime water.

Winter trout prefer deep, slower water above all else. Due to water temperatures in the thirties, their metabolism is moving at an extremely slow pace. Fighting current is a waste of energy, constant feeding is unnecessary and shallow water exposes them to predators. Deep holes and runs with moderate to barely moving current will become home to the vast majority of fish in a stretch of river.

This benefits the fly fisherman because this type of water is easy to find when rivers are at their lowest flows of the year. Unlike spring, summer and fall trout that may be spread throughout many types of habitat and depths and speeds of water, winter trout are concentrated in large numbers in much smaller area. Ninety percent of the fish may occupy only ten percent of the available water. Deep water is easy to find during winter and when you find it, the trout will be there.

Current Conditions, Weather and Guided Trips

The fishing is currently very good now. The days are longer and temperatures are much warmer. The next several weeks are some of the most productive times to fly fish in Colorado. We guide year-round at Vail Valley Anglers and our guides love taking out clients during winter. Some of the biggest fish of the year are landed during the winter months and fly fishing is a great way to take a break from the world class skiing on Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek. Many skiers are unaware that within minutes of the lift lines is some fantastic world class winter fly fishing.  Give the experts at the shop a call to book your winter fly fishing trip. We’ll provide all the gear and pick you up at your hotel.

Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer