Winter Fly Fishing: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

by | Mar 17, 2023 | Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for trout is a hobby for a lot of people. It can be a time for friends and family
to enjoy the outdoors. It’s usually done in the warmer months of the year, but what a lot of
people don’t know is that it can be the best during the winter.

Fly Fishing for trout in the winter is usually done at tailwaters, since the headwaters have snow and ice on top of them. In the winter trout seem to be less picky since there is less food in the water. You can get away with fishing junk flies, which is always fun. Trout are in slow pools and are usually caught deep using
suspension rigs. Winter fly fishing techniques are easy to get the hang of compared to other seasons because the fish hang out in similar water and will eat about anything in the right conditions.

Another reason winter fly fishing can be an amazing time on the water is because there
are not as many people. Frigid temps usually keep people inside, but if you have the right gear,
fly fishing in the winter can be as comfortable and enjoyable as it is in summer months. Very big
fish can be caught during the winter because they are easier to fool since they need to eat as
much food as possible to survive.

What is Winter Fly Fishing and why is it special?

Winter fly fishing can start in November and last until February. Usually in these months
the fish are consistent in where they hang out and have started their “winter habits.” So what
really makes fly fishing in the winter so special?

  • Fishing junk flies.
  • Not as many people.
  • Fish aren’t as picky.
  • Big fish seem more interested in your flies.
  • Water can be at a lower flow compared to spring and summer months.
  • Can take advantage of waters that are prime in fall and winter.
  • Get to experience a whole new type of fly fishing.
Winter fly fishing at FlyFishFinder

Why Should I Fly Fish In the Winter

Winter can usually be a slow time of year for a lot of people since there isn’t much to do
outdoors except for hunt and ski. A lot of fishermen are big hunters, and we all know we can
hunt every weekend in the winter because tags are limited and so are the days allowed to hunt.
Skiing can be fun but is also dangerous and expensive because you must buy your gear and pay
for a lift ticket. In fly fishing all you have do is buy your gear. There are a lot of reasons to take
up the hobby of fly fishing in the winter if you love fishing and are seeking a hobby in the

How to Fly Fish In the Winter Successfully

To be successful in winter fly fishing a person must have the right gear and fish the right
water. As for the gear you will need an assortment of flies such as zebra midges, rs2’s, hot head
nymphs, brassie’s, hare’s ear, egg patterns, worm patterns, and streamers
. You will need a fly
rod, fly reel, tippet, and indicators.

You will also need to have the right clothing such as waders, wading boots, sweatpants, thick socks, warm thermal shirt/pants, sunglasses, a jacket, wind/rain shell, and a hat. Your clothing doesn’t have to be top of the line and a lot of people already have a lot of this stuff in their closets. You don’t need to go buy “fishing specific” clothing, but it is a good idea to get a decent pair of breathable waders and a comfortable pair
of wading boots.

Fly selection in winter is heavily dependent on region and species, but for most trout waters across the country there are some standard flies that will always work. Here are some additional examples from Outdoor Life.

Winter Fly Fishing Tips

Some tips that will make you successful at catching fish is to focus on fishing slow deep
water and really focus on changing your depth and weight rather than switching your fly

Having tungsten beads on most your fly patterns is another crucial tip. Some patterns
will not require a tungsten bead such as small flies like the RS2 which should be fished in sizes
20-24. All the other flies mentioned above can be fished in sizes between 12-18 with tungsten
beads ranging from 2.3mm-3.8mm.

You should also try to have an attractor pattern as your bottom fly the entire day. Attractor patterns will be your egg patterns, worm patterns, and streamers. Your set up for the day should be 2 flies below your indicator spaced out about 18 inches apart. You can move your indicator up and down to find the correct depth and fish different weights of flies to get the right drift. When purchasing or tying flies think of it by
tungsten bead weight rather than hook size. Your local fly shop will also have great tips tailored
to the water specific to your area.

Fly fishing in the winter is fun and can be very easy to get the hang of the more you get out. The last and final tip is to not get discouraged and have fun!

Here’s another article on getting started in small stream trout fishing. This is applicable any time of year, but if you are located in the northern part of the US, some of these small streams will be frozen over during winter months. Be sure to check flows or ask around on conditions of the water before getting in the truck. Find this info inside our app!