Fishing for trout in the winter

By: Jackie Holbrook 

Fishing season doesn’t have to end when winter arrives in colder parts of the world. In fact, this is when some of the best trout fishing takes place! The season offers unique opportunities, along with its challenges. But if you’re willing to get your toes a tad bit cold, consider wading into the water to try fly-fishing this winter. 

Forget the Crowds 

Spring, summer and fall are the busiest seasons on the water, as most anglers plan their fishing trips during these months. Sometimes such timing is to target a certain hatch, but usually it’s just to enjoy the warmest weather. These months are also the busiest for other recreationists such as tubers, kayakers and other water sports. If you’ve ever fished a popular river on a warm summer weekend, you know all too well how desirable some quiet time is, even if it means freezing fingers.  

Fly-fishing in the cold can be uncomfortable. When winter starts spitting snow and ice begins to form along the banks, you’ll find fewer anglers. When temperatures drop below freezing and you’re chipping the ice out of the guides of your rod (this is a good way to break your rod so be careful), you might be the only one on the water. But as long as you come prepared with warm layers and the right attitude, you’ll enjoy a peaceful and beautiful day. 

Life Slows Down 

During the winter, the sun rises later and so do the fish. You don’t need to be out the door first thing in the morning to get to the best fishing. You can actually take your time and enjoy your morning coffee. In many waterways, the fish don’t even turn on until the water warms up. Even the water itself slows down during the winter, which can make it easier to wade fish. You may be able to access new spots that were too high during other times of the year!

Try New Tactics 

Trout usually move into slower water during the winter. They’re focused on surviving the cold and conserving their energy. That means you’ll need to search for fish in different spots. You’ll also need to try some different tactics to get them to bite. 

Since trout won’t move very far to grab your fly, dead-drifting a nymph is a popular winter technique. You can learn all about nymphing in the Anchored Outdoors Masterclass “Trout Techniques & Tactics with Out Fly Fishing Outfitters.” Dead-drifting a streamer is also fun because big fish have a reputation for eating big flies.

Learn Your Winter Flies 

If you’re new to winter fly-fishing, it’s an exciting opportunity to learn more about what trout eat this time of year. Chironomids (casually referred to as midges) make up a lot of a trout’s winter diet. Unlike many other bugs, midges can complete an entire life cycle in the winter. Renowned biologist and angler Brian Chan covers this and more in the Anchored Outdoors Masterclass, “Chironomid Fishing with Brian Chan.” 

It Gets You Through the Winter 

Winter is rough for some people, especially those who spend a lot of time inside. The dark and cold can make people feel trapped. Spending time on the water can do wonders for physical and mental health. It’s also a great time to improve your abilities. I spent last winter working on my roll cast. On warm, calm days I would spend an hour or two working on my technique. Catching a fish was just a bonus. Plus, the winter is a great time to try something new like Spey casting.  

Winter fishing isn’t for everyone, and that’s why it’s fun. With many rivers remaining open year-round and anglers always looking to get out, fly-fishing for trout is something you can enjoy nearly every day of the year.