Winter Fly Fishing For Trout

Who would want to fly fish for Trout in Winter? "Let's just leave the fly fishing tackle in the cupboard until March thank you very much. It's too cold." An all too common lament, yes, and granted, there are some days when the wind is biting hard, and it can make for an uncomfortable day on the water. Cold hands, frozen rod rings, cold feet, no rises, "it's a waste of time." However, if there is a window of opportunity and conditions are favourable, Winter fly fishing for Rainbow Trout can be extremely productive.

Typical Stillwater Winter Conditions
A flexible approach and fly selection is the key. Lures can and do work, and for some waters, it is a successful technique. However changing your mindset, and opting for finesse could surprise you. During Winter, fish want to exert as little energy as possible, therefore choosing the imitative approach as your first tactic, using nymphs, could potentially be the most successful technique on the day.

A Single Nymph Rig
Nymphs are actually in abundance during winter. For example, some waters have very silty beds, and when the water temperature rises, the fish become much more active as larvae and bloodworm become available. In fact, many competition anglers will testify that during winter, the majority of fish caught will be on nymphs. But where do you start?

What Fly To Use?
Nymph fishing is a lot to do with confidence. It can be counter-intuitive to think that such a small imitative pattern of Freshwater Shrimp, Bloodworm or Corixa could entice a hungry Trout. Wrong! Pick the right time, depth and fly pattern and you will be surprised. Explore the margins and look for shallower water because fish will be feeding in these zones. And forget about trying to cast your fly line as far into the distance as you can because they are more likely a few feet in front of you.

Freshwater Shrimp Pattern

If you are fishing a typical Stillwater, walk around and explore the terrain. Look for silt beds, bays, and land that sticks out a bit because these are fish holding areas. This will allow you to cast across the wind and permit your fly to drift across feeding positions. It may seem counterintuitive, but casting into the wind can be very productive indeed. Submersed insects will be drifting toward the windward shore, and you will be surprised how close-in the fish can be.  Of course, there is always the worry that you will get tangled, or worse still, the fly will blow back in your face. So use common sense, wear protective eyewear, and make sure the wind is not blowing so strongly that you can't keep your balance.  Also watch out for icy banks and avoid high bankings with deep drop-offs in windy conditions.

Always Take Care When Winter Fly Fishing
When casting into the wind, or slightly into the wind, resist the urge to wade because you could disturb the fish. Another factor when casting into the wind is to use a stiffer action fly rod because it will allow you to punch the line hard against the wind. Keep your forward delivery low because a higher cast will lose all energy and fall back on you. The goal is to 'shoot' or 'punch' the line low into the wind, therefore, you want to avoid too many false casts. You should be trying to generate high line speed, so it would be helpful if you can introduce a haul into the cast.

Cast Low Into the Wind
Concerning set-up, if casting into a strong wind, it is better to use heavier fly lines such as a seven or eight with a 7 or 8lb fluorocarbon leader. It will give you the power to cast bigger flies. For nymph fishing, however, if the conditions are favourable, you can go down to size 16 so you need thinner leader tippet, say 3lb or 4lb. In this case, it would be better to use a lighter action fly rod because a light leader set-up can be vulnerable to snapping with a stiffer rod. A lighter action rod will absorb more of the shock from a fighting fish and will put less stress on your leader knots. This is especially important when landing fish.  Lastly, if nymph fishing, use two flies if the wind is strong; use three if there is a ripple, and if the conditions are flat calm, fishing a single fly 'static' can be deadly.

Fluorocarbon Tippet Material

Regarding nymph selection, start small and imitative. Don't be afraid to go down to a size 16 or 14 because if you get pulls right away; you have just received some valuable feedback. If you are not having any success, try a size 10 or 12. Also, be conscious of the depth that you are fishing. If it's a sparsely tied fly, or if the fly is weighted, there will be very little buoyancy; therefore, it will slowly sink below the surface. So experiment; vary the times you let the fly drop. Common patterns to use when nymph fishing in winter include Apps Bloodworm, Weighted Hares Ear, Micro Midge, Corixa and Freshwater Shrimp.

Weighted Hares Ear
To illustrate a typical scenario: you arrive at your local Stillwater, the temperature is about 3 or 4 degrees, the wind is very light, the sky is clear, and there is very little sign of fly activity. You observer the wind blowing South Westerly, so if you are standing on the South Shore, the wind will be blowing over your left shoulder. Armed with this knowledge, and an up-to-date report about the current fishing conditions from the Fishery Manager, you are building a picture in your head. The conclusion? To fish the East shore margins because you know that fish like to feed on the windward shore. So you take the short walk to a lovely spot that sticks out on the East shore with a bay right next to it. From the latest reports, fish have been taking Bloodworm, so you set up your fly rod, fly reel, and line. You opt for a more extended Fluorocarbon leader of around 15ft and fish two Bloodworm patterns, a Fulling Mill Apps Bloodworm weighted on the point and three to four feet up, a Fulling Mill Bloodworm. You walk out to the point of the bay and cast low, slightly into the breeze in front of you. You quickly get in contact with your flies by straightening your fly line and begin a languid, figure of eight. Most of the leader is submerged as you slowly figure of eight the line through your index finger back towards you. Intermittently, you give the line a small tug to impart some action on the fly in the water. All of a sudden there is a very confident pull as the fly line in front of you quickly goes tight, and you lift into a fish. Bingo! First fish in the bag.

Apps Bloodworm
Of course, you may have exhausted the imitative approach, with no success. So you need to think out of the box. Look in your fly box and try a Skinny Daiwl Bach, Cruncher or Anorexic Bardens Buzzer. Fan cast the same area or move along the shore and try other spots. You may even find that the wind direction changes, so this is a clue that the fish could be on the move. You should always be looking to adapt to the conditions, pay attention to the depth that the fish are pulling, and note the size of fly that is seeing the most action - all significant clues!  If the floating fly line is not working for you, try an intermediate fly line or a Polyleader.  You never know.

The Diawl Bach

Lastly, if all else fails, it's time to bring the big stuff out. In winter, the fish are looking for an easy Protein meal and prefer not having to chase about for their dinner. However, sometimes it can be as effective to trigger their aggression and curiosity by pulling a Cats Whiskers, Zonker or Blobs. Just remember that casting bigger flies requires heavier lines, leaders, and a wider loop to allow the fly to turn over and not catch the bottom of your leader. Or if you just haven't got the energy anymore and you fancy a bit of fun, stick a 4 Leg Squirmy Green or Okey Dokey under a Fario Fly Bung, chuck it out, wait for the bung to go under, and lift into the fish.

Fario Bung Fly Set

When winter fly fishing, the possibilities are endless. Wrapping up warm, doing your homework, asking questions, stocking up with the right flies, and a willingness to explore the water can make for a very successful day. Persevere with the imitative approach. You might just surprise yourself how effective a technique it is.

Expert Advice 
If you want some more advice about winter fly fishing, we have experts on hand who can advise you on the best tackle to use for your next trip.  We also have a massive selection of flies that will cover every eventuality, so why not come and visit us instore at Glasgow Angling Centre or call us on 0141 212 8880, where we will be more than happy to help.

This article was brought to you in association with Trout Fisherman Magazine.