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Winter Trout Fly Fishing [Tips and tricks]!

  • The simple answer is yes, yes to winter fly fishing! You have to do what others won’t, and in this case, that’s fly fish during the winter months.

If your local river is crowded like mine is during the spring and summer months, then you’ll also appreciate the winter months that much more.

The biggest obstacles you’ll face are staying warm, and understanding trout behavior.

Before you start the journey, visit our articles on fly fishing rods, fly fishing reels, and fly fishing line to find out what set up works best during winter. Also visit our fly fishing kits article to find out why fly fishing kits can be a better option.

Staying warm while trout fishing in cold weather!

While others are bundled up at home, you’ll be ready to tackle a new fishing season. A new, cold fishing season that is.

The key to staying warm is to utilize your body heat. The only way too do this is to dress in layers. Preferably in layers that prevent the heat from escaping through.

Two inexpensive clothing material that help trap your body heat are: cotton and wool.

Also remember that you should wear looser clothing so you can move freely. This is an important step as you’ll spend 90% of your time either casting or walking to new fishing spots.

How do you keep your hands warm when fly fishing in winter? There are many cold weather fly fishing gloves [amazon link]. Also another good inexpensive route is buying hand warmers [amazon link].

If you’re unsure about winter fly fishing, i’d recommend hand warmers. If you don’t enjoy fly fishing, then you won’t hate yourself for spending money on fly fishing gloves. If you enjoy fly fishing that much, you can always venture off and buy fly fishing gloves.

How do I keep my feet warm while fly fishing in winter? A common misconception about keeping your feet warm is by wearing many layers of socks. You don’t want to do this.

The reason is that by wearing too many layers, you restrict blood flow. By restricting your blood flow, your feet naturally get colder. A simple solution that works for me is by wearing one pair of low ankle sport socks with a long pair of cotton or wool socks on top.

Your first layer of clothing should be sweat proof clothing. These are a bit more expensive but they’re also key to preventing sweating.

Having the right pair of wader boots or hiking boots is a must have. If you have the right pair of boots, you can get away with wearing one cotton or wool pair of socks. The right pair of boots will protect from the outside weather and keep your feet warm. They will also stop you from slipping on wet or icy terrain.

Is it bad to sweat in the cold?

Don’t fully bundle up on the drive to your fishing spot. As tempting as this is, you should really avoid this. This will make you incredibly sweaty before you reach your fishing spot. Only have all your clothing layers on only when you’re at your fishing spot, not on the car ride.

You won’t necessarily get sick or a flu from being sweaty in cold weather. However you will get the shivers and be incredibly uncomfortable.

It’s important to not over dress. I talked about having layered clothing, but you should have enough layers to not be cold. When layering your clothing, you have to remember that the majority of your time you’ll be walking trails, and water to your spot. The other time you’ll be casting.

Both are intense activities that will increase your body temperature, which in return will cause you to sweat

Orvis Fishing Jacket - [amazon link]

Winter fly fishing food to keep you warm!

I’ve talked about dressing in layers and bringing hand warmers to keep yourself warm. But, there is another way, and this is personally my favorite.

Eating! By consuming a lot of calories during your fly fishing run you will stay warm. Your body craves a high caloric demand during your hikes to your fishing spot and when you start casting.

The easiest way to replenish these calories is by eating anything that is high in fat, carbs or protein. My personal favorite is chocolate, however the cold temperatures can make these not editable as they become rock hard. Protein bars, fruit and muffins are a good alternative for replenishing your calories.

I always bring some sort of hot drink: tea or coffee. The warm liquids are by far the fastest and easiest way to warm your body.

So do trout really bite in the winter?

Knowing the trouts feeding habits and behavior is extremely important and will prove to pay dividends. Being able to find new fishing spots helps increase the catch success.

For starters it’s important to note that a trouts metabolism slows down during winter. The colder the water, the less aggressive the trout will be at hunting for food.

The ideal water temperature for trout biting are between 4 degrees to ~16 degrees Celsius.  

Anything outside of this range and the trout biting will be scarce. Although not impossible, as they need to feed to survive.

It’s important to note that during these months, water movement is also slow and clear. This means that it’ll be easy to disturb the water and and spook the trout. Avoid this by equipping your fly reel with a muted fly line color and casting slow and accurate casts.

During winter months trout prefer to feed in calmer water. The reason for this is because their feeding activity is already low due to the cold water, so they try to preserve their energy by not fighting against rough water.

What do trout feed on in winter?

The most common fly used in for fly fishing during winter are midges. Whenever you see any fly angler catching trout during winter, most of the times they are using midges.

A big part of why midges tend to work when other flies don’t is because midges are part of a trout diet year round. Trouts are used to feeding on midges in every season.

Before switching to midge fly fishing, you have to understand the midge life cycle. The life of a midge starts at the bottom of the river and moves upwards towards the surface.

This life cycle is broken down into three: midge nymph, midge emerger, and midge dry.

It’s crucial that your fly set-up includes your midge right below the surface of the water.

Midge hatches are often located in tailwater – waters that are downstream from a dam.

Observe the water when scouting for a new spot. Most times you’ll be able to spot trout moving near the top water or rising to the top.

This is when you switch over to a dry fly rig. Remember to only switch when you’re sure of this observation. Switching your fly rig is a fingertip numbing procedure during the cold weather.

Although it’s not pleasant to switch flies, it’s necessary to switch to match the environment you’re fishing in.

Here are some of the midges that have worked for me this season:

  1. Zebra Midge (sizes 18 & 20) – Probably one of your most common tailwater midges.
  2. Disco Midge Larva
  3. Miracle Nymph
  4. JuJu Midge

A collection of nymphs and midges.

How to fly fish a river in winter!

Believe it or not but this actually starts before your first cast.

I mentioned this earlier but it’s super important to look for disturbances in the water. If you find fish surfacing or other smaller water disturbances, then that means trout are eating dry flies. This is when you should switch to dry flies.

If the opposite is true where you only see calm water, then switch to wet flies and try different depths. By trying different depths you increase your chances of finding the trout feeding depths.

Remember, stay warm and fish on!

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