Winter is by far my favorite time to fish for trout. The crowds of summer are gone from our Ozark Streams, biting insects are non-existent, the air is cool and fresh and the water cold and clear. To take a breath of cold, fresh air while wading a free flowing stream is an exercise in sensory overload. River smells are like no other. It’s trout that attracts me to this spectacular environ. Here are my favorite six flies for winter trout fishing.
The metabolism of trout slows in colder weather. What this means for anglers is a flip from summertime fishing when trout are far more active. Cold weather anglers will need to slow down and work the slower, deeper hides. Trout become lazy this time of year in their natural efforts to conserve energy. You’d be wise to do the same. Get the weight right for your flies to get down deep. It becomes necessary to place your fly offering as near to the nose of a trout as possible. They are far less likely to chase flies during the cold weather months. Get the depth right, then it is a matter of offering the right fly.
Trout during the colder months concentrate on aquatic insects, primarily midges. Midges, baetis nymphs and micro worms are my favorites. There are a million fly patterns on the market, but these six flies are common in my wintertime fly box.
Rainbow Warrior Midge
Ok. Perhaps it is in the name. I have known a number of warriors who crossed the rainbow bridge. I never fish the Rainbow Warrior without thinking about those soldiers who made sacrifices in far away places. This brightly colored midge pattern will defiantly stand out in your mind and in the water. I like to fish this flashy nymph on very bright days. Lots of light penetrating the clear water of a trout stream will light up the blues, reds and silvers of the Rainbow Warrior like a neon sign.
Winter time trout feed heavily on the tiny nymph stages of aquatic insects. Use size #18-to-#22 Rainbow Warriors and enjoy the hits. I once caught dozens of chunky rainbows on a 300-yard stretch of pea gravel bank on Taneycomo Lake. The takes were so slight, it took me 10 minutes to figure it all out. Trout were spitting the fly out before I could set the hook. I thought some of the pauses were the fly ticking the bottom. Wrong. Every one was a trout taking the fly…on virtually every cast.
The Wooly Bugger is one of the most universal of fishing flies. They come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. I prefer a bead-head Wooly Bugger in sizes #6-to-#12 in brown, black, olive, or yellow. The larger flies represent everything from crayfish, sculpins and minnows. I use this common fly on dark, dreary days for brown trout. They often come out of the deeper runs to feed in shallow riffles on these dark days. Numerous times I’ve caught dozens of brown trout from the Meramec River on Wooly Buggers on the nastiest of days. An added bonus is that I never encounter other anglers on these grayest of days.
San Juan Worm
This small worm pattern works great as a bottom drop fly, with another fly pattern 12-to-18-inches above it. I prefer San Juans with a gold bead-head to add a little flash. Red and pink in #12-to-#18 are my favorites, but I have had good days fishing tan and white worms as well. Although plastic worms per se are prohibited in some areas of Missouri trout streams, San Juans and Cerise worms are legal.
Hot Head Soft Hackle Sow Bug
Equipped with a hot pink bead-head and a a pink soft hackle body, this is one of my favorite nymphs to fish in murky water. Sow Bugs are often called Cress Bugs and are vital in many trout streams, especially so in the famous White River in Arkansas. I catch both brown and rainbow trout on the Hot Head and prefer to fish sizes #14-to-#16 in deep pockets with moderate current. This scud, shrimp, and sow bug imitator has long held a top spot in my winter time fly box.
Hare’s Ear Nymph
The Hare’s Ear is a classic nymph that is one of the most common flies found in angler fly boxes. This attractor fly is not a replica of any aquatic insect. However, its wooly yarn body and scraggly legged looking appendages and slight deer hair tail, with a thin orange collar make it one of the buggiest looking fly creations of all time. I generally add a tiny split shot to my leader to get the Hare’s Ear to the bottom. I high stick the drift to keep in contact with the fly. If I feel the slightest tick, I lift the rod high to set the hook. It takes a good deal of on the water experience to differentiate between the fly merely bumping bottom, or being picked up by a trout.
Soft Hackle Sulphur
This mayfly imitation has been a good producer for me every month of the year. Its buggy appearance and the swimming action of the soft hackle make it virtually irresistible to trout. Although the hackle and body material generally consists of mottled tan, brown and black material, I like to downsize this offering in the winter time to a #22 or smaller in all black. The pattern then resembles a tiny, black swimming midge. At times it has proven deadly, eliciting strikes on almost every cast.
Winter time trout fishing is a grand affair that can often be enjoyed in total solitude. As a bonus, the air is fresh, cold and clean. You can’t go wrong with these pristine settings. Pack a lunch, a small, hot thermos, and your six favorite wintertime trout flies.