Winter is right around the corner here in Colorado. We have already had a couple snowstorms, but don’t be fooled; in Colorado we can fish 365 days a year! Each year, more and more anglers are realizing that some of the best fishing happens in the winter. With fewer crowds, the fish tend to let their guard down around us fisherman. In this article I will give you some info on when & where to fish, what my go-to flies are, how to dress, plus a few more tips.
In the winter, we do some things a little different. One of the biggest differences is the time of day we fish. During the winter, you don’t need to be out super early. Two main reasons for this is: one, its cold, and two, the days are shorter so the sun is not out until a little later. With that said, getting on the water between 9am and 10am is your best bet.
Another difference in the winter is the spots that fish are holding. In the summer months you can find fish in pocket water, riffles, and deep pools as they are more spread out during those warm months. In the winter, however, most trout will congregate in the deep slow moving pools. Their metabolism slows down in the wintertime, so they want to be where they can still eat bugs but use very little energy to do so.
Now lets talk about bug selection. During the main winter months December-February we don’t get that many hatches. Not to say we won’t get any, (on some warm afternoons we will get some bugs popping.) but its not consistent. With that being said, nymph fishing is definitely the way to go. Flies of choice for me in the winter: RS2 grey or black, brassie, zebra midge, darth baetis, juju baetis all size #20 or #22.
This is also the time of the year to be fishing 5X and 6X fluorocarbon. Most of the fish will be hugging the bottom of the river so split shot will become your best friend. I usually start off with one size BB split shot, and add more if I am not hooking up or dragging the bottom every once and awhile. Often times, I change weight before fly selection! Remember the trout don’t move much in the winter, so the bite can be subtle.
Finally, lets talk about clothing and other tricks for staying warm on those cold days on the water. First off, with clothing you want to use the layer method. I usually wear one pair of nice thick wool socks, 1 pair of long underwear and fleece pants. On extremely cold days, I will substitute the fleece paints for a pair of down puffy pants.
On top, it’s pretty similar long underwear maybe a light fleece or light puffy coat and then a winter jacket. As far as hats go; I really like a baseball cap with a snow hat over the top. Again it’s all about layering, so if the sun pops out or goes away, you can easily adjust your temperature. And finally gloves; my favorite gloves are a pair of Simms gloves that are fingerless but have fold over mittens. Just remember to take off your gloves when handling the fish! This helps keep the protective slime on the fish and helps keep them healthy. It never hurts to have a pair of hand warmers in your pocket to warm up the hands through out the day. One of my favorite tips/tricks is to bring a hand towel (an old kitchen towel works great). This is very useful after you have caught a fish and have wet hands, you can dry them off before putting your gloves back on.
The biggest down side to winter fishing in cold temps is your guides on your rod freeze up. I have tried many products to keep them from freezing but have not found one that I truly like. So I usually bring 2 rods once one freezes up I'll dry it off and remove the ice with my hands and a towel. Put it in the sun and use the other one. I know this is not an option for everyone but if you have a spare rod it works pretty well.
I hope that some of this information helps and motivates you to do some winter fly fishing. It can be a truly magical time to be on the water, and you will experience a part of the mountains that you just don’t get to see on the ski slopes. If you are in the Vail or Beaver Creek area this winter and want to rest those ski legs for a day, give me a call 970-376-0002 or DM me on Instagram @coopflyfish and let’s go fishing!