Wintertime trout fishing is not for the masses. Cast, cast, chip ice, and repeat is not the type of fly fishing that gets romanticized. That being said I can only spend so much time tying flies on the vise before I just need a trout fix. That’s when I head out to one of my favorite tail-waters for some cold water trout on the fly. And the fly that is first on the line when the mercury plummets is the midge.
Wintertime Trout Food Source
The little midge is a go-to fly for me when fish are being selective during the warmer times of year. Midges are eaten by trout as larvae, pupae, and adults. In the winter, midges are an important food source as they continue to hatch even in conditions that many would avoid. During the coldest time of year a trout’s metabolism slows. Some even argue that trout will go completely dormant during the winter, but this is not the case. With a lower metabolism the trout do not need to eat as much and midges can fill this caloric need just as easily as other food sources.
Fly Selection and Presentation
Midges vary in size and color. Most of the midges in my fly box fall in the 20-26 size range. They include black, brown, and my personal favorite, white, with variously colored ribs and heads. Fly fishing midges requires a stealth approach and good presentation. Fish will not move as far to grab a midge in winter as they will for a big caddis or hopper in the heat of summer. The best case scenario is to locate feeding fish, and then cast directly to a single fish. This way you spook fewer fish by lining them, and you can focus on any reactions you get as your rig drifts by. Did they look at the fly and then shun it? If it was not because of the drift, it may be time change up size or color. To succeed, find what the trout want that day, and play their game.
Locating Winter Trout
Locating trout in their winter home is just as important as fly choice is when trying to catch selective trout. Think conservation of energy. Trout will be holding in tails and heads of pools where the water is slow and provides cover while still bringing a constant flow of food downstream. You may also find trout in the calm pools, but these lingering fish can give you refusal after refusal if the fly or drift is not perfect. One of the best days of dry fly fishing I have ever had was in February on a day that the temperature never rose above 30 degrees. Light snow was falling from the overcast sky and big beautiful browns were sipping slowly in the surface film. Experiences like that can make the short days and long nights of winter seem a little less somber.
Fly fishing in the winter is a great time to learn more about your favorite river and improve your skills as an angler. The ice won’t last forever but the skills you learn in the cold months will improve your fishing in the months to come. Don’t be a recluse, get out on the river and give these midge approaches a try.
Travis Jay Vernon, Fly Fishing Guide & Sales Associate Jans Park Ave