How to Fly Fish in The Winter

frozen riverWinter Time Fun

Wintertime brings mixed feelings for most. When the snow is new, it’s beautiful. The snow also brings us access to winter sports if that’s your cup of tea. However, winter also means the end of many summer activities that we know and love. Fishing often is placed in the category. What if I told you that this didn’t need to be the case. Let’s take a look at how you can fly fish in the winter!

While it might not be feasible to go wakeboarding or sunbathe on a beach, you may be able to keep fly fishing. Fly fishing in the winter is definitely not the same as fishing in the summer. You will have to plan and prepare a little differently.

This article will talk you through the clothing preparation that you need to fly fish in the winter, how to pick your location, what fly patterns work, and a couple of things to remember when fly fishing in the winter.

Clothing Preparation

Preparation is one of the most important aspects of doing anything successfully. You have to consider that you will be wading through glacier-like water for hours on end. This won’t be possible if you show up in a HUK fishing hoodie with shorts and Chaco sandals

You need to wear warm layers when you fly fish in the winter. The number of layers will depend on the conditions but either way, you will have a MUCH better experience if you dress right. I suggest clothing that wicks water like fleeces and other clothes made from waterFly fishing in the winter wicking material.

It doesn’t end with warm layers though, a pair of waders are a must! Even if you don’t plan on getting in the water, I would still bring them. More often than not, you will experience snow or cold rain in the winter and all the plants will be wet that you pass. To avoid getting soaked and frozen, wear a pair of quality waders to keep you dry.


Not only will waders keep you dry, but they do a great job of blocking the bone-chilling wind from tearing through your clothes. If you pair your waders will a nice waterproof and windproof jacket, you will be a much happier angler!

The last thing that I would consider would be a warm pair of neoprene gloves. They sell fingerless options and even fingerless gloves with a mitten-style part that can be used when you don’t require the use of your fingers. These gloves will allow you to get your hands wet and handle fish but will keep your hands from freezing.

These gloves could protect you from uncomfortable colds or even frostbite in extreme cases!

Picking Location

When finding a location during the summer you have to consider local regulations, hatches, access, how close or far it is, and what you’re targeting. There might be a few other stipulations but these are things you usually think about. The winter is a bit different.

snowy cabin

You will have to consider many of the same conditions but some won’t apply and some caveats only apply to fly fishing in the winter. This obviously also depends on where you’re fishing and the weather conditions in that location.

For example, if I wanted to plan a fishing trip on the Flathead in Montana for January 1st, I would have to expect large amounts of snow on the ground and sub-freezing temperatures. With that being said, the fish will be very sluggish and probably won’t be biting as much.

Think of The Fish:

On top of that, you will want to be careful to pick a location that still has a plentiful food supply. These fish have a hard enough time in the winter due to the harsh conditions and if they are short on food, it will only be harmful to fish that location.

If they have a plentiful food supply, most bodies of water that are fed from reservoirs or springs have plenty of food, then they should be fine to fish.

The other reason for this is most of the fish will still be trying to recover from the warm waters of the summer, as well as the spawn that just finished.

If the fish that you want to catch fall into this category, you may want to find a different fish to target or a different location. Fish with plenty of food will recover faster and can be fished without damaging their chance of survival.

We want to do everything we can to preserve these fish for generations to come, so if you can’t safely fish your local waters in the winter, please don’t. It’s more important to raise their chances of survival than it is to land a few winter fish. There will always be time to fish after winter.

Three Winter Fly Patterns

One of the hardest things to learn in fly fishing is what fly patterns to use and when to use them. Winter is no exception. Some might argue that it’s easier in the winter since there aren’t really any hatches so the fish aren’t picky, but that’s not always the case.

Since the cold water makes the fish more sluggish, they tend to be a little less interested in chasing down potential food. What this means is you could be throwing a pattern that they are eating but without success purely because they don’t want to waste energy checking it out or because they are lying low and didn’t see it.

winter fly fishing

However, there are patterns that work better in the winter than others. The first one is a Midge fly.


Midges hatch year-round in most places and because of this, they make up a large part of a trout’s diet. Midgets come in many colors and some do better than others.

What you could do, if you know-how and are careful, is pump the stomach of a trout you catch to see what color the midges are in the stomach.

This is definitely a very effective way of matching your patterns to the midge hatch.

The second fly pattern that works great in the winter is Egg Flies. The early winter is the time of spawning for a few different species like the brown trout. Brown trout spawn from October – December.winter fly fishing

What this means is that there are typically other species lying in wait downstream for a few stray egg clusters to float past them. This means that you can easily throw a few egg flies downstream from a spawn.


When you fish with eggs or during a spawn, please don’t fish where there are trout “redds”. These are beds that the female trout make by agitating loose gravel and laying eggs under the gravel.

Often she will dig the gravel up and lay her eggs before burying them and waiting for a male to fertilize them. This is crucial for the natural trout population and should not be disturbed!

Squirmy WormyThe third pattern that works well in the winter is Aquatic Worms. These worms are available to trout year-round and make up a good portion of their diet.

You can use San Juan worms if you like but the Squirmy Wormy will have more movement and will attract more trout.

Bonus Pattern!

If you are a Tenkara angler then you are in luck! The Kebari fly does quite well in the winter, trout love it!

I have had a lot of success will this pattern in the winter. Check out my Tenkara article if you want to learn more!

Other Things to Consider

This is something that might be overlooked when fishing in the winter but is crucial! Winter starts at the end of the year and carries on a few months into the next year. What this may mean is that your fishing license may expire in the middle offly fishing in the winter winter.

Your state may be different but my license expires on December 31 no matter when I purchased it. You definitely need to check your license for an expiration date and be sure to renew it before it expires!

This is something that would be easy to overlook but would ruin your day if you were caught without a valid license!

You also need to be familiar with the local fishing regulations as they may change in the winter.

You CAN Fly Fish in The Winter!

I love fishing in the winter because it gives me a chance to better my skills and I am able to do what I love year-round!

If you have never tried fishing in the winter I would definitely recommend giving it a shot and expanding your fishing abilities. As a bonus, the landscape is typically quite beautiful and different!

It’s true that fly fishing in the winter is much more challenging but that makes your victories that much more satisfying!

Let me know how you like to fly fish in the winter by leaving a comment below!

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