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Trouts Journal

Best Flies for Winter

Ivan Orsic / Dec 5, 2011

Winter offers solitude and beauty, and with the right flies even a cold fish will summon up the personality of a fighter

Here at Trout’s Fly Fishing we are all experienced in the finer points of the world’s finest sport, fly-fishing, but like everyone else we prefer a beautiful stream in mid-summer to a freezing pool of water. There’s a reason they call it the “dead” of winter.

On the other hand, and again like everyone else who has the bug for fly fishing, our urge to cast often overwhelms our dread of cold, and we go anyway. Plus, we’re Coloradoans, and to be honest enjoying outdoor activities in winter is a birthright, a marketing slogan, and the very thing that makes us not South Dakotans. You can get just as cold skiing or snowboarding as fly fishing, but it isn’t anywhere near as cool.

Plus, winter fly-fishing has some distinct advantages. Chief among these is solitude, as hearty souls are harder to find as temperatures dip, winds pick up and snow flies. You want to fish that stream alone, without another angler in sight? Venture forth in winter.

Another advantage is sheer beauty. Yes, a mountain trout stream is wonderful and picturesque from April through July, and it can be especially so on a colorful autumn afternoon. But there is, ironically, something warm and comforting, not to mention stunning, about the quiet and peace of the same slice of water with a blanket of snow nestling around it.

The downside of winter fishing is the fishing itself. Ever heard of the expression “a cold fish,” as in a reference to a person you wouldn’t want to hang out with or, worse, a date? Winter makes fish sluggish, and uninspired. While in summer you may get 20-25 strikes and be busy fighting aquatic beasts all day long, on that same spot in winter 3-4 strikes might be a good day and the fight might be like one of those guys whose name you can’t remember who used to warm up Muhammad Ali for a go at Joe Frazier.

Still, there are some strikes, and there are more things to fly-fishing than the fish themselves.

The essential question is just what type of fly to use for winter fishing that affords someone the best opportunity of getting the aforementioned strike and perhaps landing one or two? After all, if you’re gonna freeze anyway you may as well have more than your eyes on the prize.

Fly-fishing, as every even novice angler knows, is about art imitating nature. The idea is to make artificial flies that mimic the real insects and such that trout and other types of fly-fishing quarry would eat. As such, the diet – real or imagined – changes with the seasons.

As you might expect, the winter diet for fish in colder climes, like Colorado, is fairly sparse. Most insects have packed their bags, taken the advice from Jiminy Cricket to save up for a long winter hibernation, or simply laid their eggs for a spring hatch and quietly died off.

But not all insects. There are these little insects, midges, that are in the same family of mosquitos (Dipthera) but without the biting parts, that happen to have hatches at the most unusual times, like in the middle of winter. Dipthera have four stages of life – egg, larva, pupa, and adult – and for fishing purposes it is better to concentrate on the latter two stages.

Midges tend to congregate in the calmer portions of the steam, in the still pools, and since they are so small they often group together - and that is what the fish strike. For this reason many experts recommend using flies such as the Griffth's Gnat or the Olive Bodied Adams (OBA), as these tend to mimic midge hatches in clusters.

Other recommendations for winter fly fishing flies, as you might expect, fall into the category of small. For Nymphs, think English Pheasant Tail Nymphs, in sizes 18 and 20, which imitate common winter flies, Disco Midges, sizes 20 and 22, for the reason stated above, Micro Stone, size 14, that look like winter-hatching stoneflies, Vernille San Juan Worms, that imitate aquatic worms that come up often in winter, and Flashback Scuds, size 16, for use when winter is about to turn to spring and the tiny freshwater crustaceans (scuds) start to appear.

For dry flies, there’s the ICSI (I Can See It) Midge, in gray size 22, and the Cannon's Bunny Dun, Baetis, sizes 18 and 20, both of which mimic winter blue-winged olive hatches. Some other experts use streamers in winter, like the Bead Head Lite Brite Zonker, in white size 8, and Moto's Minnow, in dark size 10 - they afford great movement even in very still waters.

Yes, as they say, “Baby, it’s cold outside,” but fish gotta swim! It’s Colorado – grab some flies and test the icy waters.

For everything fly fishing – from rod, reels and gear, to cold-weather fishing apparel, come on in to Trout’s Fly Fishing at 1303 E. 6th Ave., Denver, CO 80218. Call toll-free 877-464-0034 or Denver metro local at 303-733-1434 for complete details.

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