1. Zebra Midge. In fact, I wouldn’t go anywhere, at any time, without Zebra Midges in sizes 16-20. Although black is the primary color, I also like having this with me in red and olive – red, especially, can be a really hot color.
2. Brassie. This simple little fly is a must for your winter fly box. It has just the right amount of flash with the wire body, and the contrast of the peacock herl collar triggers strikes. Copper is the traditional color for this pattern, but in recent years, I’ve had a lot of success with a green/olive wire body, too. Sizes 14-18.
3. Copper John. Small, flashy flies do well in winter, and the Copper John is a perfect example. The combination of higher water levels, cold temperatures, and lethargic trout means you need a fly to get down quickly and catch their attention, and that’s what the Copper John does. It has a larger profile than the Brassie and can imitate a variety of nymphs and stoneflies. Sizes 10-18.
4. Sexy Walt. Although I tie this one on a jig-style hook that is traditionally used for Euronymphing, you don’t need a Euro rod setup to fish the Sexy Walt. Just fish it as you would any other nymph in your box and you’ll quickly see what a killer it is all year long. The basic body imitates a number of insects, and the orange hot spot triggers the strike. Sizes 12-16.
5. Woolly Buggers. Sometimes winter trout prefer a big, hearty meal. Although customary cold weather patterns are small, drifting a size 8 or 10 Woolly Bugger can turn a slow day into a memorable outing. Woolly Buggers are extremely versatile in how they’re fished. You can strip them, swing them, dead-drift them, or any combination. Also, they’re big and gaudy enough that trout will strike out of a territorial response just as often as they will because they’re hungry. Personally, I don’t care what makes them hit my fly…as long as they hit it! Sizes 6-12.
6. Mop Fly. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Mop Flies catch trout, and I’ve had the most success with them during the winter months. In fact, once November rolls around, I start relying on Mops more and more as my go-to pattern when nothing else seems to work. My favorite winter color is chartreuse. This color has saved my bacon more than I care to admit. If you’re in the mood for a tongue-in-cheek ode to Mop Flies, check out this previous post: “Mop Fly, I Hate You.” Size 10.
8. Egg Patterns. Everyone seems to have their favorite egg pattern, whether it’s a Glo Bug tied with or without a blood dot, a Sucker Spawn, a Squirminator, or any number of variations. My favorite egg pattern for winter fly fishing – and for fly fishing any other time – just happens to be the Y2K. I carry this in a variety of colors, but the combinations that seem to work best are shrimp pink/white, orange/chartreuse, and shrimp pink/chartreuse. For a changeup, I will tie on a purple/champagne Y2K, which can be amazingly effective at times. Sizes 12-14.
9. Kaufmann Stonefly Nymph. Nothing like a big ol’ nymph to get the attention of winter trout, and the Kaufmann Stonefly Nymph is probably the best of the bunch. It works any time of year, too, and I generally carry it in sizes 10-14.
10. Blue Wing Olive. This is the only dry fly pattern that’s a must to carry this time of year. Many streams have hatches of winter olives, usually in sizes 18-22 – and many times smaller – that cause the trout to feed on the surface. Blue Wing Olives are the most prevalent mayfly in Pennsylvania and are found on a large variety of streams and rivers across the state year round.
Bonus Track. A good Little Black Stonefly dry fly pattern, size 16, is always good to have with you, too. The only reason this one isn’t a “must have” is because trout don’t always key on these even when there are a bunch of them on the water. Many times, I’ve hit tremendous hatches of this fly on Buffalo Creek, Upper West Branch Susquehanna River, and East Hickory Creek and saw barely more than the occasional trout sporadically feeding on them. However, I did hit this hatch on Yellow Creek once in February and had the time of my life. If you want to be a minimalist and prefer flies that fit multiple needs, carry a size 16 black Elk Hair Caddis instead. In a pinch, this can pick up those Little Black Stonefly sippers.
3 Winter Fly Fishing Tips
- Fish slow. Cold water and higher water levels often mean the trout will be a little more lethargic this time of year. Just because a fish doesn’t hit the first time you drift your nymph past it doesn’t mean no trout are present.
- Fish deep. Trout are most likely hugging the bottom when it gets cold. Make sure your nymphs are on the bottom, too.
- Fish the sunshine. Feeding windows can be short during the winter months. There’s no need to hit the water at sunrise and battle ice in your rod guides. Sleep in and plan to fish the nicest, and warmest, part of the day. This is usually when the insects get most active, which then get the trout most active.
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