Time and Place are Everything– When I moved the the vail valley in November of 1992, I had one thing on my mind and that was skiing the Champaign powder of the famed mountain’s back bowls. But the other reason I moved here was also because it was the most central location to the best Fly fishing in Colorado. I never actually occurred to me that there was great Fly fishing in the winter. In the early winter of 1993/94 I decided to start exploring the possibilities of doing some Trout fishing on my days off from skiing. I attempted to talk with a couple local fly shops, only to find out at that time there were no fly shops that were actually open during the winter in the Vail valley. Not to be deterred, I did what most people did before internet, i read books and articles about winter Fly fishing in Colorado. what I discovered was that there was quite a few resources, as well as rivers that were actually very good winter Trout streams. In the 30 years since then I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge from being an angler, guide and now shop owner when it comes to getting the most out of a day fishing during the winter.
The Early Bird Doesn’t get the Worm- As fishers in general we are conditioned to be out early and off early. But when the days are short and especially colder in the mornings, there’s no need to be first on the water. The prime time for trout to be active is going to be later in the day when the water and air temperatures are at their warmest. I am a huge fan of getting the powder turns before lunch and the Trout bite after. Trout’s metabolism is related to changes in water temperature. Hen the water is at it’s warmest during the afternoons they are going to feed more regularly.
The Trout are Easier to find in the Winter– Unlike the summer months when trout are moving from a deep pool to a fast riffle and back again throughout the day depending a on a multitude of factors. Trout in winter tend to stay in the deeper slower water and they tend to group up. So a section of river can be easily dissected to locate where the Trout are laying.
Fly Selection is Easier- Winter time Fly-fishing is a bit less confusing when it comes to fly selection. There’s a lot less available food for trout in the winter. The choices are Midges, Eggs, some smaller Stone flies and forage fish (Sculpin/Leeches). Having a decent selection of Zebra midges, RS-2s, WD40s, Egg patterns are going to get you through. Small Princes and Pheasant Tails are also good to have. Dead drifting a small leech or Streamer pattern with a Midge or Egg dropper is a great winter rig. I once spent an entire winter guiding out of one fly box and did fantastic. The fies are generally smaller this time of year so think #20-24 for your midge selections. This means 6X tippets are going to be the most like option.
Low and Slow is the Name of the Game- As far as your presentation is concerned, keep it low and slow. Meaning put your flies on the bottom and in the slowest water you can find. Sometimes a drift behind a rock where your indicator just sits is the best drift. If your drift is moving down the seam then move your rig inside the seam. Remember when it’s cold, Trout are reluctant to move very far or with any real intention. A majority of strikes will go unnoticed even in dead/slow water. You must pay even closer attention to your indicator or dry fly for the slightest movement. Speaking of slow, don’t move around as much as you would during other times. Work a spot until you think you have worked it too much and keep working it.
Pre-rig your Rigs- Literally just as I was finishing this post a gentleman walks in the shop to buy a few flies. It’s currently 12 degrees outside and he asks me if he could rig his rod in the shop, of course. I took the time to show him a Dropper rig box from Orvis. We sat here and pre tied 1/2 dozen rigs and I explained that he just went from tying 18 knots standing in sub- freezing temperatures to just 6 knots. He looked at me like I was a genius, which of course I’m not. I’m just efficient.