Probably the biggest challenge to winter fly fishing is finding the trout. It’s interesting to me how trout can seem to disappear yet they are there – somewhere. Generally, winter means lower water conditions and clearer water. It stands to reason that, in smaller streams, one should be able to see trout should they be present. Yet, few are actually seen. Naturally, the task then becomes where to find trout winter fly fishing in order to catch them.
Where To Find Trout Winter Fly Fishing? Trout concentrate in deep pools, areas containing large obstacles or structure. Log jams, downed trees, or areas where debris has stacked up blocking the flow of the stream and creating a pool-like effect. In other words, locations very difficult to reach from predators.
But in order to find trout consistently, we need to understand a few things about trout and how they survive the winter months. Trout are much less active throughout winter as water temperatures drop. They seek cover where they can feel safe spending a great deal of time in this location. To catch trout you need to find them, of course, but where to look? A basic understanding of the behavior of trout in winter, how they survive and feed through winter goes a long way. Where to find trout winter fly fishing isn’t as hard once you know what they need and why. Let’s check it out.
Why Do They Behavior This Way
I remember as kids when we wanted to find our friends, we often knew where to look. Friends get to know each other’s habits and behavior. This holds true for trout as well. The two most basic necessities for a trout is food and security. A trout’s behavior and activity center on these two extremely important items. The climate, changing of the seasons, sun, and clouds all have their effect on a trout’s behavior. His behavior, therefore, is subject to his environment. For his survival, two things stay consistent, his need for food and safety.
As anglers, we need to focus on the same thing as trout. That is a trout’s food and shelter. But, we also need to understand how the environmental conditions affect trout behavior. In this case winter temperatures, and their influence on where to find trout winter fly fishing.
A Key To Winter Fly Fishing Is Water Temperature
During the summer months, I often hear fly guys talking about water temperature, and rightly so. When summer temperatures rise, it becomes detrimental to a trout, as oxygen levels in the water begin to drop. High water temperatures force trout to seek waters with higher oxygen levels for them to survive. Faster turbulent currents, underground springs, small mountain creeks feeding into the mainstream, are all good areas trout seek during summer months. These areas provide higher oxygen levels and cooler water. At the same time, trout feeding actively slows and occurs mainly during nighttime’s cooler temperatures.
In winter, when water temperatures drop into the thirties, trout activity is slowed to the point where feeding may only occur once a day or less. Trout become so lethargic overall activity is reduced to as little movement as possible. Remember the story about the three bears? The porridge is too hot, too cold and I’m sure you know the rest. Trout have a zone that they survive in temperature-wise and they behave accordingly.
Water temperature is the key point, in my opinion, regarding where to find trout winter fly fishing. Water temps will follow the air temps but it takes water longer to acquire a change, unlike air which warms and cools quickly. Therefore, it pays to monitor the water temperatures of the streams you fish. If air temperatures have been steady for a few days then the water temperature will follow. Sudden cold snaps will drive the water temps down and slow trout activity. But a few sunny days can raise the water temperatures and in turn increase trout activity.
We Forget, Trout Are Cold Blooded
As many of us know, snakes and lizards are cold-blooded creatures, but sometimes it seems, we forget, so are trout. The activity, behavior, and metabolism of these “critters” are directly affected by temperature. As temperatures lower, the activity of cold-blooded creatures reduces. For trout, it is the water temperature that impacts him most.
During the spring and early summer months and again in early fall, water temperatures are generally more favorable for trout. It is widely considered ideal feeding conditions for trout when temperatures are between 52 and 64. Ah, so like the three bears – just right!
As water temperatures drop, so does a trout’s activity level and metabolic rate. His activity has a direct relationship to food intake. The more active a trout is the more he needs to eat. Lower water temperature reduces his activity and a trout becomes more lethargic, thereby reducing his need to feed. When water temperatures drop into the ’30s, for example, trout hardly feed. Whereas above 40 degrees they will likely feed more often. Accordingly, as water temperatures rise, trout become more active and feed more often.
At the same time, this reduction of activity means, a trout must find a location where he is least likely to be detected. A place where he can spend long hours undisturbed by predators and anglers. But at the same time be near currents that will supply sources of food. Where to find trout winter fly fishing keys on two things, a trout’s safety, and food. Considering he is less likely to be active in cold temperatures, a trout needs to feel secure in his location. Safety is how well a trout can hide from predators, undetected. Ideally, this hiding spot has a reliable food source. When he is ready to eat, the food source needs to be close. What Are The Key Insects For Winter Fly Fishing?
Use A Bit Of Deductive Reasoning
Take a second to stop and think. What we have learned so far is trout will slow their activity as water temperature drops. He will seek out a place to spend longer periods of time. A safe hiding spot where he can rest undetected. But he also wants to be positioned where a food source is available. Trout are “edge” creatures positioning themselves next to differing currents to take advantage of the food source.
With that said, we can consider eliminating sections of streams that you may have fished during spring and fall. For example, fast water sections require a trout to expend energy. That long beautiful riffle, well, wait for spring and skip it for now. Open areas are another place where trout most likely won’t be this time of the year. Clear and low water conditions leave trout vulnerable in winter. These are good locations throughout the spring as hatches take place, but now trout avoid these spots in winter. Open areas with no cover expose a trout to the flying dangers from above. So, in general, skip fishing these spots too.
As you begin to eliminate sections of the streams it becomes easier to concentrate on what’s left. Generally what is left are deep pools and areas containing large obstacles or structures. Long jams, downed trees, or areas where debris has stacked up blocking the flow of the stream and creating a pool-like effect. Remember, typically during the winter months streams are at their lowest water levels. Less water means trout will be more concentrated. If you find one trout you’ll most likely find more in that location.
Think Slow and Deep
It’s safe to say that trout will pack into areas having slower moving currents and deep. Pools aren’t the only place where to find trout winter fly fishing but they are the most likely. Pools offer a trout the ability to position deep near the bottom in easy flowing water expending as little energy as possible. Predators can’t get to them and they are often completely unseen. Look for pools having riffles adjacent to them. Trout move from the deeper pool, as conditions become more favorable for feeding. This combination is what to look for because the trout can easily take advantage of a hatch and then drift back down into the pool.
Where Trout Hold
As I mentioned, trout won’t be everywhere but there is a good chance they will be “hold-up” in areas of thicker cover. Log jams are one of those places. They can hide beneath the jumble of limbs and debris that these jams provide. For the angler, many times these locations are seemingly impossible to fish. In front of many of these jams is “creek foam”. Creek foam is made up of organic matter that starts to decay, like sticks and leaves. As these organic compounds breakdown, their fatty acids and oils are similar to soap in their ability to create foam. As these materials are pushed against the logs the turbulence of the water creates the foam. The foam is a great cover for trout where they can rest undetected from above. Under this foam, they often will suspend at different levels. Swinging a wet fly or slowly swimming a streamer along the front edge of this foam often brings a nice reward.
As you make your way along a stream, look for small waterfalls. These may be as simple as water rushing over a log or a rocky ledge. Below the falls is usually a depression that has been carved into the creek bed by the rushing water. Trout often sit directly below this waterfall and close to the obstruction forming the fall. Here he can sit in a slow section of water out of the turbulence. Food particles coming over the falls are easy pickings.
Where Summer and Winter Collide
I have this one little “secret” I keep close to my vest when it comes to where to find trout winter fly fishing. But, I’m sure I’m not the only guy out there that knows this. During the summer months, as you know from reading the beginning of this article, when water temperatures rise, trout seek out underground springs that are rich in oxygen and cool water. When I find these gems I take note of their location and hold on to that information for when I winter fish. It’s where to me, “summer and winter” collide. How’s that you may ask?
Groundwater, for the most part, maintains a steady temperature. So as these springs bring groundwater to the surface in summer, they are cooler than the surface water. But in winter they are often warmer than the surface water. They attract trout both summer and winter by providing a steady temperature range during both summer and winter. Telltale signs of these in winter are a small fog rising from the water on very cold days and in some cases, you can find a bit of green vegetation growing around the area.
The Winter Menu
Now that we have a better idea of where trout might be, the next question is what and when will he eat? Winter limits food choices for trout and the low temperatures limit a trout’s activity. It becomes more crucial now, during winter, to give him what he wants exactly when he wants it. Talk about a challenge.
For the most part, you’re only going to have two hatches during the winter months, that being Midges and Blue Winged Olives. From a trout’s standpoint, there’s not a lot of nourishment packed into these guys. So he’ll need to take advantage of other foods that may be in his area. Nymphs are going to be the best choice in that, most of the available food is crawling around the bottom of the creek. Mayflies, stoneflies, caddis are all in the nymph stage and more readily available. Add in a minnow, a crayfish, a worm, and an egg and you may have all of winter’s basics. My Simple Approach to Nymph Fishing
Time To Think Smaller And Lighter
Generally, the insects that are available this time of year are of a smaller size. Using smaller nymphs in sizes 16 -24, in general, would be a wise choice. That said, using a smaller tippet is a good idea as well. I might spend the spring and summer using 5x or 6x tippet materials where I fish for example, but drop to 7x for the winter.
The same holds true for strike indicators. With everything else going smaller, I downsize my indicator also. Strikes will be hardly noticeable because trout will pick up your nymph with barely any effort. I found smaller indicators seem to help me detect a “pick up” a bit easier. Why Use Strike Indicators When Fly Fishing?
Another thing is your usage of weight. What weight size to use can vary widely depending on streams, flow, and depth. Be prepared to change weight often. Either adding more or reducing weight is the name of the game in finding the right combination in order to get the right drift.
Precision, Precision, Precision
Trout, as we said, are lethargic through the winter months. A nymph has to almost hit them right in the face sometimes for them to take it. Each cast has to drift into the trout in a precise manner. In other words, presentation during winter may be more crucial than any other time of the year. So, being deliberate with your cast will help you be more precise.
As we talked about, during the winter, most of the trout will be found in deep pools and positioned along the bottom of the pool. Because current flow near the bottom typically is slower in these pools, the trout have a bit more time to look over your offering before deciding on whether to take it or not. This is another reason why you have to be willing to make changes often, whether it be weight, smaller tippet, or fly selection.
Winter fishing isn’t easy and can challenge the best of trout fishermen. Patience is in high demand during the winter because you have to fish the same area over and over methodically in order to present your offering where a trout will decide to take it.
In fact, most of my winter fly fishing is done with little expectation of actually catching fish. I tend to concentrate on the mechanics of fishing working on my casting, nymphing, or streamer fishing techniques.
To answer the question of “where to find trout winter fly fishing” lies in an understanding of a trout’s security and food. As we have learned, trout need a safe place to spend a lot of time and a food source nearby. Finding trout during the winter months is challenging but rewarding. Winter is a great time to learn how to read a trout stream. Finding and understanding how structure (obstacles) plays into a trout’s habitat goes a long way to increase your catch rate year-round. How to Read a Trout Stream to Catch More Trout
The simplicity of winter is also helpful. What do I mean? Well, trees and shrubs are bare of leaves and this allows us to see more of the creek normally blocked by vegetation. The clear water allows us to see the creek bottom more easily revealing the obstacles (structure) in the creek. How water current flows in and around the structure is the crucial part as we need to understand that in order to present our fly naturally to a trout.
For the angler, finding a likely holding spot, figuring out how the current flows through the holding spot, and presenting your fly with a natural drift is what fishing is all about. Winter is a time to examine the basics. A great time to focus on what a stream or creek is “made” of and a time to concentrate on personal skills as well. The better you can “read” a stream the easier it is to know where to find trout winter fly fishing. Fish on!
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