JHFLYCO Late Winter Fly Guide

JHFLYCO Late Winter Fly Guide - Jackson Hole Fly Company

Late winter can be a challenging time for fly fishing, as water temperatures are still quite cold and fish can be sluggish. However, with the right approach and the right flies, you can still have a successful day on the water.

One of the best types of flies to use in late winter is the nymph. Nymphs are a staple food source for fish throughout the year, and in cold water they can be particularly effective. Here are a few specific nymph patterns that can work well in late winter:

  1. Pheasant Tail Nymph - This classic pattern imitates a wide variety of aquatic insects and is often effective in cold water. Fish it in sizes 12-20, and be sure to vary your retrieve speed to find what the fish are interested in.
  2. Zebra Midge - This tiny fly can be deadly in cold water, particularly when fished in sizes 18-24. Try fishing it under an indicator, or on a tight line nymphing rig.
  3. Hare's Ear Nymph - Another classic pattern, the Hare's Ear can be effective in a variety of sizes, but sizes 12-16 are a good place to start. Fish it on a dead drift, or with a slow, twitchy retrieve.
  4. Griffith’s Gnat - You can typically find swarms of these gnats over slack water. Be sure to use a light tippet and target the slow-moving water following a pool using sizes 18-22 for best results.
  5. Blue Wing Olives: These small mayflies can hatch in late winter and can be a great food source for trout. Try fishing them in sizes 18-22.
When fishing nymphs in late winter, it's important to get your flies down to the bottom, where the fish are likely to be holding. You can use a variety of techniques to achieve this, including using heavy flies, adding weight to your leader, or using a sinking line.

Another effective technique for fishing in late winter is to use streamers. Streamers imitate larger prey, like baitfish or crayfish, and can be particularly effective for triggering strikes from larger fish. Here are a few streamer patterns to try:

  1. Woolly Bugger - The Woolly Bugger is a classic streamer pattern that can be effective in a variety of sizes and colors. Fish it with a slow, erratic retrieve to imitate a wounded baitfish.
  2. Sculpin Patterns - Sculpin patterns imitate small, bottom-dwelling fish that are a common food source for many freshwater species. Try fishing them in sizes 6-10, and be sure to get them down to the bottom where they're most effective.
  3. Leech Patterns: Leeches are another common food source for trout in the winter months, making leech patterns a great choice for late winter fly fishing. Leech patterns tend to be tied with marabou or rabbit strips, which give them a lot of movement in the water. In late winter, try fishing leech patterns in natural colors like black, brown, or olive. Fish them with a slow, steady retrieve, or with occasional twitches to imitate a swimming leech.
  4. Muddler Minnows: The Muddler Minnow is a great fly for imitating sculpins, a common food source for many trout. The fly is tied with deer hair, which gives it a lot of buoyancy and movement in the water. In late winter, try fishing Muddler Minnows in natural colors like brown or olive. Fish them with a twitchy, erratic retrieve to imitate a fleeing baitfish.
When fishing streamers in late winter, it's important to vary your retrieve speed and depth until you find what the fish are interested in. Try fishing them on a sinking line, or with a weighted leader to get them down deep.
How to select your fly when fly fishing in late winter

Here are a few helpful tips on selecting the right flies in late winter for different fishing situations.

  1. Consider Water Temperature
    The first thing to consider when selecting flies for late winter is water temperature. As water temperatures are still cold, fish will be more lethargic and less likely to chase down fast-moving flies. Instead, consider using slower-moving patterns that imitate small prey items like nymphs or midges. These patterns should be fished with a slow, steady retrieve to entice fish to bite.

  2. Think About the Time of Day
    The time of day can also affect fly selection in late winter. During the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky, consider using darker flies like black, brown, or olive. As the sun rises higher in the sky and the light becomes brighter, switch to lighter-colored flies like tan or cream.

  3. Know Your Local Hatches
    It's always a good idea to know the local hatches in your area during late winter. While hatches may be sparse during this time of year, it's still possible to have success by imitating the flies that are present. Consider using small nymph patterns in colors that match the local hatch, such as blue-winged olives or midges.

  4. Try Streamer Flies
    Streamer flies can be an effective way to catch fish in late winter, as they imitate larger prey items like baitfish or sculpins. When using streamers in late winter, it's important to use patterns that are tied with a lot of weight, as these will sink quickly and get down to the fish's level. Consider using Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows, or sculpin patterns in natural colors like black, brown, or olive.

  5. Experiment with Retrieve Speed
    Finally, it's important to experiment with retrieve speed when fishing in late winter. As mentioned earlier, fish will be less active during this time of year, so a slow, steady retrieve is often the most effective. However, it's always a good idea to try different retrieves to see what the fish are interested in. Try pausing your retrieve occasionally or adding short, quick strips to imitate a fleeing prey item.

Late winter can be an excellent time to fish for trout, as long as you adjust your tactics to the conditions and use the right flies. Try focusing on slower-moving water, using smaller flies, and being patient. With a little luck, you'll be able to land some beautiful late winter trout. Good luck and tight lines!

For more on later winter fly selection read these articles:


Don't know what to get?

Start with our Combo Kits!
Flies | Fly Rods & Reels | Accessories | Apparel