The best fly fishing flies for winter will depend on “matching the hatch” in the river or stream where you’ll be fishing. While there isn’t one list of effective winter fly fishing patterns that applies to all waterways, there are a handful of patterns that are often among the best to use during the coldest months of the year.
Learning about winter insect hatches and fly choices for trout doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. In fact, since there are fewer available food options for trout during the winter months, this helps you narrow down your fly selections much faster. Midges, stoneflies, and aquatic worms are three categories of food in a trout’s diet that are available in the winter. Check out five of the best patterns for fly fishing that fit within these food categories.
1. Black Hare’s Ear Nymph
During the winter months, a hatch of tiny black stoneflies takes place on most rivers. They typically emerge on days when the sun is shining and there are above normal temperatures. The Black Hare’s Ear pattern mimics the black stonefly nymphs that trout love to eat. Keep your fly box stocked with plenty in sizes 16 to 20.
2. Mighty Midge
Included in any list of the best December trout flies for fly anglers should be a midge pattern. The Mighty Midge is a good pattern for finicky trout in the winter because it imitates midge larva, which are present in rivers and streams during the winter. Fish this pattern low in the water column.
3. Western Coachman
Developed by famous fly tyer Wayne "Buz" Buszek of California sometime around 1940, the Western Coachman is an incredibly popular pattern in the Western part of the country for rainbow trout and brown trout. This fly can be used to imitate a wide range of emerging insects.
4. San Juan Worm
When it comes to top flies to use in winter for fly fishing, the San Juan Worm shouldn’t be overlooked because aquatic worms are present year-round in rivers and streams. Keep several San Juan Worms on-hand in your fly box (sizes from 10 to 6) because they imitate a consistent food source that doesn’t require much effort or energy for a fish to pursue. The best way to fish this fly during the winter is under an indicator, near the bottom.
5. Woolly Bugger
Woolly Bugger patterns can imitate a variety of natural food sources that trout love, such as a swimming leech or a hellgrammite. Since leeches are aquatic worms that can be found during all seasons of the year, leech-imitating patterns like the Woolly Bugger are almost always worth trying (use colors like black or olive). When trout are looking for a slow-moving high calorie meal, leeches are on the menu!
If you crave solitude while fly fishing on a river or stream, winter is one of the best seasons of the year to take advantage of less pressured waterways. Stock your fly box with a few of these patterns and head to places like Montana, Colorado, or Wyoming.