Winter Fly Fishing | Time to Embrace the Low!

Grand Teton, Orvis, L.L. Bean, Cabela's, Outdoor Retailer, Expedition Portal

The morning air has become crisp, and snow is beginning to fall in the mountains. Although Winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, it already has it’s icy grip on Wyoming. The change in weather has sparked a shift in priorities among our local outdoor enthusiasts. Many spent the Fall in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains trying to fill their freezers with game meat. While most of my friends and family are gearing up to pursue epic runs at area ski hills, I am getting ready to chase monster trout in the rivers below.

Late Fall and early Winter offer outstanding opportunities for fly fishing if you know where to look and how to fish the water. I grew up fly fishing in and around the greater Boise area and was always amazed by the trout that my dad and I caught between November and February, even in town!
Things are getting pretty low around here, but the fishing is excellent!

Low Fishing Pressure

The shift to hunting in the fall by many outdoor enthusiasts lowered the pressure on many rivers and streams. Sure, you may cross paths with hunters while you hike out to your favorite hole, but you probably won’t see another sole while on the river. With a little bit of effort, you can find sections of stream that have not been fished since the peak of summer. Spend a few afternoons hiking your area greenways, with your flyrod in hand, to scout for areas with little pressure. I find the farther I walk from a parking area, the more successful I am.

Grand Teton, Orvis, L.L. Bean, Cabela's, Outdoor Retailer, Expedition PortalLow Stream Flows

By late summer most of the previous winter’s snow has melted away, and trout stream flows have been reduced to their lowest rates. These reduced water levels, combined with reduced vegetation in and around the water, effectively reduce the about of ‘cover’ the fish have from predation. The fish are forced to consolidate into a fishery’s deeper pools and under structures like log jams and boulders. Depending on your winter temperatures, look for water depths greater than 2ft with minimal turbulence.

Low Temperatures

Low ambient temperatures not only make you cold but they also have an effect on the trout you are going after. This time of year the aquatic life trout feed on has diminished, and their life slows to a crawl for them. Look for streams with water temperatures above 44°F as this is generally regarded as the lowest optimal water temperature for trout fishing. I prefer to fish the tailwaters of dams during the winter as most dams outfalls are feed from deeper points in the reservoir, generally making for a warmer than ambient water temperature in the winter. If you don’t have access to tailwaters try fishing later in the day after the sun has had a chance to warm things up.

Low Sun Angles

The farther north you are and the lower the sun’s position in the sky and the more your shadow can stretch across a stream. As I mentioned early, low water levels have reduced the trout’s perceived ‘cover’ and made them wary of predation. You may need to approach a pool low to the ground so as not to stick up above the stream vegetation. You also may need to be a little ‘creative’ with your casts to avoid from having your shadow reach out to the hole you are fishing.

Get the Gear

I am not a fan of Gear Aquisition Syndrom, or the need to buy equipment because some guy on a blog told me I needed it, but there are a few pieces of gear that make winter flyfishing a little bit easier. Here are a few of my favorites:

Costa Fisch Sunglasses with Sunrise Silver Mirror LensesFishing in the winter can mean being out in dreary conditions. Costa's Sunrise Silver Mirror lenses let through more light than other polarized lenses on the market and still produce great contrast. These have quickly become my favorite sunglass/lens combination for winter fishing.

Simms Headwaters Half-Finger GlovesI generally have poor circulation in my hands, which can be miserable when fishing in the winter. I found that wearing a good pair of half-finger gloves really helps keep my hands warm when I am stripping in fly line but still allow me to tie on flies and remove hooks with ease.

RIO Agentx Line DressingWinter fly fishing can do a number to your fly line, especially when guides begin to ice up. The motion of casting and stripping can scratch and degrade fly lines to the point where floating lines begin to sink. Dressing the lines with a lubricant like RIO's Agentx Line Dressing helps protect the lines from scratches and keep them clean.

Hillsound Freestep6 Crampons - As good as new wading boot soles are, they are often no match for winter conditions. Avoid slipping and sliding on the ice-covered trail to your favorite fishing spot or while wading in the stream with a good set of over-boot crampons. Hillsound's crampons easily slip over wading and hiking boots to add "a solid choice to support your active lifestyle."


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Beau Johnston is an engineer, writer, and photographer who is dedicated to proving you can find a balance between work and life. He is the Co-Founder and Publisher of Living Overland, and when he isn't working, you can find him exploring National Parks, fly fishing, and camping with his wife (Krista) and their two dogs.


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