As the colder months close in, trout become harder to catch as they become more lethargic and start heading to deeper water. In this article, we will cover 3 Winter fly fishing setups that will help you land more fish during those cold month sessions.

1 THE IMITATIVE APPROACH

There are several ways that this is preferable to fishing with one fly. For starters, you’re giving the fish a choice, but it’s more interesting than that. Fishing two nymphs enables you to try different colours and sizes of the same fly.

Most stillwaters have a buzzer hatch at some stage of the day but with around 300 species it’s hard to make the right choice. Having faith to fish buzzers is a big hurdle for many, but this is the most important imitation you can use. We recommend using a floating line with at least a 12ft leader and size 10 Red Buzzer/Bloodworm on point while 4ft away will be the dropper – a size 12 Black Buzzer.

There are lots of variables and if it’s a catch and release fishery we would drop the hook sizes and fish with as fine a leader as possible. Then there’s the correct depth. It can be hard to work out the depth the fish might be, so hedge your bets by putting a heavier buzzer on point with a lighter pattern on the dropper such that the point fly sinks faster and therefore fishes at greater depth. But, if your point fly has a bulky dressing it’ll sink more slowly than one which is almost a bare hook.

Two nymph leader set up

You can add weight with some lead or a bead and that’ll speed up the sink rate. Choice of sink rate for this point fly depends on water depth. There’s no point dragging through mud or weed in the shallows so you may need to change flies if the water is shallow. Happily, there are some great ‘buzzer’ patterns which work.

Looking at sink rate it goes from the ‘skinny’ style (maybe with weight) and on to the slim body but with fluffy thorax to slow the sink. Then comes the Diawl Bach family and finally Crunchers, which with their tail and hackle are the slowest sinking ‘buzzers’. That’s the buzzer family sorted but we can adapt for other nymphs. A weighted Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear teamed with an almost non-existent Anorexic Buzzer suits fisheries not too rich in weed life but with freshwater shrimps. Pheasant Tail nymphs also lend themselves perfectly to this two-fly nymph approach and we like using a large (8 or 10) standard pheasant tail on point with a little (size 12) Sawyers-style on the dropper, especially the flash back variant.

Recommended Flies

Nymph Retrieves

The two-nymph system is best fished as slow as you can, indeed the buzzer set-up can be fished at a literal crawling speed. Keep the rod tip low and try to concentrate on the tip of the fly line. Any hesitation should be met with a firm lift of the rod. Don’t expect really strong takes at this time of year – fish often don’t move much in the colder water.


 

2 LURE COMBOS

Winter fishing invariably means using lures at some point and, if we go back 20 or 30 years, the advice was always to fish big, black and deep in the cold months. Well, there’s no doubt that it works, but we like to adapt things to a more varied system. The only possible creature that a black lure might suggest is a water beetle but lures are mostly taken out of curiosity or aggression.

Lure leader set up

What makes them so effective can be their construction in terms of the materials creating movement and therefore suggesting life, or the way they are retrieved along with the depth of the presentation. Adding another fly to the leader is a way you can swap colours around to find the ‘hot’ shade for the day or you can put a simple, old-fashioned wet fly or nymph in the dropper position and it can then look to the fish as though the little fly is maybe being chased by the bigger one and, being territorial or possessive, the trout will take the smaller fly in preference to the bigger one.

Conversely, you put the ‘lure’ in the dropper position and then add a small fly to the point and what happens now is that the fish maybe comes to look at the lure and then notices the trailing ‘smaller snack’ and takes that as an afterthought.

We like to use the ‘tadpole’ style of lure because the long marabou tail gives great movement and it’s easy to swap colours while keeping the same action. Working on the old-fashioned theory that when you can’t quite work out what to use when things are slow, then the best pattern will be something small and black and that’s our choice for the smaller fly in this set-up.

A Black Spider or a well-tied Butcher if there’s a bit of colour in the water and we are more than happy. Using the lure combo opens up the choice of line density and our all-time favourite for our smaller fisheries is the ‘slime line’. This clear intermediate is a great choice for the often very clear winter water and its only downside is that it’s a bit coily in the colder weather.

If your favourite fishery has water over 10 feet deep then maybe a slow or even fast sink line can be better to get the flies down quick, and hold them there. Alternatively, if you have ledges or deep holes in the water then you might find that a sinking poly leader on a floating line might be the better presentation. There are so many ways to look at the way we fish and it sure beats just standing in the same old place and doing the same retrieve, hour after hour!

Recommended Flies

Lure Retrieves

A lure set-up in this cold time of year is usually best with a slow, steady retrieve and it’s really hard to beat the figure eight technique. It’s worth learning this retrieve as it can beat a strip style hands down and we have many times watched trout follow a slow, smooth retrieve for yards and then decide to take whereas they often give up the chase when the flies are moving along with a series of jerks. Of course, you shouldn’t blindly stick to what we suggest or indeed to what worked last time if there are no takes happening. Trout can get bored with the flies moving through their area doing the same thing all the time but create a different retrieve and they suddenly become interested once more.


 

3 THE INDICATOR METHOD

Accepting that fish often aren’t as active in winter and don’t need as much food, there are times when a more static – in their face – approach is a winner and that means ‘the Bung’. Often derided as nothing other than ‘float fishing’, there’s seemingly no problem if you use a big deer hair dry as the indicator but somehow the foam/plastic or yarn indicator isn’t met with the same approval in some camps.

indicator leader set up

It does the same thing though, so let’s look at how to fish it. In the previous section, we spoke of the importance of depth and there’s no doubt that trout in winter do prefer to be at what to them is a comfortable depth. Soon after light, they’re mostly below six feet and around midday might well come up near the surface only to go down again as the late afternoon temperatures drop away.

The beauty of this technique is that you can adjust your fishing depth and by using two flies you can gauge which is the most effective and move the dropper closer to the point so both flies are in the zone. Initially, we would have the flies around 3 to 4ft apart and any of the aforementioned nymph combos work but it’s now, in winter, that the Blob can be deadly. One of them on point and a simple buzzer/nymph on the dropper and trout will look at the Blob – and may well take it – but at least it attracts them in to then spot the smaller pattern and decide to take a snack.

A similar combo is a multi-legged Bloodworm on point or even an Egg Fly but be wary of this latter pattern in catch and release waters as trout can swallow it right down. Don’t worry about casting any distance or about just leaving it to ‘fish’ without constantly retrieving. Just letting it slowly drift in the breeze is as good as anything.

Recommended Flies

Indicator Retrieves

The indicator, or in their face style, is essentially a no-retrieve technique although letting the rig drift with the breeze can work. If you are doing this on the downwind shore you may well come across a back current where your indicator will seem to be going against the wind. It’s because there’s a sub-surface current opposite to the wind direction and it can be enough of a tow on the sunk flies to actually make the indicator move against the wind, and there’s nothing wrong with this.

If you have a surface drift which puts a loop in the line then it will pay to learn how to mend the line to negate the effect of the loop pulling the indicator along too fast. Any downward dip of the indicator or indeed any obvious check in its drift should be met with an immediate strike.

Top Tips

On the coldest days, start midmorning and skip lunch to finish mid-afternoon so that you are concentrating your efforts during the peak hours.

Dress in layers. It’s best to be comfortable because then you fish well. Wear a pair of throwaway surgical gloves to keep your hands dry and also retain ’feel’

Make up a few spare leaders on the circular foam rig holders and it’s easy to then get back into action after a foul-up and avoids having to tie knots when your hands are cold and stiff.

Banks are super slippery in winter from mud and frost so move carefully and have decent cleats on your boots. A few wader studs screwed into the heel can avoid an embarrassing or painful fall.

 
 

If you require any more information on winter trout fly fishing, please contact the Angling Active team. We are more than happy to help.

This article was brought to you in association with Trout Fisherman Magazine.