winter stillwater trout fly fishing flies

Stillwater trout fly fishing in winter can prove to be difficult. Not only is the air and water cold and you will need to wear appropriate clothing to protect you from the elements. As the water is colder fish mainly trout are moving a lot slower and tend to keep to a certain depth.

Unlocking the Winter Stillwater Fishery

As the fish are moving slow stripping flies past them quickly will not produce many takes so we have to use a different technique than what we use in spring or summer. When arriving at your fishery, it’s important to check out the main features look for islands, underwater structure or differences in depth. These are more likely to hold fish than the open water.

As feeding is sparse in winter fish tend to be slow moving to preserve energy and although they are hungry don’t think they will eat anything that looks like food. With all main stocked fisheries, the stocking of fresh trout usually ends in autumn and any fresh fish tend to be taken soon after leaving all remaining trout hardened cagey characters that have seen a fly or two and will not be fooled easily. This makes the art of catching them all the more difficult and challenging.

When you have located structure in the lake it’s always a good idea to fish around them as trout will usually be sitting just off them. Fish love structure and use it for protection as well as a place to rest. Finding these structures will help in locating the fish.

What depth are the fish feeding at?

A good way to find the depth at which they are sitting is use a slow sinking line or sinking intermediate and count starting with 1-2 seconds before retrieving then adding a few seconds to each cast.

This can also be done by using a strike indicator on a floating fly and continually changing the depth of a sinking leader to see when you get touches. Watching the indicator or slight movements will show what depth they fish are lying. When you have indicated the depth then it’s time to start fishing that depth more accurately.

Fly Patterns with Movement are Essential

Once the fish depth has been found we need to try to induce takes, this will involve changes in fly color and pattern to see what is working. On cold days’ trout will not move quickly so retrieve slowly through the water column to try to get them.

Fly patterns that have plenty of movement are a good bet on these days’, things like bloodworm with plenty of legs are a good option, others like large damsels with marabou tails and wings should work too. If the water heats up a bit try a cruncher nymph as it will mimic a lot of the natural insect material on the lake.

squirmy wormy winter stillwater fly

Different retrieves are what is needed to try to get a take. Casting out and letting the line sink to the level you found earlier is not enough you then need to draw it up slowly and let it drop back down with slow figure of eights and different twigs and pulls will create the illusion of an insect moving through the water column. Trying different things and changing patterns and colors will help increase your chances.

If you have done your homework earlier and located structures make sure you check them all out if things are working in one area. Even inlet or outlet pipes with water moving between lakes can induce activity or change temperature enough to bring trout in closer after the insect life that will be moving about.

Winter fishing is harder with the lack of activity and sluggishness of the fish but can be fun if you work at it. There are always hungry trout about that should be workable into a take and create some action.

Winter Clothing to keep Warm while Fly Fishing

One final thing to remember while fly fishing in winter is to keep warm and dry. Temperatures may drop quickly especially as the sun falls and you don’t want to be caught out very cold when the fishing is good.  I would recommend layering clothes.

A light base fleece layer with a mid weight fleece followed by either a heavy softshell jacket, wading jacket or 3/4 length to add a waterproof layer. With the layering system you can always take a layer off if too warm and add it later when the sun starts to fall. The thing about base, mid and heavy fleeces they are all breathable and will let any moisture build up get away.

Don’t forget gloves and a woolly hat or heavy cap. I use neoprene gloves in winter with the first finger and thumb tips removed to aid tying leader material. Even if they get a bit wet they will stay reasonably warm.

Winter Stillwater Fly Fishing Checklist to Improve Catch Rate

  • Get informed, ring the fishery beforehand, get details of catches be prepared with flies and tackle
  • Once there get details of water depths and hot spots this will determine fly line density etc
  • Be observant and look for cruising fish see what they are doing feeding movements etc
  • When fishing, check the depths, count as line sinks for touches to see where they are at
  • When depth is discovered, select flies with plenty of movement, flexifloss, marabou etc to entice takes
  • Fish will not chase a fly on cold days’ so slow down the retrieve, you will get more takes


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