Winter… it might be happening for real this time. Here in the mountains we’ve been spoiled lately with temps frequently above 60 and even a few days that reached 70 degrees. It’s been awesome not only for fishing but also being able to spend time outside with loved ones. On one occasion I was able to eat dinner on the front porch in a t-shirt and shorts! But as I sit in the shop writing this blog, the mountains across town are slowly disappearing into the white sky as the flurries of snow get heavier. Now for the foreseeable future it looks like winter is here, and with the colder temps we must change up our tactics to successfully target trout. In this post I will explain some of my favorite flies to fish in the winter and why.
Chironomids- This insect family is one of the largest and most diverse with over 2,500 species identified in North America and they hatch in huge numbers, so it makes sense that they make up a good portion of a trout’s diet at times. In one form or another, chironomids can be found year round close to the bottom of freshwater lakes and streams. They are most commonly referred to as “midges” and are typically tied in sizes 18-22, however I’ve had success fishing midges as large as size 12 and as small as 26. I find that size 18 is a good place to start and then adjust from there. A couple of my favorites are zebra midges (silver bead, black thread body, small silver wire to make it look segmented) and blood midges (red glass bead, red thread body, and small copper wire wraps to segment the body). This Davidson River brownie fell for a zebra midge on one of the coldest days of the year!
Little Black Stoneflies- These little guys only hatch in the winter, usually on sunny days in the 30’s and 40’s but they can emerge in colder weather as well. In southern Appalachia it is possible to see hundreds or even thousands of these bugs in one afternoon of fishing if the conditions are right. Almost every stream in the area has a little black stonefly hatch at one time or another but the two rivers that stick out in my mind are the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala. Both of these rivers experience excellent LBS hatches and if you’re lucky enough to be on the water during that time you can tally up some serious numbers! My favorite variation of the LBS nymph is the “Little Black Sloan,” an Umpqua pattern designed by Dave Sloan.
Mop Fly- Love it or hate it, this fly is a fish catching machine any time of year. Tied in a wide variety of colors from black to fluorescent orange, most people don’t consider it “matching the hatch,” but the right color of mop can make all the difference in the winter. I discovered this a few years ago after stomach pumping a rainbow trout from Scott Creek. It was a very cold, slow day and I was having marginal success, so I decided to find out what they’d been eating. I found what looked to be dozens of midges but the bulk of the contents were hellgrammite/grub looking creatures that I later found out to be crane fly larvae. And they looked just like a tan mop fly with a brown bead head! Lucky for me, I had a few tan mops in my fly box and after tying one on it became a not-so-slow day anymore. Furthermore, I've found this fly to be super effective on many of our area streams every winter since then and I don’t leave home without one. So if you haven’t tried fishing the mop fly because you consider it “junk food,” you may want to reconsider.
Rainbow Warrior- Designed by Lance Egan, this is truly an awesome wintertime pattern, especially in Delayed Harvest streams. Just like the name implies, this fly is full of color and flash, ready to battle any trout that can’t pass it up. Rainbow Warriors are effective in sizes 14-20 when fished 14”+ above a larger attractor like a mop fly or girdle bug. Unlike the flies listed above, the RW doesn't imitate one insect in particular but the natural shape of it mimics a number of different bugs and the flash factor tends to trigger reaction bites when the water is cold and fish are otherwise lethargic.