Rainbow Warrior from Signature Tyer Lance Egan incased in ice. Needless to say, this day was cold, the entire leader and rig was incased in ice. Winter fishing has its problems.

Numb Fingers and Frozen Guides

When the average Joe thinks fly fishing: Scenes of larger than life landscapes, wide rivers and a single angler casting to rising trout come to mind. A warm summer day, full of buzzing insects and the feeling of casting a size 10 Stimulator to gulping fish. Brad Pitt, chasing a trophy trout down rapids. What Joe doesn’t think about is fly fishing in the dead of January, fingers numb, guides frozen, fishing size 22 midge larva to fish that actively move out of the way from your flies. Sounds miserable to some, but the benefits of winter fishing can be quite rewarding.

Tailwaters provide ice-free water during the winter months, which draw the die-hard anglers out during the cold season. These fisheries can often provide a plethora of steady food for trout and can be a savior during the winter when you’ve tied your one thousandth fly. With colder water temps and less insect activity, trout become lethargic and won’t expend energy as much as they would during more comfortable temperatures. But this doesn’t mean they stop eating. Midges and small nymphs reign supreme in the winter , which calls for small flies and thin tippet diameter.

It’s not uncommon to start the day in single digit temperatures during the winter. This day was one of those days. Ali Johnen had no feeling in her hands after this morning.

Having a well stocked fly box full of patterns that will imitate what the trout are feeding on is key- from attractor nymphs, like Rainbow Warriors to small midges, like Matt McCannel’s Massacre Midge to something with a bit more meat on its bones, like the Mini Leech Jig. Choosing a variety of attractor nymphs and small midge and baetis patterns, imitating all forms of the insect’s lifecycle, will set any angler up for success during the winter months.

One might find more space on the water during winter. Fewer people mean less pressured trout, better chances that one will eat a fly and possibly more fish in the net. Don’t leave home without several layers, hand warmers and most importantly, your waders. Fly fishing has the ability to turn people into addicts, and a true fly fishing addict is one who fishes year round. 

Jakob Burleson

A well loaded midge box is a must for fishing tailwaters in the winter. A range of sizes from 18 to 30 and multiple colors and profiles will set any angler up for success.
Russ hooks up in a far pocket, thanks to a stealthy approach and some extra reach with a 10ft rod.
A boulder-filled canyon, Cheesman has no shortage of structure for weary fish to hug, and they’re not afraid to run you down river as soon as you set.
A fine rainbow and a memorable fight on a 3wt for Russ.
A healthy rainbow trout caught on a section of the Arkansas River near Pueblo, CO.
Radiation Baetis from Signature Tyer Shea Gunkel.
Russ Miller dips into the icy waters of the canyon.

Contributed By

Jakob Burleson

Jakob Burleson was born and raised in the foothills and mountains of Colorado. He currently works on the marketing team for Umpqua Feather Merchants while wearing a number of hats, chief among them being their in-house photographer, a “content ninja” if you will. Jakob spends his free time fly fishing and documenting the lifestyle through imagery across the American west.


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