We all have certain goals for our fishing. For the trout fly fisher, catching a rainbow or a brown over 20 inches long is a thrill, especially if you can do that on a dry fly. I have a friend who tried (and succeeded at) catching 50 different fish species, all on the fly. Of course, one of the best goals of all is to introduce someone else to the sport and watch them catch their first fish on a fly.
My fly fishing goal for this year didn’t revolve around any species or size, rather, I simply wanted to catch at least one trout every month of the year. The catch was, I wanted to do that on a dry fly. Now, those of you who fly fish know that catching trout on dry flies isn’t all that tough in the spring and summer, or the even fall. When the weather is warm and the bugs are hatching, trout tend to look up and eat. But the winter doldrums can be tricky. There are fewer bugs flying. The fish are in a state of semi-hibernation as their metabolisms slow with very cold water temperatures.
And maybe the biggest obstacle of all is convincing myself to bundle up and stand knee-deep in a river in cold weather!
But I have 11 months down, and only December to go. If I put in the time, I think I’ll get it done.
Interestingly, I’ve learned that there are some tricks to catching trout on dry flies in the winter: Size down. Slow down. And look for a “player.”
Size down: Most of the bugs you see flying in the winter are midges, and most midges are tiny. That said, midges like to cluster, and trout tend to focus on midge clusters over individual bugs. My favorite winter patterns are a size #20 Griffith’s Gnat, or a plain old size #18-22 Parachute Adams.
Slow down: Most rivers are at their lowest and clearest in the winter. So it’s important to minimize motion and shadows as you fish. Sneak up on them, and your chances improve.
Look for a player: Odds are, you won’t find schools of fish sipping insects en masse in the winter. But if you see a trout suspended and holding in shallow water, assume he’s a “player” and take a shot. The right drift with a dry fly will often prompt the bite.
If you have any other advice, or goals to chase next year, let us know!
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.