Matt Campanella's Winter Fishing Playbook

In this week’s fishing forecast we’ll focus on some information required for fly fishing success during the months ahead. As we move closer to the winter months, and the lift lines at local ski resorts stretch to the parking lots, and the hunters take to the woods, the rivers are mostly devoid of angler pressure.  Be sure to check the flow (CFS) for your destination before heading out for the day. This can not only affect fish activity and feeding but will also clue you into ease of wading access. We are still thankful for the blessing of a good snow year (2018/2019) allowing for the majority of our rivers to have plenty of water to remain fish-able throughout the fall and winter months this year.  Some strategy changes are required with the lower flows as compared to the summer and fall rates.

Campy's 3 Rules

Remember the three rules for finding trout year round….. Food supply, oxygenated water and shelter.  I believe shelter is the most important factor in the winter to locate fish. Less water equals less hiding and holding areas. After you’ve checked the flow rates and determined the river and section that you will be fishing, approach the river and look for areas that are deep enough to provide the shelter that trout require.  Personally, I’ve found that during the winter, if you find a spot where the river is too deep to cross safely, it’s normally full of fish.

Even with the reduced sunlight and generally colder water, fish still need to eat. However, the menu that is available to trout has less items on it than other times of the year.  We’re still seeing strong BWO hatches on most waters this time of year but only during the warmest parts of the day. Some rivers in the warmer areas of the state are still seeing good red quill hatches. As the temperatures continue to drop, we expect these hatches will slow down. The same flies that worked for you during summer hatches should produce takes now, but in general, those smaller flies will outperform the larger versions. Speaking of smaller flies, midges hatch on most Colorado rivers all winter long providing the protein fish need to survive until the spring hatches start up again. If you see fish moving around, feeding and you cannot determine what they are eating, it’s most likely a midge hatch. If there’s no takes, try a smaller size or a different color pattern.

Explore More

It’s important to remember that trout holding and feeding lies will change as the water levels drop and the flows decline.  That pool you caught several fish out of during the summer months may now be reduced to a riffle and won’t hold the number of fish it did during the higher flow rates.  This is also an excellent time to re-learn your favorite sections or scout out new areas to fish.  You should now be able to visually examine the river structures that will hold fish at higher flows, thereby setting yourself up for more successful fishing next summer.   

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