Winter Fly Selection Made Easy :: Cutthroat Anglers



Published by: Harlan Kimball 

Photos by: Jake Burleson (Umpqua)

Don't let old man winter intimidate you when it comes to fly selection. Winter fly fishing brings new challenges and learning experiences that will make you an all-around better angler. While most people are drooling over powder days and backcountry lines, braving the elements and getting on the river can be a nice change of pace during the winter months. If you're new to winter fishing the best advice I can give before diving into the flies is don't overthink it. There are only a few active bugs in our river systems this time of year so make sure your box is filled with these tried-and-true fly patterns. 




For those who might not know, the attractor fly is also known as a point fly or lead fly. Basically, it's the first fly and usually (not always) the largest in size on a standard nymphing setup.  Attractor flies mimic a variety of bug types vs a specific species. 


Winter, spring, summer, or fall, the pheasant tail is a year round pattern that should always have a place in your fly box. Developed by famed UK fly tier Frank Sawyer in 1958, it is considered one of the oldest and most effective “modern” nymphs. During the winter months I tend to use the pheasant tail (P-tail) as the first or second fly on my nymph rig. Using smaller flies (sizes 18-22) as an attractor allows for stealthier presentations for those picky tailwater trout. In larger sizes it can be used to mimick a variety of stoneflies. 

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A hearty meal for a trout, the leech is a great attractor for winter fishing. They're present in many of our reservoirs and rivers and can be used under an indicator or stripped as a streamer. Leech flies have great movement to them which helps get the attention of those lethargic winter trout. Typically, this pattern will spark a trout’s interest enough for them to choose the smaller, less intimidating offering below. 

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On many of our tailwaters, trout depend on scuds to make it through the winter. We tend to find that the most natural colors perform better in the winter: olives, browns, blacks, and grays. Although, I am a firm believer that the orange scud can also double as an egg pattern of sorts. Get this fly down rolling near the bottom to be most effective during winter months

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While trout key in on stoneflies more during the warmer months, winter stones are always present so you can't really go wrong with a Pat's rubber leg as an attractor. Stoneflies cling to whatever rock they have chosen as home in the winter, but these bugs will get dislodged and become and easy winter meal for the trout downstream on occasion. 

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Typically, the fly located at the very end of your nymph rig. Some call it the dropper fly, we call it the bottom fly. 



It's safe to say the JUJU Baetis is use to being in a trout's jaw. One of my favorite flies for winter (especially on The Blue), this fly can get it done as the second or third fly on your nymph rig, or it can be fished shallow as an emerger. Purple and red are some of the most popular colors.

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The Darth Baetis is a newer pattern tied by the talented Greg Garcia. Baetis nymphs are present in our rivers all year around, especially tailwaters like the middle and lower Blue River. I normally fish this pattern as the last fly on my nymph rig but can also trail behind a dry fly when fish are keyed in on emergers. A shop favorite, this fly has caught some of the largest fish of the year. 

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The Zebra midge is a true classic that will always have a spot in my box no matter the season. In the winter using a larger tungsten zebra midge as an attractor is a great strategy, or size down your fly and fish it as one of your bottom flies. 

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The Mercury Midge originates from the South Platte drainage by the one and only Pat Dorsey. The simpleness of this pattern allows for a variety of applications. On tailwaters I'll use this fly as an attractor with a smaller offering below. On larger freestones I'll use this fly as my bottom fly below a larger attractor. The effectiveness of this pattern comes mainly from the clear glass bead that resembles a midge's air pocket used when emerging.

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I don't think there's much that needs to be said about the RS2. It just works, like, all the time. With a variety of color options, this fly can mimic mayfly emergers and midge emergers. Don't be caught leaving the house without a few of these in your box. 

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The Baby Gonga is a great all-around streamer. In terms of size, weight, and profile, this fly has been a work horse for me in the dead of winter. I believe downsizing streamers while keeping the weight fairly heavy is key for finding aggressive fish. 

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I've spent a lot of time watching customers pick out streamers from our fly bins and this is one that seems to get overlooked the most. The idea for the Autumn Splendor came about when long time Coloradan Tim Heng noticed how well bass style flies were doing at moving trout. 





When Umpqua released Charlie Craven's Swim Coach onto the market, I knew I had to have it. The silhouette, castability, and action from this pattern is too go to be true. A perfect winter size streamer in both the normal and "baby" size. There are a lot of oversized streamer patterns coming onto the scene that are not that fun to fish, especially if you're casting for 6 hours straight.  Charlie Craven hit the nail on the head with this one. 

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Now let me be clear, these flies are in no way the only flies you should be fishing in the winter. There are a ton of different variations out there, but these right here are the bread and butter that should always have a place in your box. All these flies are available in our shop or online store.  


That's all, so long!

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