I wish I could fish in flip flops everyday but that just isn’t a realistic option for me. I would always rather be fishing, than not fishing, so I do often find myself shivering in a Western Tailwater. The cold blooded trout that inhabit river stretches below bottom release dams will continue to feed year around. With a limited amount of food available during these cold water months, one can keep their fly selection relatively simple and still find plenty of success. When you walk into a Rocky Mountain fly shop there are an intimidating amount of different fly options. Remember, most of those are there to catch the fishermen not the fish. When picking your flies for winter fishing keep it simple and focus of the following 3 criteria.
Size-The most common food source available to winter trout are midges. As their name would imply, midges are small, frustratingly small. Depending on the pressure of the fishery, I am rarely fishing flies larger than an #18. When hooks get this small, they can bend open easily. For you fly tiers out there, choose your hooks wisely. I love the shape of the tiemco 2487 but it bends open very easily once you get below a #18. Consider the 2457 or 2488H, both offer a similar size and shape but on a 2x heavy hook. Come prepared with small midges like black beauties, WD-40’s, zebra or medallion midges. Another often forgotten pattern that gets it done is the traditional brassie. I am however a big believer that size is the most important criteria here so as opposed to having a bunch of different patterns, make sure you have them in a range of sizes. There are days when a #20 wont get a bite but a #22 of the same pattern will be eaten the first drift.
Profile-Think simple and sparse. Thread on a hook can honestly be a great imitation and it is surprisingly accurate considering the food source. If you have seen a tiny midge larva, you know why simple thread wraps on a hook can be so successful. For my smallest flies (#24s or even #26s) I do not add any ribbing to the hook as it adds too much bulk relative to the size of the fly. Like I said, simple thread wraps covering a hook can be a day savor on a pressured winter tailwater. These have caught me countless fussy trout and are about the only thing I am able to tie on a hook that small! You can use the thread to tapper the body or build a small head as well.
Color-This is the least important of the three criteria but I do like to have my simple midges in a few different colors. Black, olive and red are my go to’s. It can also be effective to use two different thread colors. I’ll do an olive or tan body with a slightly built up black head. Another color that I have been having success with recently is purple. A simple purple thread midge or purple zebra midge should be in any winter fisherman’s box. Consider playing around with adding UV or glue to the fly to give it a transparent hint. What we are imitating with these flies are the tiny midge larvas that are very numerous in a trout stream and make up the majority of a winter fish’s diet. A very small amount of UV spread evenly over the body of the fly will not only improve the durability of the midge, but can also help it stand out among the masses while still looking realistic.
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