Winter fly-fishing in Colorado offers unique challenges for the adventurous angler, and it can offer great rewards for those who really want to up their game and hone their skills. Certainly, winter fly-fishing is not for everyone but it is perfect for the patient angler willing to wear a few extra layers while enjoying a spectacular day on the river. Take a day off from the bustling ski slopes to cast a line into the frosty waters of Colorado.
See Also: Winter Fly-Fishing Essentials
Winter Fly Fishing in Colorado
Why Go Winter Fly-Fishing?
Winter is a great time to go fly-fishing, which seems counter intuitive since most people come to Colorado to fly-fish during the summer, but keep this in mind. During most of the summer in and around Vail Colorado, water temperatures can become dangerously warm and low for trout. From mid-July to late September river temperatures in Eagle, Gypsum, Glenwood Springs, and Rifle can reach as high as the upper sixties and low seventies. When water temperatures get this warm, it is time to avoid the river for the sake and heath of the fish population. This means that for a big portion of summer you may not be able to fish due to high temperature restrictions. This problem does not exist during the winter.
During the cold, winter months, those places that are typically too warm during summer to fish become havens for insects and large trout. Lower elevations and warmer temperatures mean that anglers can fish for trout that are, for most of the summer, “off limits”.
Another wonderful aspect of winter fly-fishing is that you have the river all to yourself, without another angler in sight. This is refreshing especially since in the spring and summer months the rivers can fill up with wade fisherman and float operators making the river a very lively, busy place. Enjoy the solitude.
During the winter, fish aren’t very active until mid morning, or around 10 or 11am. Look for sunlit areas where the sun warms the water more quickly. An increase in water temps of just a couple degrees can trigger hatches, encouraging hungry fish to come and feed. Within those warmer, sunnier areas, fish will often hold in the slower /deeper channels to conserve energy. Their metabolism slows down when water temps are cold, and so trout will feed much less in the winter. But they still need to eat, so there will be enough hungry fish on any given day to keep anglers happy and successful. But, keep in mind that colder, slower moving fish translates into fewer strikes.
Make sure you dress for winter conditions, wear lots of layers, as Colorado is notorious for having weather conditions that change on a dime. Bring chemical hand warmers, a thermos of hot coffee, wear warm Smartwool socks and bring extra layers as something will ultimately get wet.
If you wear gloves to keep your hands warm don’t forget to take your glove off before handling the fish, as a dry glove (or hand) will remove the important, protective slime that covers the trouts body.
Also, move often while wading, but move slowly and deliberately as to not spook fish in the clearer waters of winter. Move your legs and your feet will not become uncomfortably cold.
Bring Your Back Up Rod
If the temperature outside is below freezing, do not bring your best fly fishing rod. Freezing temperatures can freeze and break the guides and reel if you try to forcefully break through the ice instead of patiently thawing everything out. If you break your beautiful new, expensive fly rod you are definitely NOT going to like winter fly-fishing. You can also use Stanley’s Ice Off Paste, designed for the sole purpose to keep ice off fly rod guides.
Still a Lot of Hatches, even in Winter
Hatches still happen in the winter, but mostly it’s just midges. Midges can make up to as much as 50% of a fish’s winter diet. Midges, are in the same family as mosquitoes (Diptera), and can complete an entire life cycle in winter conditions.
Midges have four stages of life:
In regards to fishing, it is the last two stages, midge pupa with trailing shucks that make an easy meal for most Colorado trout.
So knowing this, the most likely chance for catching dry-fly action in winter will be with midges. When water temps are below 40 degrees, plan on hatch midges size 20 and smaller. Check for midge color and size in eddies or foam along the bank of the river, which is where hatching insects will collect. Good winter midge fly options are red, black, cream and small varieties of rs2 emergers. Consult local fly shops to get an idea of likely fly patterns for the day you are fishing.
Where are the Fish?
Cold water means slow, lethargic fish. They are usually tucked along the bottom where there is less current. They are also going to be less likely to actively go to your fly so you need to make sure your flies get to them. Get your flies down to the fish by adding enough weight to your rig and/or raise your indicator. You will need to keep adjusting this with varying water depths and in response to any insect activity to keep your flies in the right ‘zone.’ for hungry, sedentary fish.
Winter waters means clear water and spookier fish. Keep your movements slow and deliberate as fish will be able to see you much better in clearer waters. Use as small of a bobber as possible. A smaller indicator allows you to be more stealthy when fishing in low clear, cold waters
Local Guides for Winter Fly-Fishing
For the best shot at a successful day of catching fish it is recommended to go fly-fishing with a knowledgeable guide, especially in the winter because there is less room for error in the winter and guides can put your flies pretty much right where the fish are. These local guides know their stuff and know where to go to find the fish. If you are in the Vail area and looking for a local fly-fishing guide here are some of the top outfitters.
- Minturn Anglers – www.minturnanglers.com (970) 827-9500
- Vail Valley Anglers – www.vailvalleyanglers.com (877) 926-0900
- Fly Fishing Outfitters – www.flyfishingoutfitters.net (970) 845-8090
- Gore Creek Outfitters – www.gorecreekflyfisherman.com
See this video with a Great Winter Fly Fishing Trick
Have you gone winter fly-fishing in Colorado? Did you enjoy it? What was your favorite aspect of winter fly-fishing and how did it differ from fly-fishing during the rest of the year? What worked best for you and were you successful? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
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