If you’re hanging up your waders at the end of fall and stowing your fly tackle, you’re missing out on some of your greatest opportunities for trophy trout. What’s more, fishing pressure is down—or nonexistent—on popular stretches of water, and the trout have had a moment to relax from the onslaught of drift-boat traffic and anglers flinging hooks in their face.
The first thing I like to do when I’m plotting a winter outing is to check the local forecast. I prefer days where there’s an increase from the normal daily highs of that time of year, as the fish become more active for longer windows of time, which translates to more hookups. I’m also looking for a low-pressure system of low-hanging clouds and, ideally, little to no wind and maybe even some precipitation. These are perfect conditions for midges to hatch and cluster. And these are the best flies and tactics to use during a winter midge hatch.
Sipper Midge – Size 18-20
Early in the hatch, or on days when the wind doesn’t allow for midge clusters to form as readily, the fish can get particular to singles, and that’s when the Sipper Midge shines. The fly accurately imitates the hatching midge profile and the black post is easy to see when the fly drifts into a glare.
LaFontaine’s Buzzball – Size 14-18
After the bugs get hatching a bit, and you start to see clusters, that’s when I switch to the Buzzball. Originally designed to emulate the rust shucks of the Missouri’s midges, the heavily hackled pattern floats well to support a dropper. The fly is easy to see and catches fish on rivers across the country.
Tung Teaser – Size 18-22
If the wind is just strong enough to keep most of the singles off the water, preventing clusters to form, go with the Buzzball and then tie a 6- to 18-inch piece of 6x fluorocarbon to a size 18-22 Tung Teaser. Regardless of what type of midge activity you’re seeing, here you’ve got all of your bases covered—adult and larvae/pupae. It’s also a great rig to use if you’re sight fishing to a large trout in easily spookable lie.
Pat’s Rubber Legs – Size 4-8 and Frenchie – Size 16-20
Sometimes the dry-fly fishing just isn’t in the cards in the winter. If that’s the case, there are two flies that haven’t let me down no matter which part of the country I’m fishing: Pat’s Rubber Legs and a Frenchie. For low, clear winter flows, scale back to a 7 ½-foot, 4-to 5x fluorocarbon leader to your lead fly (Pat’s Rubber Legs), then attach a 10-inch, 5x dropper tippet to the bend of the Pat’s Rubber Legs and tie on the Frenchie. The Frenchie is a great attractor pattern that cuts through the water column quickly and represents a variety of aquatic food—and it simply catches trout.
Complex Twist Bugger – Size 2-6
If your M.O. is go big or go home, tie on a Complex Twist Bugger. Pick the color and size you feel most confident in (for me that’s a size 4 in black), and use a sink tip like Rio’s VersiLeader if conditions allow for it. Throw in some mends and work the fly low and slow. Focus on the buckets and relatively deeper runs that have a moderate to slow current. If you’re not getting any action, play with your retrieve speed.