"What good is the warmth of Summer, without the cold of Winter to give it sweetness." - John Steinbeck
The winter months are usually the least fruitful in fly fishing. With the freezing water temperatures, a trout becomes lethargic and takes the path of least resistance to conserve its energy. Nature still takes care of these fish by providing midge hatches throughout the year, even the cold winter months. A trout will spend its time in slower currents and tends to only feed during these midge hatches, which are difficult to detect.
The hatches typically happen during the day, completely opposite of the meal times and bug activity typical of the other months of the year. There are often tailwaters (rivers that come out of reservoirs) where the temperature is more regulated, thus creating close to ideal water temperatures, even during the cold months of January. If you’re going to venture out to fly fish in the winter, target these waters.
Although the weather can bring numb fingers and toes, there are some benefits to fly fishing in the Winter.
First, you get to sleep in! No more dawn patrol early morning drives to the river. The best fishing and possibility of hatches is during the warmest part of the day (usually around noon). Watch for small midges on the water’s edge or the occasional Blue Wing Olive to float by. However, the majority of bug activity will be below the surface. Time to master your nymphing and streamer abilities.
Second, only the die hards will brave the cold weather. This means less crowds and more water to yourself. Instead of venturing off grid in search of secluded tributaries, it may be possible to visit water often crowded during the Summer months. Less pressure can make the fishing better as well.
Overall, winter fishing if done right can be very productive and enjoyable. Prepare well and dress warm.