Written by: Steve Brown
Mist rises in giant plumes off the icy river. Snowflakes quietly fill the void with magic. Boots crunch the high-pitched squeak of cold snow and frost, leaving the only footprints besides 3 round re-occurring spots of a snow shoe hair and something chasing it the night before. Evidence of the chase disappears into the woods and only your foot prints remain, but not for long as snow covers the trace, persistent and slow. Finally, the river and all it’s hidden secrets to yourself, at least for the day, because you are the only one crazy enough to fly-fishing in the middle of winter, during a snowstorm.
Winter fishing on rivers bring us go back in time, a time when we were the only ones on the river. For many of us, before there was even a “fly-fishing industry”. A time when no one crowed each other, up and down the river was clear of anglers, because no one parked near each other.
Trout utopia’s like the San Juan River in New Mexico are now famous for shoulder to shoulder fishing, often over 20 anglers in one run, or you can get in dory line for the Texas Hole and wait your turn to plug some big trout stuck in a pond, getting railed by anglers all day long. Or, you can simply wait to fish the world class San Juan in the winter, with some warm gear. They say there is never bad weather, just bad clothing.
Winter fishing on the San Juan and many other trout fisheries is time travel into the wild beauty that brought us to the river in the first place.
As a rookie guide my boss, John Duncan from Telluride Outside gave me a thermometer and told me it was the most important part of guiding. At first I thought it was some hilarious joke about taking clients temperatures, and made a crass guide remark about which end of the client I should use for the reading.
“Actually Brownie,” Dunc replied, “River temperature is everything, it decides what hatches and when, this thermometer is on me, use it, get plugged in.”
Years later, I was the guide in the Black Canyon that knew stoneflies hatched at 57 degrees, it was my boat that switched to dry flies before everyone else, and my clients who crushed big fish on big dries because of a thermometer in the right place, in the water!
Water temperature is the factor in Winter fishing. Temperatures in the winter can be so low that life almost ceases to exist. Bugs barely grow, almost never hatch, and fish hide in cover almost hibernating, using as little energy as possible. Turning over rocks yields the tiniest bugs we see all year, and freezes our hand instantly, hands on entomology is almost impossible.
But fear not, Guide Flies comes to the rescue!
We have been guiding and fishing winters for decades and designed certain patterns crucial for these conditions.
6 Essential Winter Patterns:
RS-200: The Guide Flies RS-200 is an evolution of Rim Chung’s RS-2 invented on Colorado Rivers to represent many mayflies in different stages. He invented the fly to limit the many choices an angler is confronted with selecting a pattern. The RS-2 became the best pattern for emerging blue winged olives, pale morning duns, midges, and many other small flies that live in rivers year around. Guide Flies took Rim Chungs pattern and evolved it even more with wider- gapped barbless hooks, nano thread and Semperfli flash. The RS-200 is already proven on the most technical rivers during the most challenging times, like winter.
Guide Mayhem: The mayhem is a fly created in Telluride Colorado by Chris Walker. Chris was one of the head guides and tiers at Telluride Outside while he unleashed the fly that has given us the edge on all rivers, all the time. The foam back of this perfect tiny emerger gives it emerging powers underwater, once you sink the fly, it float upward, imitating the most vulnerable time in the life of a fly, the emerging stage. Guide Flies evolved this pattern into a better hook, allowing trophy fish to caught without bending the hook. We use premium Semperfli threads and wire to enhance this deadly pattern. This is a crucial trout fly all year long, especially in winter when things get challenging.
Guide Midge: Midges are the tiniest part of trout fishing and entomology that often intimidate anglers. What we can’t see is often the hardest to understand, and believe in. Midge fishing is often about faith. Even though we can’t see whats going on, we know midges are hatching year around, even in the coldest water conditions. Our Guide Midge comes in all the possible colors and sizes and tied with the best materials. Small black midges are a necessity at a minimum, then it’s important to have a few other colors and sizes for varying hatches.
Guide Rubber Leg Stone: While winter fishing is mostly focused on the tiniest bugs in our box, stonefly nymphs are also very effective. Stoneflies are the biggest meals in the river and they are typically on a 3 year life cycle, so they are always in the water, under rocks. Stonefly nymphs in the winter tend to be smaller so our Guide Rubber Leg Stone in size 12 is a must have for winter fishing, both in black and yellow/brown. This fly is also a great weight as we have lead wire wrapped around the body, under the chenille. Instead of weighting your nymph rig down with spit shot, use our stonefly to achieve depth, and catch more fish. Often the bigger brown trout in the area cannot resist a stonefly meal in the dead of winter.
Guide Bugger: Throwing streamers to trout is a first and last resort to any trout, anytime. Most trout anglers eventually fall in love with streamer fishing because of the predatory and visible strike. Streamer fishing is aggressive, action oriented, and often draws the biggest fish in the river to eat, even in winter conditions. If it’s super cold, the retrieve is slower, but make no mistake, Guide Buggers work on aggressive trout all year long.
Egg Pattern: Sometimes winter fishing is so cold the midges aren’t even hatching, fish won’t chase a streamer, any fly pattern seems fruitless. This is why we have egg patterns. Fish are spawning year around, different species at different times. In other words, trout always eat eggs, and when there is little to no insect life in the river, eggs are a great option to catch fish anyway, especially in winter. Many winter fisheries can be unlocked with an ‘egg to the midge’ nymph rig.
So there you have it! Winter fishing is not only a great opportunity to make fresh tracks and have the river to yourself in complete peace, but can also be very productive given the right ammunition provided by Guide Flies.
Take all of the guesswork out of your winter fly selection and pick up one of our Premium Winter Trout Kits!