November 26, 2006
As water temperatures cool and the winter season looms, the prospect of fantastic winter sport with rainbow trout is fixed firmly in my mind. At this time of year, many anglers turn to lures to tempt fish feeding aggressively on bait fish and to stimulate takes when nothing else seems to work. Both approaches have their place in successful winter fly fishing, but there are alternatives!Some waters I guide at have low stocks of bait fish, are very rich in aquatic life on which the trout predate, plus catch and release is practised by the majority of anglers. In this type of situation trout can and do shy away from lures, in fact they sometimes turn tail and get as far away from them as possible! If you have any one or a combination of these factors at lakes you fish, their will be days when small flies are the key to success.OK, what insect life can we expect to find in lakes during winter? For waters I fish, species that occur consistently are bloodworm, midge pupa, shrimp, damsel nymph, olive nymph, corixa and snails. Like any other time of year you have to work through fly patterns and presentation techniques to find what the trout want on any given day. In fact any time of day as it can and does change.
The key factor in your fly selection is keeping them small. For this type of fishing size 12 – 18 is the range we are looking at. Size 12-14 for damsel nymphs’ and 14-18 for the rest. Larger patterns look strange to educated fish and although they will take a big fly sometimes; a fly familiar in size and profile generally puts more fish on the bank!
These flies will mainly be fished well down in the water, so make sure you carry variants of each fly which are weighted. There are hundreds of fly patterns representing each of the previously mentioned species, so here I will just discuss a limited selection. I am a firm believer in carrying a minimum number of dressings, taking the view that presentation is king. With this in mind I would be happy carrying a selection of hares ear nymph, pheasant tail nymph, flexi floss bloodworm, damsel nymph, black & red buzzer and peacock nymph.
All these patterns are well known; illustrated are my own variants of the last two:
Underbody: Lead or copper wire
Body: Peacock herl
Thorax: Peacock herl
Rib: Red copper wire
Fished slow (and I mean slow) on a long leader and floating or intermediate line, around the remnants of weed beds, this fly is great for taking fish feeding on snails.
Bead Head Buzzer
Hook: heavy wire shrimp, size 14-18
Tag: Red tying thread
Body: Black tying thread
Thorax: Black tying thread
Rib: Fine gold or silver wire
Bead: Gold or Silver
Fished as per the peacock nymph and dead drifted on a floating line, this is a great searching pattern. I find a size 16 the most useful, from which I can either move up or down in size.
When fishing more imitative flies during winter I find the most productive time is between 11am and 3pm. This coincides with the warmest part of the day and peak activity of aquatic life at this time of year. By arriving around 10am you can have a good look around the lake and decide where and how to start, prior to the main feeding activity. I would then fish through until dark, as even during winter dusk sometimes brings on a feeding spell.