- Free Classes
- Class 101 Rods & Reels
- Class 1012 Fishing With Kids
- Class 1013 Trout Economy
- Class 1015 Fish Hook Removal
- Class 102 What to Take
- Class 1025 Types of Trout Streams
- Class 103 Bait & Lures
- Class 123 Artificial Lures
- Class 104 Basic Knots
- Class 105 Catching Trout
- Class 1051 Catch and Release
- Class 1052 Double Team
- Class 106 Handling Trout
- Class 107 Beginning Fly Fishing
- Class 301 Introduction to Mayflies
- Class 302 Fly Tying for Trout
- Class 3021 Matching the Hatch
- Class 3022 Fly Tying Dry Flies
- Class 3023 Fly Tying Nymphs
- Class 3024 Fly Tying Streamers
- Class 303 Nymphing
- Class 3031 Fishing with Midges
- Class 3033 High Sticking
- Class 3035 Czech Nymphing
- Class 313 Catch Big Trout
- Class 347 Trout Prospects
- Class 357 Trout Streams
- Class 367 Trout Springs
- Class 3677 Trout Habitat
- Graduate Level
- Class 401 Improve Your Trout Photos
- Class 402 Furled Leaders Intro.
- Class 403 Strike Indicators
- Class 406 Color Vision in Trout Eyes
- Class 412 Protecting Trout Waters
- Class 413 How to Make a Trout Video
- Class 422 Exploring Casting Methods
- Class 427 Good vs. Poor Trout Streams
- Class 4221 Casting Upstream in Large Rivers
- Class 4271 Fishing Fertile and Infertile Streams
- Top 5 Tips
- Planning for a Trip
- Top 5 Tips While Fishing.
- Top 5 Trout Lures
- Top 5 Miscellaneous Tips
- About Us
- Customer Service
- New Students
- Alumni Corner
- Faculty & Staff
- Contact Us
Winter Trout Fishing
Class Code: 2052
Professor: Dan Farnsworth
Skill Level: Intermediate
This class is brought to you by Dan Farnsworth the consummate Minnesota trout fisherman. Trout fear Dan who brings his valuable winter techniques and tips from Minnesota to this class. While the class is primarily intended for fishing with artficail lures and ultra-lite equipment, the experienced fly fishing angler will find it valuable as well. About Dan.
Winter is my favorite time of year to trout fish for two distinct reasons, it’s not hot, and most people don’t fish in the winter. With that being said, there are many tactics that work the same year round; however there are many considerations that you need to think about before stomping down to the stream in the winter.
Chancellor's note: One of the byproducts of the reduced wintertime fishing pressure is that the larger, warier, trout become more approachable.
Cold. You need to respect cold weather. Wear layers of clothing so you can regulate your temperature during the day. You will also want to pack additional clothing just in case you get wet…like I did on our annual New Years Day trip. And keep your head warm with a comfortable hat. Windproof gear is a huge plus, but it must be able to breathe.
Make sure your gear is working properly and that you don’t have any holes in your waders…again, like I did last week. A right leg soaking wet when it is 25°F takes some of the fun out of the trip, and you have to catch a lot of fish to make up for those types of problems. Don’t forget your polarized glasses on those bright days! If there is snow on the ground and the sun is up, the glare will make these glasses a must. Also, be sure to pack some Chap Stick as well as sunscreen.
If you are hiking into remote areas, keep track of the time and if you are catching fish it is very easy to forget about the time. Remember, the sun goes down much earlier in the winter especially if you are in the woods or in a valley. Even an experienced angler will easily lose track of the time so be prepared by carrying a flashlight; it will come in handy. The newer LED lights that come as a headband are very lightweight and useful.
Make sure you have some fresh water with you and an energy bar just in case. I prefer cheese whiz sandwiches unless my wife makes something special for me the night before, which I may ad to my usual menu. Also, it may be good to include some trail mix for fast energy as you make the trek homeward.
In the winter, watch for slick spots of ice, especially on the shady side of the slope, under tree cover or near streamlets.
Steve can attest to this rule after a nasty little fall last year. You can be sure that the day is much better and more enjoyable when your body stays in one piece.
Felt sole waders are a definite must to wade in the streams. These are excellent on those slick rocks providing the temperatures are not below freezing. If it is below freezing, as long as you’re in the water the felt soles are fine. But when you step out and stand on a rock for a few seconds your soles will freeze to the rock. Carbide studs are good in the winter although they are noisy on the rocks. Strap-on-Vibram® or studded soles work well and they can be purchased from retailers like Cabelas. I have not tried any of the new “sticky” bottom Vibram® soled boots yet but they are indeed promising. Simms makes an interesting high quality, but pricy, new boot with Stream Tread sole technology, There are several others out there that protect aquatic nuisances from transferring from one stream to another. (For more about that topic see "Class 412 Protecting Trout Waters From Aquatic Nuisances") Regardless, felt has always proven to be the best for me on slick rocks.
By all means, do your best to keep your hands warm. Take the time to find the glove that works best for you. There are many different styles on the market today; you just want a pair that is versatile enough to give you the dexterity needed to fish effectively. I rarely wear gloves; I just utilize pockets that allow access to a warm layer underneath my gear. Some anglers prefer to utilize heat packs in their pockets in place of gloves. Good luck in finding the right combination that will work for you.
In the winter I fish with plugs, spinners, and plastic baits. I remove the treble hooks replacing them with single hooks allowing the trout to be released with minimal damage. Don’t be afraid to use large baits. I routinely use #5 and #7 Rapala’s with good success. Brown’s especially like easily targeted, slow, large baits in the winter. Also keep in mind that spinners do work in the winter. If it is clear and sunny I typically lean towards light colored lures. If it is dark or overcast I go towards the darker colors. Regardless, if you are in the South, black and gold is a staple that will not fail you. If you are in the Upper Midwest, silver and black is always good.
The key here is that if you are not catching fish on the lure or tactic you are using, switch to something else. I am not a fan of live bait although it is one of the most effective ways to catching everything. However, live bait tends to be swallowed by the trout making the catch and release much more difficult. Fly fishermen need to select the midges or other insects that may be available for the trout to feast on in the winter. Streamers like the Brown Sculpin in hook sizes of #6 or greater, when fished low and slow, can be as effective for those big browns as the Rapalas. Remember to work them slowly!
Good line on the rod is always essential as well as a fully functioning open face reel. You don’t necessarily need a good bail spring, but hopefully the drag will come in handy. Carry an extra spool of line with you. I also prefer a rod that is under 6’ and typically an ultra-light action. This type of rod allows you to work the Rapala better, twitching it and rolling it through the current producing flashes that attract fish.
Since there is less foliage in the winter you do not have the advantage of having a good background to help conceal your presence and you will need to stay low and quiet as you stalk the trout. Indeed, some days, snow will make your profile more pronounced, emphasizing the need to remain low. In the winter, the water is typically very clear, making the trout far more wary, so BE QUIET!!! Also, try to be invisible, don’t wear loud colors and move slowly. Don’t stomp up to the stream and just start casting. Slide up to the stream, survey the water to see if there are any visible fish, plan your cast and cast accurately. I had an aged fisherman once tell me that the part that should wear out first on a set of waders is the knees…stay low so you will not cast shadows into the stream.
Slow is our friend! Move slowly and fish slowly trying to keep your lure towards the bottom. Don’t retrieve it faster than the current if possible. Always keep an eye on your lure, if it is too deep keep your eyes focused where you think it is. Many times you will see the flash of a fish, and if you don’t get the hit on that cast you at least know there is an opportunity there for you to go back after it several more times. However, if you still get nothing, switch lures and try again.
On sunny days (well any type of day for that matter) make sure you view the entire stream before walking towards it, particularly shallow spots, eddies, anywhere a trout may be cruising or just suspended. It is amazing what you will see if you are invisible and take your time to be observant. Although fishing with the current with these styles of lures has produced great numbers, don’t be afraid to run your lure against the current, suspending it and allowing it to merely flutter in the current without actually advancing. Follow the lure through the current with your rod tip up, it will control the bait better and give you the flexibility for that big hit.
Focus on structure and current. Look for those rocks, eddies, pools, undercuts, logs, and breaks in the current that will hold fish. You cannot never make too many casts in the winter, and have high expectations for every single cast. Yes, the first cast is many times the one that will show you a fish. However, particularly on large streams, it takes multiple casts just to cover the territory once…and you need to cover it all several times. Be persistent, particularly in those spots that “look like” they would hold fish…because if it looks like it holds a trout, it probably does.
It should be noted that some of my best days have come during a nice snowfall. So, if it snows do not hesitate to get into and wade the stream. I don’t know if it has to do with the atmospheric pressure or not, but it has always sparked good opportunities for me. A great byproduct is one of quiet serenity. When the snow if falling in the woods it just seems to quiet everything down making for a more enjoyable time.
Safety is of the utmost importance in the winter and it is a smart idea to always fish with a friend. Winter season brings dangers of a different sort. If you are remote and you get hurt, stranded, lost, whatever, it is much more difficult braving the cold of winter alone. Indeed, it always is good to have a fishing companion along, but how much more so in the winter.
In summary, pack the proper gear, think ahead, and always have a plan. And if you are like me and fish many different streams, just make sure that someone at home knows where you are fishing and when you expect to get home. Now go ahead try winter fishing if you have not already done so and enjoy your day on the stream! Just remember, as always the fish are the bonus!
Video of winter trout fishing.
Be mentally prepared by reviewing these tips and tactics before heading out to the stream. Pay attention to the safety tips as they may be needed.