Are you one of the many fly anglers who doesn’t think much about fly fishing after Labor Day? Many fly fishers who enjoy the other three seasons fly fishing in Colorado often neglect fly fishing in the winter for the obvious reason: it’s cold! But did you know some of the best fly fishing can happen during the winter months? Fish eat year round, maybe not as much and aggressively as during the summer months, but they need to eat to survive, even in the dead of winter. And, the crowds can be smaller!
We’re lucky in having very good winter fly fishing opportunities close to Colorado Springs. Three excellent tailwaters close to Colorado Springs that produce great angling in the summer months also produce great results in the winter….if you are prepared. The South Platte through Eleven Mile Canyon, the South Platte between Spinney Mountain and Eleven Mile reservoirs (a.k.a. the Dream Stream) and the Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir can produce outstanding winter fly fishing results. On any given day you can enjoy productive nymph, streamer, or dry fly fishing. Your success depends on three very important factors:
Ambient weather conditions and clothing
You must have the proper winter time clothing to make your day on the water enjoyable. During the height of winter, you’ll experience water temperatures in the low 30’s. Cold hands and feet are sure to have you scrambling back to your vehicle, just when the bite turns on. It’s always good policy to wear your clothing in layers. I wear several layers of technical fabric shirts under a heavier pullover with a water- and snow- resistant parka topping it all on the really cold days. I wear a pair of cold weather running pants under my fly weight waders. Some people prefer neoprene waders in the winter. A pair of Smart Wool socks is essential for a day in the frigid water. On really cold days I wear a pair of inexpensive vinyl gloves (a few bucks at Safeway) that prevent the water from touching your skin. This can be a lifesaver. Bottom line to enjoy a cold day on the water is to dress appropriately.
During the winter, area tailwaters settle into their typical low water release mode. The Dream Stream summer releases average 125 cubic feet per second (CFS); currently the Dream Stream is flowing half of that or 51 CFS. Eleven Mile Canyon is flowing around 58 CFS and the Arkansas tail water is flowing 65 CFS. So fish are a little easier to target in the winter in general. Water clarity is also at its clearest during the winter months so smaller fluorocarbon tippet is essential. Water temperatures obviously drop significantly in winter as well and that affects trout’s metabolism. The bite varies from day to day depending on ambient temperatures and water temperature. On even the coldest days of the year, I generally have good action before 9 AM. But typically the action really picks up as water temperatures rise and bug activity increases. That’s when you want to have your dry rig ready to take advantage of rising trout! Wind can have a tremendous affect on fishing conditions. You just won’t have as much success dry fly fishing on a windy day because it affects the hatch and you just don’t have the concentration of easy target bugs on the water.
Winter Flies and Gear
Your winter fly box arsenal should include a wide variety of flies including midges of various sizes and colors, nymphs like hare’s ears, pheasant tails and caddis larvae. Dry flies like Parachute Adams and Blue Wing Olives are a must for your winter fly box. Make sure you have a good selection of emerger patterns like Blue Wing Olive emergers (BWO),Top Secret, and Jujubee emerges. But the most important fly in your box during the height of winter are small midge patterns like the classic Brassie and Zebra midge patterns along with Black Beauties and Rojo midge patterns in various colors and in sizes down to 26. I generally do well in sizes 20 and 22. Red seems to be the best midge color variation day in and day out due to the hemoglobin found in real midges which causes the red coloration in these midges. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with streamers and wooly buggers. I have good success throughout the year with streamers and winter time is no exception. Often times I carry three rods, a dry rig, nymph rig, and streamer rig. I like to be prepared so that I don’t waste valuable time tearing down a nymph rig to set up a dry rig for example. Often times the hatch starts and ends quickly so it’s nice to have that dry rig ready at a moment’s notice.
It’s not critical that you have three rigs. For example, you can quickly switch from a dry rig to a streamer rig by removing the dry fly leader and tippet with a sinking tip leader and tippet and tie on a streamer or wooly bugger.
The staff at Angler’s Covey can help set you up with all the cold weather gear you need from flies and leaders to gloves and parkas. Angler’s has experienced guides proficient at finding and catching cold weather trout! Winter fly fishing in local tail waters can be some of the best fishing of the year. With the right gear and the right amount of preparation, you can enjoy some of the best most enjoyable fly fishing you’ve ever had!
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Women's Fly Tying class series: Class 3, Advanced tying techniques, Dry flies