The very first winter trout I ever caught came from the Musconetcong River in Hackettstown, New Jersey, about 20 years ago. To tell the truth, I didn’t really believe it would happen and was completely shocked when my indicator went under. But when I raised my rod, I came tight to a foot-long brown. Since then, I’ve enjoyed lots of cold-weather fishing, in places as disparate as New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Montana. On one memorable day, I arrived at Armstrong’s Spring Creek in Paradise Valley with the mercury stuck at 17 degrees Fahrenheit, only to find trout rising to a hatch of blue-winged olives.
Although winter fishing is almost exclusively a subsurface game (see Tom Rosenbauer’s post from last week), don’t leave home without a few winter dry flies. About two or three years after I caught that first trout on the Musconetcong, I was fishing Big Flat Brook in the northwestern corner of the Garden State, when I was shocked again by the sight of several trout rising at the tailout of a pool. These were the first winter risers I’d come across. Luckily, I had a few Griffith’s Gnats in my vest, and I managed to take one of the trout by swinging the fly just under the surface. This was another proud moment in my maturation as an angler.
Since then, I’ve caught quite a few winter trout on dry flies, and it always seems like a bigger victory to bring these fish to the net.
Here are the four dry fly patterns I carry from November through March:
Griffith’s Gnat (sizes 18 through 22). This pattern often serves to imitate the midge clusters you’ll see in winter, and it can be fished effectively on the surface, in the film, and subsurface.
Quick Sight Foam Ant (size 18). Trout will sip an ant any time, not just in summer. Plus this can double for an early black stonefly
Early Black Stonefly (sizes 16 through 20). You never know when you’re going to run into a hatch of these tiny black stones. If fish are rising and the midge patterns don’t work, this is probably your ticket.
Birchell’s Hatching Midge (sizes 20 and 22). When I really need to fish a tiny midge that I can see, this is my go-to pattern.