Pro Tips: Three Tandem Rigs for Winter Trout

This Rock Creek brown fell for a worm pattern on a chilly day in late winter.

The first time I went trout fishing in winter was in the early 90s, not long after I had gotten pretty serious about the sport. Although I’d read plenty about how to catch trout during the colder months, I wasn’t quite convinced that it was possible on the New Jersey freestone streams that were my home waters at the time. So when I waded into the Musconetcong River in Hackettstown on thet chilly January afternoon, my expectations were low. On my fifth or sixth cast, however, the indicator dove, I raised my rod tip, and I felt the familiar pulse of a fish through the line.

Since then, I’ve done a fair amount of winter fishing–although it wasn’t legal here in Vermont until a few years ago–and I’ve developed a set of go-to setups that form the foundation of my approach. I don’t have a whole separate box of winter flies but instead have discovered through trial and error which of my standard patterns will also produce in cold water. I always fish two flies to up chances, and here are my three favorite tandem rigs.

1. Woolly Bugger + Copper John

A size 12 black or olive Woolly Bugger just looks like food, and it makes a passable imitation for a stonefly nymph, which represents a meaty morsel for trout during the lean times of winter. The size 18 red Copper John is a proven attractor nymph, and the red suggests midges, as well. At the end of the dead-drift, I always let this rig swing slowly to the surface.

2. Beadhead Hare’s Ear + Higa’s S.O.S.

A size 16 or 18 Hare’s Ear Nymph just looks buggy and has caught trout for me in every season. The size 18 or 20 Higa’s S.O.S. is a combination of flashy and suggestive, and it gives this tandem a light-and-dark option for the trout.

3. “Ham and Eggs”

Not for purists, this combination of a size 12 Tactical Tungsten Belly Worm (or any San Juan Worm derivative) and a size 12 or 14 egg pattern is tough for a trout to miss. This rig is especially effective in late winter, when some fish species have begun to spawn.

I fish all of these rigs under an indicator, and I rarely go super light on tippets. For the Bugger-CJ rig, I start with a 4X tippet and use 5X for the dropper. For the others, it’s 5X all the way. The key is to get the flies to the bottom quickly, which is why I prefer weighted and beadhead versions of all patterns.

4 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Three Tandem Rigs for Winter Trout”

  1. Will you please post with drawnings how to rig. What do you mean with weighted and beadhead version? Thank you in advance. Chris.

  2. About a month ago trout hit my too fly,which was red Copper John,and red has been producing since. Paradoxically,eggs have caught nothing,but red Serendipity rocks. Only suggestions ,white Zonker. Contrary to lots I’ve read trout will actively pursue streamers,and white rock!! Thanks

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