Pro Tips: Top 10 Flies for Winter in the Driftless Area

Written by: Dave Barron, Jacquish Hollow Angler


Winter is a great time to fish the rivers and spring creeks of the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin.
Photo by Phil Monahan

Winter is one of my favorite times of the year in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. You can have the spring creeks all to yourself, the water is clear, and the fish are hungry. There are a few things that you must consider before heading out, though: First, you will need to dress in layers. You might be tempted to don the neoprenes, but I have found that breathable waders work very well because they allow moisture to wick away from your body, which will help to keep you warm. To avoid frozen guides, clean and and lubricate your fly line. And make sure that someone else knows where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.

Most of the time, I fish with midge patterns, but you might find some blue-winged olives coming off on warmer days. Here is a list of the ten patterns that have worked best for me over the years.

[Editor’s note: Click the name of each fly to be taken to a place to buy, a recipe, or a video. As you’ll see, Dave is a big fan of Tightline Productions videos and patterns.]

1. Higa’s S.O.S.
(sizes 18-22)
This has been one of my top producers over the last few years. The fly can be tied in many colors, but black is my favorite.

2. Zebra Midge / Copper Zebra Midge
(sizes 16-24/18-24)
It is hard for me to decide which midge pattern is my number one, the S.O.S. or the Copper Zebra Midge. Close behind the first two is the Zebra Midge because it is so effective. Black works great, but you should also carry patterns in red and olive.

3. Pheasant Tail Euro Nymph
(sizes 14-18)
The PT nymph is on the list because it looks like so many nymphs and it can be used as weight in a two-fly rig to get the S.O.S. and other small midge patterns to the right water depth.

4. Griffith’s Gnat / Griffith’s Gnat Emerger
(sizes 18-24)
The Griffith’s Gnat and its emerger version are effective when midges are coming off the water. The emerger can be twitched and skittered across the surface of the water to act like an emerging natural.

5. Mathews’s Zelon Midge
(sizes 18-24)
Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Fly Shop created this great midge imitation, which works great midges are in the air.

6. Little Black Stone
(sizes 20-24)
In early winter, the Driftless Area experiences a very large hatch of these little black stoneflies, and they look like pepper all over the snow. Pattern size is 20-24.

7. Parachute Adams
(sizes 18-24)
The Parachute Adams is a must-have pattern because it looks like so many insects. It can be used to imitate a midge or a BWO.

8. Scud
(size 12)
When you fish the Driftless Area spring creeks, you should always have scuds, which are available to trout all year long. Gray is my preferred color.

9. Glo bug
(sizes 12-14)
Egg patterns are often overlooked, though trout are used to seeing eggs and associating them with food. I find that an orange egg pattern will sometimes catch fish when nothing else will.

10. Olive Woolly Bugger
You should always carry a few Olive Woolly Buggers. It is a fly that will always catch fish, and it can be fished in many ways: You can dead drift it or make it move. I am not sure what the fish think it is, but they sure eat it.

Dave Barron owns and operates Jacquish Hollow Angler, in Richland Center, Wisconsin.

9 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Top 10 Flies for Winter in the Driftless Area”

  1. Let me ask you,trout fishing season in Wisconsin is open all year? I thought we can’t do fishing during winter. Do you mean early season in spring?

  2. Early season opens January 1st and runs through to the opener of the regular season. Regular season runs through October 15th now.

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