Written by: Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service and Outfitters
Winter in the northeast and on the waters I call home, the Upper Delaware System, can vary greatly in conditions. Where you can legally fish is also a consideration, with many waters closed to fishing to protect spawning trout, so always be certain to check the regulations.
Winter can be fierce, or it can be mellow, with each year showing some variance. With that in mind, I like to break it down to early, mid, and late winter. Early winter can be fall-like at times with mid-winter having the potential to be downright brutal. Late winter can be anything from spring-like to that sick feeling that spring is never going to arrive.
Our guides at Cross Current Guide Service and Outfitters are serious trout bums, so I asked them to give up some of their favorites.
1. Woolly Bugger (size 10)
In black or olive, I can fish this fly to mimic many critters trout feed on. Guide Justin Lyle’s winter favorite is a white Beadhead Woolly Bugger. He likes to strip it painfully slowly or swing it on a sink tip.
2. Pheasant Tail Nymph (sizes 16-20)
Another standard, this fly can often save the day. Add a flashback and have a party.
3. Stonefly Nymph (sizes 8-10)
I’m not as selective as a trout. As long as it’s black or brown and has rubber legs, I’m good with it. I think you’ll find many trout feel the same way.
4. Zebra Midge (sizes 18-22)
Because midges never seem to go away. I typically fish this fly in tandem with a larger fly, such as Pheasant Tail, Stonefly, or Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph, which brings me to . . .
5. Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph (sizes 20-24)
It’s buggy, and oh, that gold bling. Bon appetit, Mr. Trout!
6. Ice Cream Cone Midge (size 16)
Although it sounds like a summer treat, this is one of guide Ryan Furtak’s winter favorites. “Midges are one of the primary food sources for trout during the cold months. I like this pattern because it simply works, and the fish love it even more.”
7.Beadhead Egg (size 10)
This is one of guide Anita Coulton’s winter go to flies. “This pattern is super simple and versatile: it can be bounced along the bottom of deep holes or elicit takes in fast riffles. I prefer the bead, which helps it penetrate the water column quickly and allows the use of a tight line or contact-nymphing set up.”
8. MT’s CDC Winter Stonefly (sizes 14-18)
Always looking for the dry-fly opp, John Miller wouldn’t be caught on the water without his favorite late-winter dry. “I use it as a dry when the opportunity arises. It’s also a great indicator dry in a shallow water dry /drop rig. Don’t be afraid to skate it on windy days!” (See the recipe below.)
9. Mini Sex Dungeon (size 6)
This is the fly Mike Bannon ties on in the winter. “I like that I can rip it, swing it, or jig it. I tie a heavier version with large dumbbell eyes for winter and keep the body very sparse. Favorite colors are black and olive. I always spin orange deer ahead of my first spin of hair, like an orange hot spot. As far as retrieve, I’ll start fast, switch to a vertical jig, and then, if it’s not getting any love, I’ll swing it slowly through the runs.”
10. Griffith’s Gnat (sizes 18-22)
On those warm winter days that we all long for, where the wind is still and the trout sip midges, guide Tim Oliphant will tie on a Griffiths Gnat is size 18 to 22. It’s not just the nostalgia of fishing a fly developed by George Griffith, one of the founders of Trout Unlimited, it also has a lot to do with the fact that it works so well.
Joe Demalderis operates Cross Current Guide Service and Outfitters, guiding for trout and smallmouths on New York’s Upper Delaware system and for striped bass and bluefish off Northern New Jersey. He’s also a former Trout Bum of the Week.
MT’s CDC Winter Stonefly
Thread: Black, 8/0.
Hook: Standard dry-fly hook, sizes 14-18.
Body: Dark brown or dark gray beaver dubbing.
Wing: Dun CDC.
Notes: Dub a sparse body. Tie the wing full and twice the length of the body. Clip the hackle flush with the bottom of the fly.