Is Fly Fishing Good in the Winter? Tips For Winter Fishing Outings

Fly fishing is an exciting, engaging sport, but many beginners are worried that it’s only possible when it’s warm outside. Winter brings all sorts of migrating fish, which is why experienced anglers take to the waters, but is it worth it?

Fly fishing is good in the winter because many fish migrate near the surface, allowing you to catch them with ease. Tailwaters flowing from dams and other structures warm the water, which invites trout and dozens of other fish to the area. Also, many bugs hatch in the winter, providing natural bait.

cold fish catch

Throughout this article, we’ll cover everything from whether or not you should consider fly fishing in the winter to some unique tips to keep in mind for catching local fish. Finally, we’ll go over some of the issues anglers face during cold-weather fly fishing.

Should You Fly Fish in the Winter?

Are you itching to go fly fishing but worried about the weather? Winter might seem like an intimidating time to gather your fly fishing gear, but you can have more success with the proper techniques than in any other season.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should give it a shot, review some of the following questions:

  • Do you have the proper gear for winter fly fishing? You should bring two or three layers of weatherproof clothing to keep yourself dry and warm. Also, Fly Fishing Fix suggests getting a guide de-icer to prevent the fly fishing guide from freezing. This process can cause the line to choke, ruining your experience.
  • Can you scout the area during designated times? Everyone has a preferred time for fly fishing, and most experienced fishermen suggest fishing during the winter when the sun sits directly over the water. Fish love warm water when it’s cold outside, so 11 am to 3 pm tends to be the top choice.
  • Are local bugs hatching? You can save a lot of time, money, and effort by getting local bait for your trout and other fly fishing fish. It’s a smart idea to research local bugs and other bait before you hit the water; that way, you’ll know where to look and when to grab some bait to catch all of the fish.
  • Is it always windy where you usually go fly fishing? Wind can be quite problematic, and it’s one of the few weather patterns that can ruin your winter fly fishing experience. Fish tend to stay deeper in the water when it’s windy, not to mention the limited vision you’ll have when looking below the surface.
  • Do you have a portable thermometer? Dip the thermometer in the water to know if it’s too cold for local fish to get close to the top. Most fish swim up when the water is warmer than 40°F (4.4°C). Shallow water tends to be warmer since it has a much smaller volume and surface area for the sunlight to cover.
fly fishing in winter

These five questions will let you know if you’re prepared to fly fish in the winter. The good news is anyone can get the proper gear and find a good location, and you don’t need to be a professional to catch fish during any season.

Winter Fly Fishing Tips

Practice makes perfect, but why not prepare yourself for all fly fishing situations? There are many ways to expedite the learning curve and put yourself in the best position to fly fish wherever you go. 

Here’s a list of fly fishing tips for cold weather to ensure your success:

  • Look for tailwaters near dams, fallen logs, rocks, and more. According to HatchMag, tailwaters flow from these structures, keeping fish, shrimp, and other critters a bit warmer when it’s cold outside. They’ll hide in these shelters before heading back into the stream.
  • Most fish prefer warm water, so find the best source and go at the right time. As mentioned earlier on the page, it’s best to fly fish when the water is over 40°F (4.4°C), which is usually between 11 am to 3 pm. However, mountains, trees, and other natural barriers can limit sunlight exposure, broadening or narrowing your fly fishing window.
  • Midges are incredibly useful for winter trout fly fishing. Find them near the water to catch as many trout as possible. You can also catch mayflies and other bugs to expand your bait collection, allowing you to find more fish. Remember to keep the bait near the top of the water where the bugs would naturally be found.
  • Shallow water is often a good thing. Many fish will go to shallow water in the winter, especially if it’s filled with bugs and other food. Look for these hidden gems along the banks of creeks, rivers, and fast-moving water sources. It provides a nice place to rest and eat for them, so you’ll likely get a bite.
  • Don’t be afraid to get in the water! Wearing the proper gear will let you wade through hip-high water without getting soaked. It’ll also allow you to get closer to tailwaters for the aforementioned benefits. Remember to waterproof your shoes, socks, and other gear before getting into the icy water.
fly fishing in winter wading

Possible Complications While Flying Fishing in Snow

While winter fly fishing is typically an enjoyable outing, there’s no denying the frustrations. Weather patterns, unexpected migrations, lack of bait, and many other problems can alter your fly fishing time. 

It’s time to cover a handful of common issues people run into when fly fishing in cold weather, regardless of their experience.

Fast, Cold Water Can Present Challenges

Quick-moving water is hard on your visibility since the water turns white and the fish move much faster. When the water is cold, many fish find shelter or swim in warmer water. You can take advantage of this process by following their movements to a sunnier spot, but they often swim many minutes or hours away.

fishing in snow and ice

Weather Is Always a Factor

Check the forecast before leaving your home. It’s best to know the wind, temperature, and precipitation possibilities long before you go fly fishing in the winter. Getting a week-long heads-up will prevent unexpected problems. 

However, we all know weather can be unpredictable. If it’s too windy, icy, or snowy, you might experience visibility problems.

Experienced Anglers Know the Secret Spots

Although it doesn’t apply to every fishing location, it’s not uncommon for all dams and other shelters to be filled with fishermen who’ve been in the area for many years. Sage Fly Fish explains other anglers can limit your chances of finding an adequate spot to cast your line. However, nothing beats arriving at the tailwaters earlier than the competition.

Cold Weather Can Lower the Fish’s Feeding Drives

During the colder months, many fish suffer from slower metabolisms. Like bears that go into hibernation, you may find that the fish just aren’t biting during this time. However, with the right kind of lure and technique, most fish will choose to feed when given a chance.


Winter brings a brand-new strategy for fly fishing. Knowing where to go, what to bring, and common expectations will drastically increase your chances of getting a bite. You don’t have to put away your fishing gear when the weather gets cold. Instead, change your routine and enjoy a unique experience.

Here’s a quick recap of the post:

  • Many fish stay warm in dams and other natural structures.
  • Keep an eye out for ice, extremely cold water, and rapids.
  • Look for hatching bugs in the area since local fish prefer local bait.