A Few Tips on Winter Trout

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you head out this winter season and hit some area streams for the winter season.


Most any type of fly rod will suffice, but I prefer a longer rod (8.5-9 feet in length) with anywhere between 2-5 weight line. The longer rod allows for easier mending. I also like a softer action rod this time of year. You won’t be “ripping lips” in the winter season; it’s a much more subtle and often dainty take on the trout’s behalf, so softer action for a simple raise of the rod to get a set works best for me.

Floating line

Floating line (dull colors) is pretty standard unless you’re doing some deep-water nymphing or streamers. 9-12 foot leaders with tippet as fine as 6x is pretty standard as well. Fluorocarbon is a nice addition but not a necessity. It’s abrasion resistant and doesn’t absorb water, so it has some benefits; however, cost is a factor for many anglers.

Hip boots and neoprenes

Hip boots and neoprenes (which are not practical in general for southeast Minnesota) are relevant for winter use. Gloves are in the eye of the beholder. Fingerless, glomitts, and other varieties exist, but the bottom line is to keep your hands dry and warm.


This is a pretty simple situation. Most anglers stick with the tried and true scud in sizes #12-18 in orange, amber, pink, gray, olive, and tan. The pink squirrel (and derivatives of this pattern) are also popular. Midges (diptera meaning “two winged”) are very common throughout the winter months. Standard brassies in copper, red, or green will work, as well as basic midge larvae tie in black, brown, gray, and olive (pack a few tans as well). Midge pupae and emergers are a good bet. Zebra midge patterns or the Simpleton Midge (made common by Brian Stewart) are great emerger patterns. Copper Johns, as well as pheasant tails in smaller sizes are a good call. Caddis nymphs like the Peeking caddis is a good choice along with popular patterns like Prince Nymphs and Hare’s Ears.


Pay attention to risers and/or the appearance of midges on the banks. You’ll often see them dotting the snow on warmer days. For dries, the Griffith’s Gnat is popular, as well as local favorites like the Simpleton Midge, Stuck-in-the-Shuck Midge, and Midge Emerger dries (like Tom Dornack’s pattern). Both patterns float yet also have a shuck on the tail end of the pattern.


Remember that trout fishing in January is a whole different ballgame than last summer. You have little in the way of streamside cover and often snow is present. Dull colors are a must. Stay low and be deliberate. Get close to actively feeding fish, but take your time getting there. Minimize your wading at all costs as to stay off redds and prevent unnecessarily spooking trout (thus hippers is a good choice). Be conscious of temperatures, both water and air temperatures. Winter fishing has a little bit of “banker’s hours,” so maximize your chances by being on the water when the temperature is highest. Don’t be afraid to monitor water temperatures with a thermometer now and again.

Winter trout fishing can often be frustrating and rewarding, all in the same outing. Be following a few of the suggested tips, you can easily increase your chances of success this winter.

Dave Anderson
On The Fly Guide Service