Top 11 Must-Have Winter Trout Flies (Fly Fishing Guide 2021)


When it turns colder, everything slows down a little. However, you’ll still be able to get out fly fishing.

You’ll already know that you might have to change your tactics slightly. This includes breaking out your best winter trout flies.

Knowing what to use can be challenging, but I’ve taken a look inside my winter fly fishing box to find the patterns that should net you a trout over winter.

You’ll find a list of my 11 best trout flies, and I’ve included some guidance on making the best choice.

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Top 11 Best Trout Flies for Winter Fly Fishing

Steelie Omelet

Steelie Omelet

Ignore the name. Trout like egg patterns just as much as steelhead. These patterns are famous throughout Europe and are known as ‘blob’ flies. They are a proven trout catcher, especially in winter. The ‘omelet’ part refers to this representing a sort of fish egg.

A fish egg? It looks pretty bright?

The bright color allows fish to spot it over a long distance. This twinned with its highly mobile and shimmering body should be enough to entice a sleepy trout.

You can fish this type of fly in various ways, on top with a floating line and a short leader. Alternatively, a sinking line fished static along the bottom will also yield results.

There are various colors available so take a few varieties to mix and match.

How to Fish Egg Flies: fished static on either a sinking line or a floating line.

Vernille San Juan Worm

Vernille San Juan Worm

A trout’s diet doesn’t change much through the year, and they can still be tempted by a worm. This lure is designed to perfectly imitate a large bloodworm. The body is made of vernille, making it look especially fat and juicy.

Here’s why that’s a very good thing…

As I said at the start in winter, everything slows down, and the trout aren’t as inclined to expend lots of energy chasing food. They prefer to let natural-looking foods drift to them, making a slow-fished worm a great choice.

This can be fished semi-static, with the occasional tweak of the line to get the fully moveable head and tail moving in the current. You can fish this under a bite indicator, so you’ll be able to detect even the most delicate of bites.

How to Fish Worms: as with the egg fly, best fished using a strike indicator with a floating line.

Lynch’s Double Dot Egg

Lynch’s Double Dot Egg

If the ‘steelie omelet’ was a little too bushy for yours (or the trout’s) taste, then a smaller, more classic pattern might just be the way to go.

Trout are voracious cannibals, and they’ll even eat their own young. While November and December might not be spawning season, eating eggs is instinctual for trout, and your egg fly might just present a meal that is too good to miss.

And here’s why I like it…

In winter, the visibility can be poorer, so a bright fly such as the double dot egg is great for visuals.

This is another fly that requires little effort to fish, perfect in the winter when you are trying to keep your hands warm and trying to avoid the overhandling of cold, wet line.

How to Catch Winter Trout with an Egg Fly: these are best fished static on a floating line.

Cohen’s Sweet Baby Cray

Cohen’s Sweet Baby Cray

If trout were wary in the summer, then they will be even more so in the winter. They may have faced a tough fishing season and become educated about the patterns that hold a nasty surprise. As a result, in the winter, natural patterns can often out-fish anything artificial-looking.

This crayfish imitation is designed to be fished hard on the bottom, with the occasional jerk to imitate a crayfish grubbing along the bottom.

Want to know why it’s so realistic?

The pattern is available in two colors, again perfectly imitating something you’d find naturally as crayfish do change color when they ‘molt,’ shedding their tough exoskeleton as they grow.

When fishing in winter, you need to go deeper. This fly has an upward pointing hook, making it less likely to snag on weeds and underwater obstructions.

How to Catch Trout with Crayfish Imitations: I like to fish these hard on the bottom with a sinking line and moved slowly.

Mosquito Fly

Cabela's Mosquito Fly

Ok, so I’ll be honest.

In November, December and January, you aren’t going to see massive hatches of fly life. However, if the sun comes up and the water gets warm enough, you might see some surface action. So it pays to be prepared.

Something small and black works well, and I can think of no better winter fly than a tiny black mosquito pattern, such as this.

Here’s why small might just work…

This winter fly pattern goes all the way down to size 18, making it small and delicate enough to tempt even the wariest of trout. Its small size also makes it easy to cast with pinpoint precision.

In winter, you’ll often find trout tend to hibernate underneath overhang tree branches, waiting for the odd morsel of food to fall straight above them.

Catching Winter Trout with a Dry Fly: fish this on the surface whenever you see fish rising or flies on the water.

BestCity Fly Fishing Booby

Booby fishing is a relatively new phenomenon in trout fishing. While these may look like ‘throw and pull’ lures, they are actually fished in the opposite way.

The best technique is to throw these out on a sinking line and leave them suspended off the bottom. The bushy tails and ‘fritz’ body will impart a little life to the fly in the current.

It looks kinda weird. Why does it work?

It’s something about the foam eyes that does it. The trout will absolutely annihilate these flies in the depths of winter, so make sure you have a firm grasp of your rod.

If you haven’t got a sinking line, these flies alone make it worth it. Check out my essential fly fishing guide to make sure that you are fully kitted out.

How to Fish a Booby: use a short leader and fish on a sinking line. Cast it out and leave it still.

Brass Cone Head Woolly Bugger

Brass Cone Head Woolly Bugger

During December and January, when the cold weather arrives, the water cools. The effect this has is to push the fish further down in the water. As a result, you will need a fly to get down to them, especially if you are only fishing using a floating line.

I’ll tell you why they work.

The brass head ensures a rapid sink to the depths that trout are feeding at.

When it comes to bringing them in, a slow retrieve may work well, and as a result, you’ll want as much life as possible to be imparted into the fly. The soft, pliable hackles along with a mylar threaded maribou tail will give this fly lots of movement.

Aren’t they a bit dark?

Dark natural-looking colors can work very well in the best winter flies for rainbow trout. This lure is available in olive green and black, making it ideal.

How to Fish a Woolly Bugger: in winter, these are best fished on either a floating or sinking line and retrieved slowly with the occasional twitch and pull.

Conehead Rubber Bugger

Conehead Rubber Bugger

Woolie buggers have always been a firm favorite among trout fisherman, so this has a good chance of working well. I really like the body material, it is made of crystal ‘fritz’, which is perfect for getting a bit of glitter and sparkly going, even when fished slowly.

The bead head ensures that it will sink quickly, so you can fish it with slow and gentle pulls to make it rise and fall in the water.

Cloudy water? No problem, here’s why…

If there has been bad winter weather, the water can become heavily colored, so you may need a nice bright fly that the fish can see. This one could be it.

How to Fish Bead Head Lures in Winter: generally, the slower, the better. Give them a few twitches, then let them sink again.

Cabela’s Classic Zebra Midge Flies

Cabela’s 6-Piece Classic Zebra Midge Fly Assortment

Ok, let’s be upfront, fly fishing in winter is hard.

You will have to try to work your way through your fly box to find something that works. Sometimes taking several variations of the same fly can produce results. This midge fly assortment is a proven trout catcher.

Aren’t they a bit tiny?

These flies are designed to replicate the pupal stage of small waterborne flies. They are fished static and are great if you like a methodical approach. They come in a variety of colors, so you’ll be able to experiment until you find a color that works,

These are best fished entirely static under a floating line. The fish will cruise and feed at a set level depending on the water temperature. Find this level, using these flies, and you should have a successful day.

How to fish Midge Lures: fish these under a floating line with a long leader, Retrieve them in a slow figure of eight retrieves. Vary the depth at which you fish them.

Superbe Flies Essential Bead Head Nymph Flies

In winter, food is a little more scarce. By presenting something that a trout might naturally encounter, you present the fish with a not-to-be-missed opportunity. Nymphs are a great way of doing this.

As we’ve seen, the fish tend to be deeper, so by combining the allure of nymph patterns with the practicality of a weighted bead head, you should be able to magic up a trout of two.

This selection box has 24 different nymph variations in a range of sizes and offers great value.

The best bit is that these will work equally well in summer so you should get a lot of use out of them. If you are looking for the best trout flies for summer, I’ve got a separate guide here that is full of more great patterns!

And the best bit?

The assortment comes with a high-quality silicon box, giving you further savings and a storage solution.

How to Fish Nymphs in Winter: nymphs move slowly all year round. Mirror this by using either a floating or sinking line and pull them along slowly.

Cabela’s Prestige Happy Meal Combo

Cabelas Prestige Happy Meal Combo Flies

Who doesn’t love a happy meal?

You might have seen our worm flies and egg flies above. Why not take the opportunity to acquire a few at once? This assortment set is a really cost-effective way to get 8 highly effective winter trout flies.

Within the set, you’ll find worm variations and egg flies. These can all be fished under a floating line and a long leader to get results in the colder months.

The Best Flies for Winter Trout (Buying Guide)

Are you finding it hard to choose the best flies for winter fishing?

I don’t blame you.

There are thousands of patterns out there, and it can be hard to know what to pick. However, I can offer guidance on what you should be thinking about when choosing a really effective winter fly.

Winter fly fishing can be supremely fun and rewarding. I always feel like I’ve achieved something special. Want to see how fun winter fly fishing can be. Check out these guys having a great time (and catching lots of fish too!)

Winter Fly Fishing – Consider the Conditions

When fly fishing in winter, you need to consider the conditions.

As I always say, “if you want to catch the fish, you’ve got to think like the fish”…

So where do trout go in winter? The answer is to deeper and slower moving water. The reason for them seeking out slower water is that they expend far less energy swimming. Kinda handy when there isn’t much food around.

So what’s the answer?

As a result, you will need flies that will fish well in these conditions. Look for flies heavily weighted for subsurface fishing. By being able to get the fly down deeper, you should reach the fish more easily. This is even more relevant if you only fish with a floating line.

The Best Winter Fly Colors

Another thing to consider with regards to winter fly fishing conditions is visibility. Depending on your venue choice, you may find that the water changes color and visibility is reduced.

As a result, you might need to choose brighter flies to penetrate the murk.

Imparting Life in Your Flies

Winter fly fishing is all about presentation. The fish are less inclined to move. As a result, it is going to take something special to motivate them. One way of doing this is to stimulate their interest. You do this by using flies that have a little bit of life in them.

What do I mean?

Anything that moves or creates a little commotion is always a good thing. In my list above, you’ll have seen that most of the flies I picked are designed to be fished slowly. Because of this, they might appear a little lifeless in the water. The way around this is to choose flies that have a tendency to do some of the hard work.

Things such as maribou tails, numerous hackles and ‘legs’ or a body shape that will wriggle even in small currents will tend to do the trick.

catch of a rainbow trout with a fly

What Size Flies to Use When Fly Fishing in Winter?

There is some debate as to what size you need for the best flies for trout in winter. And there are two schools of thought…

Go on…

Well, I personally find that when bites are slow (which happens in winter), using a smaller fly can encourage reluctant fish. The presentation of your fly is better, and the smaller patterns tend to look much more natural. Besides, when was the last time you saw anything grow huge in the winter?

That said…

Food is scarce for trout in winter, and they are trying to save their energy.

Let me ask you a question…

If you were starving and low on energy, would you prefer a small meal or something big and juicy? Some anglers believe that bigger flies are better for winter fly fishing.

Here’s what I think…

Try a range and see what produces the most fish. If you don’t catch too many fish, you want to be sure of netting the ones you do hook, check out my article here on the best landing nets for fly fishing.

fly fisherman fishing in river in winter

Natural Patterns for Winter Fly Fishing

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I like using big bright, and flashy lures. They often catch really aggressive trout that put up a great fight. However, when the winter draws in, you might have to change your tactics.

Here’s why…

Trout are cold-blooded, and as the water cools, as does their metabolism, along with that of all underwater life. You’ll generally find that natural-looking patterns will work well. You can fish these super slowly to imitate the natural behavior of the real thing.

Nymphs, in particular, can be great. At the end of the day, underwater life doesn’t just stop because the water is cold. And there will still be the odd nymph and crayfish drifting slowly along… And a hungry trout ready to take full advantage.

Dry Fly Fishing in Winter

If you’ve checked my list of the best flies for trout above, you’ll have seen that the odd dry fly has made the list. There is a reason for that.

When the weather turns cold, there is less fly life, but hatches still happen. Granted, you aren’t going to get the clouds and swarms of flies like you would in the summer. If you time your visit right, there might be an hour ‘window’ where a small fly hatch takes place.

This is the solution.

If you have a few dry flies in your box, this might give you a great opportunity to land a perfectly presented tasty-looking morsel in the middle of the hatch.

There is nothing more rewarding than hooking a winter trout using a dry fly. You have to work for it, but it makes the whole process really worthwhile.

fly fisherman in river catching brown trout

The Best Flies for Bad Weather

I’m going to be upfront.

Fly fishing in winter weather is hard work. First off, you’ve got the biting cold, and you will be using your hands a lot when fly fishing. I’ve got some really great fishing gloves, so that isn’t a big issue.

However…

The cold aside, the weather can get pretty bad. And believe it or not, this can influence your fly choice.

Casting into wind is really challenging. The best flies for fishing into the wind tend to be smaller and weighted. They are really good at helping punch your line through the wind allowing you to reach the fish.

If you face an oncoming breeze and want to cast long, choose something like the midge fly assortment above. Anything big and bushy is just going to lead to tangles.

Summary

Winter fly fishing can be really rewarding. The scarcity of food can make your fly even more attractive to the trout… Provided you’ve chosen the best winter trout flies.

Hopefully, my guide has given you a few ideas? If you want to try trout fishing using different methods, why not give ice fishing a go? There’s a list of the best ice fishing lures for trout just here.

What is your ‘never fail’ fly pattern for winter fishing? Let me know in the comments below.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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