Winter Trout Fishing in the Rockies Part I

Winter Trout Fishing in the Rockies Part I

Winter Fly Fishing: Strategies & Tactics

I know a lot of anglers who steer clear of fly fishing in the winter – concentrating on more mainstream sports like skiing, snowboarding or even ice fishing.  If you pick your days right on the right rivers, winter fishing can be super productive and a break in the winter doldrums.


riversmith 4-Banger River Quiver mounted on 4Runner in the snow


I’m going to start with clothing because on a cold winter’s day, you need to be able to withstand what mother nature is going to hand you.  If you’re not prepared or freezing cold, you’re not going to last on the river – and if you’re not on the river, you’re not catching fish. 

There is also a safety component, winters in the Rocky Mountain West can be extremely unforgiving, especially if you end up wet and a good distance from your transportation.


woman fly fishing in the winter


One great place to get started is your local fly shop.  I stopped over to our friends at Front Range Anglers here in Boulder to pick their brains on all things winter fly fishing.

"Many anglers place an unnecessary, self imposed 'season' with their fly fishing adventures," said Steve Korby of Front Range Anglers. "Yes, our winter months can present some rough weather days, but Colorado’s fishing season never closes and the trout eat throughout the winter months."  

If you’re just getting started winter fly fishing here in Colorado the days on the water are going to be shorter, snow and wind will make things more difficult.  For an additional challenge, many sections of the river that you would normally fish in the spring, summer or fall months will be inaccessible. 

“Winter fishing can be productive and enjoyable, as long as you are prepared for the conditions," continued Korby. "From a gear and clothing perspective, there are a few items you shouldn’t leave home without if you are going to be fishing the variable conditions of December, January, and February.”


winter fly fishing on snowy river

Photo: @will_rize

Still interested?  Keep reading. 

RIversmith Ambassador Mike Pagoda in Montana

Riversmith Ambassador Mike Pogoda somewhere in Montana


Here are a few of Korby's winter fly fishing gear recommendations:


1)  Waders, Hat & Gloves - The Simms G3 and G4Z Gore-tex waders provide tremendous comfort in the most challenging weather conditions.  Do not underestimate the importance of quality of windproof gloves and headwear.  

2)  GORE-TEX Jacket and other appropriate layers to take on or off depending on the conditions - GORE-TEX rainwear can be a game changer in tough winter conditions.  The Simms G3 guide jacket will get you through nearly any winter adventure.  Patagonia’s bulletproof Swiftcurrent waterproof breathable rain jacket will also keep you warm and happy fighting the tough winter conditions.

3)  Sturdy Wading Boots - It can be tough to navigate both the river and trail in winter.  Rugged boots with the option to cleat or stud are crucial for your safety and enjoyment.  A personal favorite is the Simms Flyweight boot.
4)  Polarized Sunglasses - Winter glare can be a frustrating reality while on the river.  Polarized sunglasses are a basic requirement for both your enjoyment and angling success.  Smith’s Guide’s Choice are a staff favorite. Bajio glasses also provide a wide array of frames and lenses perfectly suited for winter conditions.  

5)  A 5 wt rod and reel - You can’t beat a versatile premium 9ft 5 wt rod to take advantage of nearly any winter opportunity. Our favorites include the incredible Sage R8 Core,  the Colorado made Scott Centric and the Winston Air 2.

Layering Is Key

It goes without saying that waders are a must – think GORE-TEX and bombproof.  If you know you have small leaks or pinholes, now is the time to get them fixed, self-repaired or replaced.  You might have been able to withstand that slow leak in your left foot in August… but not so much in the cold grip of February.  


loading a River Quiver in the snow wearing layers

Using a layering system is intended to keep you dry


Underneath the GORE-TEX exterior, think about a layering system that makes sense for changing conditions.  Fast wicking base layers are key both for your legs and upper body.  I personally try to stay clear of anything made of cotton in the winter.  You’ll also want to make sure you have a pair of gloves and a winter hat.  Don’t forget your polarized sunglasses because you often will find great sight fishing opportunities in the winter.  I always make sure to have a full change of clothes back in the vehicle in the off chance that I do end up taking a swim and soaking my waders.  The distance between your vehicle and where you are fishing should be considered from a worst-case-scenario situation, especially if you are fishing on your own.


Part II is available now... CLICK HERE.


  • FlyFish970

    My RIVERSMITH rod quiver is most valuable in the winter. Living high in the Colorado Rockies, in the winter I rig my rods in my kitchen each day before starting out. Then I load them in my rod quiver. I get dressed in the garage; layers of clothes, waders, and boots. When I get to the river I simply jump out and go fishing. At the end of the day, I reverse the process. This system is much quicker and warmer than driving to the river and gearing up.

  • Alan Jerome McDonald

    The information you provided is crucial to having a great day on the water. I had the opportunity to flyfish in august at Edwards
    Colorado. As I was navigating the water I slipped on some of those slippery rocks. And luckily it was august because I did get wet. The novice fisherman should heed your warning and information because it is vital and can make a difference in your day.
    If this had happened during the winter I would have been in trouble. I am from Houston and I look forward to coming back to Colorado again for more of that incredible scenery and great fishing.

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