Winter is by far our favorite time of year to throw streamers on the hunt for trout. This time of year, big fish are looking for easy, protein-packed meals, especially in the form of a struggling baitfish in the current. Whether you are throwing 6-inch streamers on your 8 WT, or just classic wooly buggers, below you will find our best advice to help you strip-set into your biggest trout of the year!
Get the Fly Down to Their Level
In the winter, trout tend to sit deeper in the water column, holding in the warmer flowing water far from the much colder surface temperatures. Trout are lethargic in the wintertime, as their metabolism slows down with the dropping water temperatures. This makes them far less willing to move out of their feeding zones to eat. So, as you fish your streamers, allow them time to sink before beginning your retrieve. You can accomplish this by a few means, either utilize a sink-tip leader, tie your flies with weight, or cast your rig upstream of where you suspect your fish is holding and allow it ample time to sink.
Low and Slow
During the winter, trout tend to be lethargic animals, as the cold water slows their metabolism. But, this doesn’t mean that they stop eating, just that they will tend to be less willing to move for a meal. Enter the “Low-and-Slow” streamer retrieve. By slowly moving your fly across the bottom of the water column, and even stopping it at times, it allows the slower moving fish to take notice of your fly and decide to come have a taste. Just be ready, you’ll be surprised how many fish eat the fly during the pause in the retrieve.
Focus on Structure & Soft Seams
During the winter, trout generally hold in all the usual places, but they often, they won’t feed in those zones. During this time of year, trout are looking to conserve as much energy as possible, and prefer to hold around structure and along soft seams where they will have to work less to find food floating by in the current. Focus on these 2 areas during the colder months and it will pay dividends!
Once you have fished the 2 zones mentioned above, its time to start covering as much water as you can. Typically I like to nymph my way up a section and then wade back downstream casting a streamer. “Cast, step, repeat,” is my mantra when I’m blind casting with a streamer. Slowly picking apart the water will help you leave there confident that you presented your fly to just about every fish in that creek, and hopefully found a few aggressive, hungry trout along the way.
Don’t Forget to Strip Set
One of the most common ways I’ve seen anglers lose a fish while fishing streamers is blowing the hook set. As opposed to a normal “trout-set,” where you lift the rod tip up when a fish takes your fly, you’re going to want to utilize a “strip-set.” To make a strip-set, all you have to do is keep stripping the fly in with the rod low, pointed towards the fly, until you feel the weight of the fish throbbing at the end of your leader. A strip-set ensures that you pull the fly horizontally through the trout’s mouth and buries the hook in the corner of the mouth.
Dan Zazworsky’s passion is sharing his love of fly fishing with anyone that will listen, read or watch. You can find him exploring new waters every day while chasing any fish that will eat a fly!