I’ve written extensively about winter fly fishing lately. In a fit of what can only be poetic irony, there’s almost no snow on the peaks of the Rockies around my home here in Utah. It’s a miracle our ski resorts are open, and just the other day I fished the Provo River in a short-sleeved shirt – in January.
Thankfully, other states have winter this year. Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are sporting snow, as is part of Colorado. Aside from the snow, these states all have one thing in common: They’re home to some of the best winter fisheries in the country.
If thin crowds, clear water, skittish trout and crisp mountain air are attributes of a perfect day of fishing, then you need to pay these four winter fly fishing destinations a visit.
The Pan holds a special place in my heart. To date, the largest trout I’ve caught on a fly rod came from that river (a 27-inch, 7.5lb rainbow). I caught that fish in February.
It’s a unique fishery that requires patience and the dedication to fish small flies. That big fish I caught on my first trip to the Pan? It ate a size 20 mysis shrimp.
If you’re headed out there this winter, I’d highly suggest Euro nymphing the Pan. The fish hold at the bottom of the river’s deep, slow pools. Euro rigs are highly effective at pulling fish from that type of water.
A dry-dropper dropper rig will work great, too, with an Adams, scud and mysis shrimp combination being my best recommendation. Stormy weather – or even an overcast day – means streamers are worth chucking.
The Green is my favorite river in the country.
Well, my favorite river that I’ll willingly write about.
It’s also an incredible winter fishery. A few years back, I floated down the first seven miles below Flaming Gorge Dam to the Little Hole boat ramp in -2 degree weather. Sure, we had to dip our rods in the water every other cast to get rid of the ice, but the streamer fishing was the kind of good you can only dream of.
Between now and the end of March – the usual length of the winter season on the Green – streamers are your best bet for nabbing both big fish and a lot of fish. Floating is my favorite way to fish streamers on the Green, but throwing from the bank works as well.
You can buy all the fishing supplies you need in Dutch John, Utah.
My parents live in Southern Utah, about 2.5 hours from Lee’s Ferry. I only just fished it for the first time this past Christmas, and I wish I would’ve visited sooner
It’s the sort of place that’s more about the destination than the fishing. Small rainbow trout – the biggest I caught in a day of fishing topped out at a whopping 11 inches – are the fare, but fishing in the Colorado River as the gorge that becomes the Grand Canyon opens before your eyes is an awe-inspiring view.
Before heading there, buy your license online. The town of Marble Canyon is closest to the river, but low on fishing supplies. Page – north by about 45 minutes – has everything you’ll need for gear, lodging, and food.
Flies at Lee’s Ferry are thankfully always simple. Zebra midges and scuds will catch fish no matter what; you just have to switch up colors, depth you’re fishing, and stick it out if the bite is slow. Sizes 18 to 22 work great. A #14 Adams is a good indicator dry fly, but anything big enough to float bugs in fast, big water will work very well.
Casper, Wyoming is a great little town, and it’s the gateway to the Grey Reef and Miracle Mile sections of the North Platte River.
I’ve never fished this river, but I’d be remiss to leave it off this list. Access is tricky in the winter months, but the fishing makes up for it. The river’s giant rainbow trout come out to play, and the browns are well worth the effort.
You’ll have the place to yourself, but you’ll pay for it with cold weather and that never-ending Wyoming wind.
I’d recommend streamers, or throwing big egg patterns followed by a San Juan worm, pheasant tail or hare’s ear.
Winter fishing is usually more trouble than some might think it’s worth, but then again, fly fishing is more work than most recreational endeavors. Yet we keep on with it. These four winter fisheries are great places to spend a cold day working harder than you should have to in order to fool an animal with a brain the size of a walnut.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other various national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.