Native, holdover trout can still be fished in winter

Sentinel photo by JOHN KNOUSE
Winter is still a good season for trout fishing.

As an outdoors enthusiast, specifically hunting and fishing, there was for many years, a gap in my life. The time between deer season, opening trout season, and spring turkey season seemed to last tor an eternity. That was, until I started winter fishing for native trout and holdovers from the previous stocking season.

Fly fishing, specifically “nymphing,” for trout can be incredibly fun, and a great way to pass the time. As I spent some time thinking about how to best share some information about this pastime and how to make it useful for both new anglers and those who are seasoned, I decided to reach out to an avid, some may even say pro-angler, and friend Michael Richardson for some tips.

Born and raised in southwestern Pennsylvania, I know no one that logs nearly as many hours on trout waters in the winter time as Mike. He spends countless hours not only fishing, but tying his own flies and figuring out what works best and puts the most trout on the other end of his line. So I asked Mike a for advice about fall/winter trout fishing to gain some valuable insight.

“I mainly fish in the winter,” he said. “Fall is my hunting time and also the time the wild trout are spawning. I don’t want to disturb native brookies or wild browns in the fall.

“I must add that in the winter one must be careful when wading inside the stream. I stick to the banks and stay out of gravel areas where the trout reds (baby trout) may be.”

Whether attacking natives or fishing for stocked holdovers, he says to be prepared.

“It all depends on the water I am fishing mainly. I am mostly a nymph fisherman but will throw small streamers a lot for native brookies,” he said. “I always have a few different weighted eyes or beads on the streamers. Some of these streams are really fast so you need to get the fly down fast. You may only have a pool that is three feet long so you need to be where the fish are to catch them.

“For holdovers and stockies I pretty much use the same eight nymphs.”

He recommends a tandem rig, one 2.8mm fly on top and a 3.8mm fly on the bottom.

“You have to be deep to really pick up sluggish fish in the winter,” he said.

He said he doesn’t stalk the trout.

“I never really spot and stalk a trout. Seems like more of a dry fly fisherman’s game,” he said. “In my game, fishing for wild trout, if they see me the gig is up. Often I’m on my knees or crouched low to ensure they can’t see me.

“As far as fishing blind it’s all about reading the water. Your standard runs may not be as productive in the winter. Trout are trying to maintain the reserves they built up and often will be in slower runs and edges more so than in fast moving riffles. So I will skip a bit of the faster moving water that I would usually target in the spring or summer.”

He said to dissect he stream into 12- to 18-inch sections and drift each. Start closer then move out to avoid spooking a fish that may be close before you drift flies past him.

And, he said, there’s really only one successful method of chasing trout in the winter — or any other time.

“Nymphing, in my opinion, is the most effective way to catch trout no matter what time of year it is. The biggest issue I see is that guys don’t fish deep enough. A lot of these guys are too afraid to lose flies,” he said. “The point becomes, ‘Are we out here fishing to watch our line drift and save flies, or are we out here to catch fish?’

“I feel I kind of go against the grain with my winter nymphing. A lot of guys go smaller but I go bigger. My typical set up is a size 16-12 nymph with a size 10-6 anchor nymph tied off of it directly to the bend. The anchor fly will be heavy. I like to feel constant contact and keep everything in line. I don’t use the standard dropper type set up or tie off of the tag because there is potential for there to be slack.

“Winter fish are typically super light takes. I want to be instantly connected to the fish.”

If you try your hand at some winter fly fishing this year, take Mike’s advice — I know I would.