Winter Flyfishing in Grand County

March 23, 2021

Written by & photo courtesy of Winter Park Flyfisher Guide, Riley Strickland

Are you planning on skiing or snowboarding at Winter Park Resort this winter? If you are, then you should consider packing along the fly rod with the boards and skis. Did you know you can fly fish year round in Grand County? As a matter of fact, my favorite kind of day is hooking up on a few fish in the a.m. and then hitting some tree runs on the Jane side in the afternoon. All in one day! If you haven’t fished in the winter, then you definitely need to give it a try. It’s a completely different realm of fly fishing. Most of our rivers and lakes freeze over come the start of ski season but Grand County offers a few blue ribbon tail waters that are fishable year round, and my favorite time to fish those tailwaters is in the winter. There’s nothing better than fishing with such solitude and beauty. No one in sight, except you and the quiet snow, and occasional deer or bird. 

The tailwaters of the Williams Fork, Wolford, and Willow Creek reservoirs offer some pristine winter fishing. Although, the winter puts a halt on bug activity and the hatches, it does not put a halt on trouts’ feeding. The cold weather will, however, slow down a trouts metabolism, which means they become a lot lazier (nostalgic), and will not move for a fly as willingly as they will in the warmer spring and summer months. This does not slow down the fishing though, because all of the trout in these specific bodies of water all conglomerate into the deeper, slower pools. This means it’s easier to spot where the fish are feeding, and your success rate of pulling out multiple fish, and bigger fish, is multiplied. Those nocturnal pigs have now begun to feed during the warmest part of the day, usually between 10am to 2pm.

Flies to concentrate on this time of year are primarily midges in sizes 18-24 and stoneflies in sizes 10-14. Nymphing deep, long, slow runs with heavy split shot can produce some good numbers of fish as they are all feeding on the bottom. If you’re not catching fish, then you most likely need to check the depth of your indicator or add weight before you change flies. My favorite rig is a 9 foot 4x or 5x leader with a Pat’s Rubber Leg as my attractor, followed by a midge pattern 1 foot off of the hook bend of my attractor. My favorite flies to use are a coffee and black Pat’s Rubber Leg, Cravens juju midge in red, or blue, and Dorsey’s mercury midge. You can also have good success on Egan’s rainbow warriors and egg patterns. Small baitfish or trout streamers can also be extremely effective in the winter months. Just remember to slow down your stripping retrieve to give the lazy trout a shot at eating it.

There is something eerie, yet special when fishing mid-winter. It’s just so quiet and peaceful. You usually have the river to yourself and the wildlife come alive. It’s usually so quiet, that you feel like you’re in a dream. Now, of course there are some negatives as well, like getting cold (feet numb and fingers frozen) and having to brake ice off of your eyelets every other cast but it’s 100 percent worth every minute of it. It’s not always freezing though, and we actually get quite a few days of sunshine in the winter. After all, Colorado on average get 300 blue sky days a year.

A few tips when going out on the river in the winter is to prepare ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than driving out to the river after a huge snow storm and forgetting the snow shoes at the house. I usually keep a pair of snowshoes in the car at all times just in case. I also always bring two pairs of gloves just in case I soak one pair. Hand warmers and extra layers are a must. When you hook a fish, try to fight it to the net quickly to avoid stressing the fish and when handling the fish, please do not take the fish out of the water. Their lungs can freeze over in seconds destroying their respiratory system. Also, leave the felt-soled boots at home. You may get good grip on the rocks submerged under water but good luck gaining traction on the snow. My best advice is to bring a flask of your favorite spirits, just for moral support, or to celebrate after releasing a good fish.

There’s just no better feeling than getting out of the house and landing a 16” brown on a snow covered bank while a couple mule deer stair you down. It’s hard to fully describe the pleasure in it, so all I can say is get out here during the winter to experience it for yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Anyway, if you’re coming to ski Winter Park this season, or just looking for a great place to fish this winter, then consider packing the fly rod and heading to Grand County to net some trout. You’ll be glad you did.

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Winter Park Flyfisher