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Category: Fly Fishing Colorado

Tailwaters in the Winter: The Approach and Where to Begin

Over the past few weeks, the Anglers All crew has been fishing some of our favorite Colorado tailwaters. Tactics have definitely shifted from fall to winter fly fishing. So we asked around the fly shop for the team’s best tips on how to approach tailwaters in the winter and where to begin. Here’s what they had to say… 

Jeff: Have Two Fly Rods Rigged and Ready

“I’ll often start by rigging up two fly rods at the truck,” Jeff told us. “That way, if there’s an opportunity to fish dries, I can just switch rods quickly without having to entirely re-rig. I’d say that my go-to confidence rig on tailwaters is a heavy leech pattern and a zebra midge. That’s true especially in the wintertime but really any time of year. As I approach the water, I’ll be focusing on those slower, deeper pockets.”

Rachel: Maximize Your Time on the Water When It’s Cold

“Ideally, I like to rig up before I head out, especially when it’s cold,” Rachel advised. “Anything I can do to save time tying on a rig in the cold, means more time I can spend fishing”.

“I like to start my rig with something like a small Pheasant Tail,” she added. “That’s a great confidence fly that’s effective in nearly any water, any time of year. Then I like to follow that with a fly in either red or purple. Those two colors really seem to do well in the winter. From there, I will progressively work my way down to smaller flies if I’m not getting any eats.

“Generally, I like to pause and look around before I start fishing,” Rachel said. “This time of year, I’m looking for water that’s slower than walking pace. That’s usually a good rule of thumb, to focus in on water that’s deep and slow where fish are concentrated in the winter.”

Rachel also emphasized the importance of changing depth and making frequent adjustments to both your weight and indicator. 

“Especially when it’s cold and you have a limited time to spend outside, there’s no point in doing the exact same drift five times in a row with no results,” she said. I find it effective to make consistent adjustments to my rig. 

“I’ll be fishing fluorocarbon leader and tippet all winter,” Rachel concluded. “I’ll usually start with 5x and then go down from there if needed. I approach tippet just like fly sizes, see what you can get away with first and then work your way down if needed.”

Ben: Start With Your Confidence Flies First

“This time of year, I’m definitely focusing on those deep, slow runs, and anywhere on the back side of a shelf,” Ben said. “I was just fishing one of our Front Range tailwaters last weekend and I started by tying on a scud and a midge. That’s usually where I’ll begin. Of course if I see baetis fly around, or if there’s another prominent hatch, I’ll go that direction. But otherwise, a scud and a midge is my confidence rig, even in the summer. I’ll fish scuds in any color. And I’ll usually gravitate toward midges that are muted in color and not very flashy.

“Anytime I’m fishing tailwaters, making adjustments to weight and depth is important,” Ben added. “For that reason, I really like using a Tungsten Putty. To start, I’ll usually throw on a small split shot like a #4. From there, I’ll add that putty as I need to make depth adjustments to get down a little faster into those deeper runs where the fish are.”

Drew: Try Fishing a Streamer

“When I’m fishing tailwaters, I like to go down to the water and take a peek, to see if there are any tricos or other bugs coming off,” Drew began. “I also try and locate some fish before I make a cast, usually in that slower water. If there’s no obvious hatch coming off, I'll usually start with a confidence attractor like a scud or an egg and then follow that with one of my smaller confidence flies below that, usually something like an RS2. In the winter I’ll frequently use a yarn strike indicator to detect those light bites.

“A lot of times however, I'll start with a streamer to feel things out,” Drew added. “Often times I’ll start with a smaller streamer like a Slumpbuster. But I’ve also had success turning up a few fish with even larger streamers like sculpins. All through the winter or really anytime, a streamer can be a great option.”

Let Us Know if You Have Questions

Have questions about fishing your local tailwaters this winter? We’d be happy to help. Please visit us here at the fly shop in Littleton. Or, you can give us a call at 303-794-1104. We hope you can enjoy getting out and fishing this holiday season!