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Tips for Winter Tailwater Fly Fishing

Fall has given way to winter and for the next few months our fishing will be focused on tailwaters, those stretches of rivers below dams that offer fairly consistent, year-round fishing. The winter season on our favorite tailwaters offers us the chance to catch quality trout in a beautiful setting.

On the other hand, winter fly fishing on these waters can be challenging and technical. For newer anglers, this can be intimidating. But it has been said many times – especially about our home stretch of the South Platte – that if you can catch fish here, you can catch fish anywhere. There may be no better place to sharpen your trout fishing skills.


Even for new anglers, winter trout fishing on these challenging waters is absolutely within reach. Anglers All media manager, Davis James, put it this way: “The entomology and fly selection is actually very simple,” Davis recently said. “It’s just a matter of being prepared.”

And that’s exactly right. With the right tools and some persistence, anyone can enjoy year-round tailwater fishing. Keep in mind that we all have good days and tough days. These tailwaters can be demanding instructors. But we always learn, and that’s part of the fun.

As you make the transition to winter tailwater fishing this year, here are a few tips to remember:

Begin With the Right Tackle

Unless you are lucky enough to stumble on rising trout in the winter months, nymphing is going to be your most effective strategy. This mean it’s time to ditch the nylon tippet. This time of year, fishing 5x-7x fluorocarbon leaders and tippet is the norm. Fluorocarbon is a more dense material than nylon, meaning it has a smaller diameter at any given break strength. What’s more, the light refractive nature of fluorocarbon makes it much less visible in water. These properties make it ideal for fishing to picky tailwater trout. Flourocarbon is also stiffer than nylon, making it more sensitive when trying to detect subtle strikes.

“In addition to stocking up on fluorocarbon tippet, all of your terminal tackle will need to be downsized,” Davis added. “When fishing to picky trout in ultra clear water, you’ll need smaller flies, smaller strike indicators and smaller weights.”


Need help? Don’t hesitate to ask! Stop by the fly shop in Littleton or call us at 303-794-1104. Take advantage of our custom fly selections – we will hand pick a dozen flies for the water and the time of year you’ll be fishing. As another great resource, follow us on Instagram, @anglersall, and keep an eye on our FlyCast Friday posts, where we’ll offer tips for the weekend, including great intel from our friends at FlyCast.

In addition to the typical small nymphs that we fish this time of year, Anglers All eCommerce manager, Blake Katchur, reminded us not to neglect the opportunity to catch fish on the surface. “Bring some very small dry flies,” Blake said. “Even this time of year, all of a sudden you might get a BWO hatch you didn't expect. Having a few size 20-24 Parachute Adams is never a bad idea.”

Try These Rigging Tips

When it comes to rigging for winter tailwater fishing, the first step is to master the basic nymph rig. For a quick tutorial, go check out this video as Ben Baxter explains.

Ready to take it a step further? Our own Larkin Wilson says that he’s had great success using a nonslip loop knot rather than a clinch knot when tying on flies.


“Tying on flies using a nonslip loop knot has been extremely helpful for me,” Larkin noted. “When tied directly to the eye of the hook using a clinch knot, especially with the stiffer fluorocarbon material, the movement of the fly is limited. Tying that loop knot allows the fly to drift with a much more natural movement in the water. This is great for those picky tailwater fish.”

For a quick tutorial on the nonslip loop knot, take a look here as once again, Ben Baxter shows us how it’s done.

Next, when fishing in cold winter weather, take some time to rig up before you leave home. The more knots you can tie where it’s warm, the less fumbling you’ll have to do out there on the water with cold fingers. To that end, check out the Loon Outdoors Rigging Foam. These little accessories are handy for pre-tying your nymph rigs. Similarly, take a look at the Tandem Fly Co. Dropper Rig Box. Either of these will save you some time – and numb fingers!

Stay Warm on the Water

Speaking of staying warm…you can have all the right flies and tackle. But if you can’t stay warm, you won’t last out there on the water. Being comfortable in winter conditions is the difference between having fun and being miserable out there.

Don’t get out there without a warm hat and some good gloves. In fact, Davis even recommends bringing two pairs of gloves – stash one in the pocket of your waders in case the other gets wet.

We have men’s hats and women’s hats to keep your head toasty. And check out our selection of socks and gloves for both men and women.


It probably goes without saying, but pack quality layers and be prepared for a wide range of conditions. For a quick refresher on layering for cold-weather fly fishing, check out our previous article here.

Ask Questions

Winter tailwater fishing can be challenging. But it’s absolutely worth the effort. A beautiful blue-sky Colorado day in the winter is something every angler should get to experience! If you’re not sure about something, please ask. We’re here to help.

Take advantage of our free shipping or curbside pickup on all online or phone orders – if you place an order by 3pm, we will have it ready for curbside pick up that same day! Or come visit us in the shop, ask some questions, and get ready for a memorable day of winter tailwater fishing!