While most anglers fish for trout in spring, summer, and fall, few take advantage of the high-quality trout fishing found in the cold winter.
Trout still feed through winter, but finding and predicting their feeding habits takes more creativity. With a little extra effort and an understanding of my essential tips, you’ll have plenty of success in during the cold weather for trout.
In this article, I will cover the following:
Tips for Winter Trout Fishing
Look for protection
Slow Down Your Fishing
Pay close attention to the water temperature
Look for deeper water areas
Fully understand hatches
Wait for warm parts of the day
Be accurate with your casts
Best Winter Trout Baits
Rod and Reel Setups for Winter Trout Fishing
Frequently Asked Questions
7 Essential Tips For Winter Trout Fishing
Trout are far more temperamental throughout the cold winter months. Their diets and picky traits are accentuated, so anglers must be at their best once things slow; it’s unlikely that you will get many bites on most days. However, you always have less fishing pressure during these colder temperatures!
Trout Look for Protection
If you study the tendencies of trout throughout spring, summer, and fall, you’ll notice that they’re bold. Their desire to eat is equal to their desire for survival. They know they must eat and fill up on as much food as possible before the weather turns. In the winter, however, protection becomes a high priority. Fish are more concerned about floods, ice, and predators!
Protection For Trout In Rivers During Winter
In a river, protection could look like a pool with a slow-moving current or log jams that stop the water flow and make it more manageable for the fish to hide and preserve energy. You’re in great shape if you can find a combination of the two.
Fish will feed on food that passes directly by them, but they won’t go out of their way to chase anything down if it’s not absolutely necessary. Also, the slow-moving water and cover allow them to sun themselves for periods before they head back to safety.
Other areas in rivers where the fish will hide are cut banks! The groundwater will be colder than the water in the middle of the river. While they don’t get as much sun in these areas, they regularly provide amazing protection and food funnels into them.
Protection For Trout In Lakes During Winter
Log piles or boulder fields are the perfect places for trout to hide in lakes. They can search for food but duck under a rock or log if a predator visits the area. Since most trout lakes will freeze, they must rely on feeding on food under the surface for the entire season.
Slow Down Your Fishing
As mentioned, fish are not eager to work hard for their food in the winter. You’ll have to slow down your presentations and ensure you get your bait, lure, or fly as close to the fish as possible. If you’re able to locate the fish, you can catch them.
Fish often congregate in one or two pools in the winter, making food more scarce. A well-presented worm, lure, or fly will be something that the fish is going to look for.
When fishing for trout in the winter, always retrieve your bait slowly! If you’re too eager and moving your bait at too fast of a pace, the trout won’t give you a chase. Long, slow reels or strips will give you the best chance.
Also, let the bait rise and fall and give the fish a long chance to look at it. If it looks somewhat edible, they’ll eat it! They want food but don’t need it as much since they’re not exerting much energy. The more patient you are, the more success you’ll have.
Pay Close Attention To Water Temperature
If you’re fishing in water under 40 degrees, you’ll find that the fish will barely feed. Right at that freezing point, the fish slow down and move as little as possible. They’ll take the easiest meals they can find. However, if you find the water temperatures above 40 degrees, you can guarantee that the fish will be far more eager to feed!
Deeper water is better in the winter. The air temperature dramatically affects the shallow water, so a bit deeper water will be warmer. Generally, water over three feet deep will be plenty for winter trout fishing. If you’re fishing a stream or river, water over three feet will likely move slower, so fish will congregate in these areas.
Trout find slower, deeper water in the winter months is warmer and more comfortable. All the food in the water will move to the warm water, so the trout will be happier and looking to eat. Keep the same strategy of fishing slow, and you’ll have plenty of success.
Understand The Hatches And Food Where You’re Fishing
Searching patterns aren’t as effective in winter as in warmer months. Trout won’t be as curious or willing to try different things in the cold months. They want what they know is consistently hatching. As a result, you need to understand the insect life in the rivers or lakes you’re fishing during this period. You will have far more success by matching the hatches that occur.
Whether it’s a fly, minnow, or some other prey variation, it’s important to use things regularly in the trout’s winter feeding habits! Many anglers think they can get away with using anything and usually fail to catch fish.
Wait For Warmer Parts Of The Day
Unlike the summer months, where you have to be up before sunset to get to the water before the first hatch, the winter months allow anglers to get their sleep. The fish aren’t eager to start feeding until the sun rises and the surface water temperatures warm. Also, trout will be waiting for hatches to start, which won’t begin until the warmest parts of the day.
Mid-morning through the early afternoon are the best times of day to fish for trout in the winter. You usually have only a few hours window each day where the fish are going to feed unless it’s a particularly cold day. A sunny winter day is usually a good recipe for success. As long as you can dress for the occasion, you’ll do well.
Be Accurate With Your Casts
As mentioned earlier, trout aren’t overly active in the winter. You’ll have to land your bait in the perfect locations to get them to eat. Try to learn all the techniques to fly cast accurately, which will make catching trout much easier.
It doesn’t matter if you’re dead drifting a fly past their faces or casting a lure in a lake; you want to get as close to where the fish are congregated. They’ll eat if the bait is a few inches from their faces! If not, you’ll find that trout are incredibly lazy and won’t see your bait as worth the effort.
Best Winter Trout Baits
A few baits will work on those especially cold days, whether you’re spin fishing or fly fishing. Consider the type of water and area of the world you’re fishing, but these few baits should help you succeed!
Winter Trout Flies
Winter fly fishing is a blast! You have to switch up your traditional aggressive methods for more of a finesse style, but it’s always a good challenge. I advise scaling down your hook sizes and trout lines during the winter, which can make a big difference in catching or not catching those picky trout during winter.
Woolly Bugger- Size 8
The Woolly Bugger is the perfect dead drifting fly. You can also have some success swinging them in the winter, but a dead drifted bugger through a deep pool is enough to entice the fish into eating. Both black and olive are the perfect colors for buggers in the winter. I’d also recommend using the bead-head version!
Zebra Midge- Size 18
Midge hatches occur year-round, regardless of the weather. Bounce a Zebra Midge through riffles, a seam, or a deep pool. It’s best to fish these with an indicator to see whether or not you’re getting a bite! The fish are more sensitive with their strikes on baits during the cold months.
Never underestimate the power of a worm in the winter. The squirmy wormy has a lot of action and freely flows down the current. You’ll find that they’re the most natural-looking flies as they move downstream. You can fish this in a nymph rig or with an indicator.
Check out my in-depth review article on the best trout flies, which covers dries, nymphs, and streamers.
Best Natural Winter Baits For Trout
Natural baits are favorites for trout all year long. Make sure you look at your local rules and regulations before using any.
If you’re ice fishing, wax worms are the perfect option for trout. Let these down near the bottom and fish them attached to a jig. The jigging motion is enough to release the scent of a wax worm into the water!
If you want larger trout, minnows should be the bait that you’re using. Minnows are easy to fish with! You can use a bobber or jig or let them free-flow in the water column. Using natural baits for trout is one of the most productive options during winter.
Best Winter Lures For Trout
Shiny lures which resemble flies will work well in the winter and all year round if they’re appropriately fished!
Spoons are classic trout bait that continues to work in the cold months. Make your casts to the fishy areas and retrieve them slowly. Do a few turns of the reel, then let the bait rest and repeat the process. It’s an easy process and doesn’t take much work.
Mepps Spinners are the perfect option for winter. Since many streams and rivers get dirty in the winter due to the snow, spinners move water and get the attention of trout that may be hungry.
Rod and Reel Setups
Your rod and reel setup for winter trout doesn’t have to be large. Again, you’re doing more finesse fishing, so ensure you have a good feel for your setup.
Fly Rod And Reel
For your fly rod and reel setup, you need a 4-weight or 5-weight 8’6” rod. These rods aren’t overly large, but they can make longer casts and keep your flies in the proper position. The 8’6” rod is more than capable of laying down your flies softly and making all the mends that you need to keep your fly in place. Make sure you use a matching reel with a 4-weight fly line.
A 3x or 4x leader with a 5x or 6x tippet perfectly matches this lighter winter rod and reel choice!
Spinning Rod and Reel
You only need a 6’ or 7’ light action rod for your spinning rod setup. This will be enough to get your lure or bait out into the water and detect any bites you get. A matching reel with a 4-pound monofilament test, with a size 14 or 16 hooks, will do the trick.
Ice Fishing Setup
A 30 to 36-inch length ice fishing rod with medium action should be good for trout. A small capacity spinning reel with a 4 to 6-pound test will help you find the majority of trout you find. If you’re going ice fishing for lake trout, you want a 40 to 48-inch length heavy action rod with a high capacity reel and 8 to 12-pound test.
Winter Trout – Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Bait For Trout In The Winter?
In the winter, you can’t go wrong with minnows, worms, and small midge patterns. For trout, natural baits are the first choice to use during the winter months.
When Is It Too Cold For Trout Fishing?
Air temperatures under 40 degrees don’t make a massive difference for winter trout fishing! However, If the water temperatures go below 40 degrees, you can assume that the feeding slows significantly!
What Color Baits Do Trout Like In Winter?
In the winter, trout don’t need anything flashy to attract them. Stick with browns, olives, and black colors to entice the fish. Natural colors will always work the best.
Winter fishing for trout is something that every angler should try. It’s a great chance to learn more about them and their feeding habits. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the usual pressure that trout get in the warmer months! They’re willing to eat, but it will take patience and persistence!
Thanks for reading my article; I hope it gave you some great tips on catching those picky winter trout. Check out my in-depth article on cold-weather alpine trout fishing for more information on fishing at high elevations.
Steve is a seasoned angler whose lifelong passion for fishing has not only shaped his personal life but also laid the foundation for Positive Fishing—a community where he and his team of dedicated fishing enthusiasts share their love for the sport. With an impressive repertoire of skills honed over five decades, Steve has mastered both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Steve holds a special place in his heart for the mighty Carp and the elusive Tench