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Winter Hatches in the Western US with Fly Links

  • November 22, 2022 8:40 AM
    Message # 12998667
    Rob Farris (Administrator)

    Courtesy of Andrew Perrault at

    BigY Fly Co.

    Winter Hatches in the Western US

    The days are getting short, the mornings are getting crisp and the leaves have fallen from the maples, oak and aspen.  We are entering w...

    The days are getting short, the mornings are getting crisp and the leaves have fallen from the maples, oak and aspen.  We are entering winter trout season.  Here is what to look for in our Western US rivers as far as hatches go.

    Blue Wing Olives

    Mighty Baetis
    Blue Wing Olives, or BWOs are the hatch that anglers look for all winter long.  There are over 150 different species that we lump together and call a Baetis, a good chunk of those are labeled Blue Wing Olives.  Cloudy, rainy days can bring out these little tasty treats any time from October through April (or year round in some places).  They are often found in soft water, back eddies and big pools.  They don't live in the riffles as much as summer mayflies do.  Look for foam to pile up along the side of the river.  That is a good indication of a hatch.

    Barr's BWO Emerger
    Barr's BWO Emerger - Beadhead
    Baetis Cripple - A Staff Favorite
    Mighty Baetis
    Split Case Emerger - BWO
    RS2 Nymph
    WD-40 Beadhead

    Baetis Cripple
    Klinkhammer BWO
    Parachute BWO

    The problem is that Blue Wings often do not hatch on those stable, sunny days that we like to fish.  They hatch on those days where most of us would rather be home staying warm with a pot of soup.  Even worse is that they often only hatch for an hour or less.  It can be quite miserable to fish in crappy weather all day just to have a couple of quick shots at slurping fish when your hands are numb and you can feel every pinhole leak in your waders.  Then you get your shot or two, the fish disappear and the hatch is done.

    Gray Matter - killer midge nymph
    So we have to focus on a couple of other hatches if we want decent fishing the rest of the time.


    Midges hatch all year long, but that includes the winter, on days where there are no Blue Wings.  Midges include a whole bunch of species of really small, winged flies from various families.  The most well known midges are NoSeeUms, or Sand Flies in New Zealand.

    Zebra Midge - A Classic
    I have rarely (but not never) seen midge hatches thick enough to bring all of the big trout up to eat dries, but I have had some really killer days nymphing little midge pattern.  Midges nymphs are the key to a productive winter nymph box.  There are dozens of good patterns, but here are our favorite:

    Zebra Midge - Beadhead 

    (We prefer this Tungsten BH Zebra Midge  Curved Hook, Silver Bead)
    Laser Midge
    Gray Matter - Beadhead
    Disco Midge

    Griffiths Gnat - Easy and Effective
    Juju Bee Midge

    Dries: (Not saying that you won't need these, but the nymphs are typically more important)
    Griffiths Gnat
    Parachute Midge
    Sprout Midge Emerger
    Spent Midge


    The Skwala hatch happens in most Western rivers in the early spring.  It can be February or into April depending on location and weather, but March is usually a solid month for Skwalas in the West.

    Fishing Skwalas can be maddening.  Fish are often really spooky considering how big the bugs are.  The fish will be in that slow, calm water where it is hard to present a big fly.  Plus the bugs hatch right as it gets dark, so the bulk of the activity is in low light.  The fish will eat a dry during the middle of the day, but the action is not the same as Salmonfly hatch later in the spring.  The bonus is that the big trout come out of hiding for these bugs.

    Micro Stone - works all year
    There are a few little stoneflies that hatch during the winter, and we are going to lump them all together here.  Fishing a small stonefly nymph from January onward is a great idea.  The dry fly fishing can be spotty and difficult, but trout are usually more than willing to eat a stonefly nymph when its cold out.

    It is a trend to start with really small flies in January and slowly get bigger through the spring.

    Micro Stone - Beadhead
    Skwala Dry
    Pat's Rubber Leg (I like the #10 in peacock, black and brown).
    Kaufman's Stone
    Pheasant Tail

    Bullet Head Skwala
    Stimulator (Olive)
    Chubby Chernobyl (Olive)

    March Brown

    March Brown Beadhead
    The March Brown mayfly hatch often signals the end of winter trout season and the beginning of spring trout season for many.  This juicy, big mayfly can hatch in February, but is more often found in good numbers later in the spring.  They are usually tan, light brown, slightly pink or creamy, and can hatch as large as a #10, but #12 and #14 are the most common.

    Fish will key in on these, even if there are not a ton of them moving around.  It often takes steady, warm weather for a few days in a row to get them hatching.  Nymphing can be very good during this time frame, and fish are starting to get feisty as the water begins to warm.  I have had good success with these in February on warm, sunny days on the Deschutes, weeks before adults start hatching in decent numbers.

    Eastern March Brown Dry Fly
    March Brown - Beadhead
    Hare's Ear - Beadhead
    Hare and Copper - Beadhead

    March Brown
    Eastern March Brown (even in the west... it still works)
    Borcher's Drake
    Parachute March Brown


    Don't overlook Caddis in the winter
    There are a lot of places where the caddis larva are prevalent all winter long.  Rivers like the Yakima and Deschutes can give up a fish or two using a caddis during the winter.  It is usually not the go-to bug for winter fishing, but there are enough around that it just might be the ticket.  Do not be afraid to fish them in the winter, especially later in the spring as we head towards the Mother's Day Caddis hatch.  Darker, attractor patterns are popular and include:

    Zug Bug - Beadhead
    Green Rock Worm
    Caddis Pupa - Beadhead

    Other Invertebrates

    Squirmy Worms are hot right now!
    Other good food sources in the colder months include scuds and worms.  Worms are prevalent in most areas and provide a nice chunk of protein when available.  While worms can be productive all winter, we have had better luck with them right after some rain, when the river goes up and when it starts to warm up a bit after a cold spell.

    I like a good old San Juan Worm, but Squirmy Worms and BH Squirmy Worms are quite popular.  Chamois Worms were all the rage a few years back, and they still produce.  The BH Favorite Worm is a nice small worm pattern that works well.
    Middle Bead Scud is a producer

    Scuds are freshwater shrimp that are prevalent in most Western watersheds.  They prefer slower water with a muddier substrate, but can be found just about anywhere.  Scuds are that pattern that most anglers ignore and ignore until that one day when they have tried everything else and BAM! Fish on!  Doubling up a scud and a worm under an indicator is the spring creek slayer in a few of our secret locations around here.

    My favorite scud pattern is the Middle Bead Scud.  I fish that or something really similar quite often.  I have also had some great days fishing a Ray Charles and a Rollover Scud.


    We are fortunate here that there are salmon spawning and there are big juicy eggs that find their way into the water column.  Coho salmon can be found spawning as late as February on the west coast, and using egg patterns to target trout (or steelhead) can be productive when they are in the area.  A Glo Bug in #12 Light Orange should do the trick just fine.

    Whitefish are plentiful in a lot of western streams, and also spawn during the winter months.  Tiny little yellow eggs work great to catch the trout that like to site behind spawning whitefish.  A Micro Egg in Lime works really well when the whities are doing their thing.

    Rainbow Trout and Steelhead can also spawn anytime between November and June in western streams.  We do not advocate targeting any fish on a spawning bed, but that is a thing that anglers do, and it is more acceptable in other regions of the US than here.  Enough said.


    Many anglers will tell you that winter is the best time to fish streamers.  I know that the biggest trout ever caught at lodge I previously guided for was caught on Christmas Eve and was well over 20 pounds.  It ate a BH Crystal Bugger, white.  That is all the proof I need.
    Trophy Dungeons are big meat

    The really big fish have to eat too, and streamer fishing in the winter can be either really good or really bad, but I have seen plenty of really good days out there.

    Big, articulated patterns like the Trophy Dungeon work well, but I like to keep it simple in the winter with bugger style patterns.  The infamous Conehead Crystal Bugger is a personal favorite.  My last good day of winter streamer fishing involved a couple of those, while the Super Bugger is another pattern that has been good to me in the past.

    We hope that you can get out and do some winter trout fishing this year.  The crowds are low, the scenery is top notch and you might just catch a fish or two!  Please give us a call if you have any questions!

    Tight Lines

    Andrew Perrault

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