Fly Fishing for Trout in the Winter Washington State

Steve B Howard

Is it harder to catch trout on a fly rod during hot summer days or during icy winter days? Honestly, I don’t know for sure, but my guess is winter simply because a lot of the good trout lakes in Washington State are closed from the end of October until Opening Day, usually in late March or early April. Iced up guides and hypothermia inducing temps are never fun to fish in either.

Though catching trout on a fly rod in the winter time in Washington State can be tough, it isn’t impossible. There are many lakes that are open all year and they often hold good populations of trout. Rivers, especially on the west side of Washington aren’t a good choice usually, but Spring Creeks in Eastern Washington can be great alternatives. And the Yakima River, though potentially bitterly cold in the winter, will always provide a good shot at nice trout. Also, because the water is colder the fish tend to get more active later in the day when the water is more likely to warm up, so you don’t have to do any of those “crack of dawn” type fly fishing trips that are often required in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.


Though I have done it, using as floatube in the winter even with really good thick waders isn’t every pleasant. I don’t own one myself, but I have a friend who has been kind enough to loan me his Pontoon Boat a few times in the Winter and on sunny days when there wasn’t too much wind it was a joy to use on the lakes compared with a floattube. Fly fishing from shore isn’t a bad option in the Winter either. If nothing else, it is a lot easier to get back to your car if you decide to bag it and go home. Though I do it sometimes, lakes are usually my last choice for fly fishing in the winter.

I like to fly fish smaller and shallower lakes in the winter because I feel like the water might be slightly warmer especially on sunny days and the fish will be more active. Also, I think there is a better chance of there possibly being some insects on the water that the trout might be feeding on. Of course this can work against you if there happens to be a long cold stretch and the lake ices over. Lakes in Eastern Washington will sometimes freeze, which makes fly fishing them of course pretty much impossible.

I did find this video of this guy that ice fishes with a traditional Japanese Tenkara fly rod and flies for perch on a frozen pond. I imagine this would work for trout as well if you really wanted to try it. I’ve never tried it myself, but who knows? Maybe I will at some point since I do currently live in Japan.

Tactics and Flies for Lakes

If there have been enough warm days and I think the water temp on the surface is 50 F or higher (probably won’t happen in Eastern WA) I will first look for rising fish. If I luck into rising trout then I will usually start with an emerger patterns and use a floating line.

If it is too cold to find rising fish then I will use a type IV ten foot sink tip on my trusty old six weight rod. I use a very short leader and flurocarbon tippet in the winter, usually no more than four or five feet long. I usually start with a Hair’s Ear Nymph. If I know the lake and have an idea where the fish might be then I’ll cast to those spots. I like to start with black, dark brown or even purple patterns. Prince Nymphs and Pheasant Tails as well as small dark Wooley Buggers are flies I like to try as well. If I’m in my floattube or have borrowed my buddy’s Pontoon Boat I will cast into deeper water let it sink sometimes for several minutes if I’m really trying to get it down and then slowly strip it back with short pulls.

If I don’t have any strikes with the nymphs and I haven’t frozen my butt off yet then I will try something brighter like a San Juan Worm or even an Egg pattern in pink, red, orange, or white. If there is a little a strong enough breeze to drift with I will sometimes let these patterns dead drift and see if I get any strikes. If it is a lake I’m not familiar with then I will troll a fly deep and slow to see if I can find where the fish are.

Rivers and Streams

I mentioned the Yakima River at the start of this article. Since my base camp is usually the Seattle area and rivers on the west side of the state are all that great for trout in winter usually (at least in the Seattle area), the Yakima is the closest and best choice if the passes are clear. Even without snow though you can expect some very chilly weather on the Yakima most days. This is a good video that show what a winter day on the Yakima can be like.

I also mentioned Spring Creeks. Rocky Ford Creek is probably my favorite if there isn’t any snow. Crab Creek is another option if you are looking for Browns too. These videos both will give you a good idea of what Winter fly fishing at Rocky Ford Creek or Crab Creek in Eastern Washington can be like.

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I mainly write about fly fishing in Washington State, Classic Muscle Cars, and Stand Up Comedy.

Seattle, WA

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