Fly thoughts for Winter Lakes

I’ve had a few questions lately about my preferred flies for winter lake fishing. While I’m not all that ‘fly-centric’ most of the time, I understand that having some faith in the contents of your fly-box helps overall confidence on the lakes.

So here’s a simple list of patterns I need to know are on hand when I’m out on the lakes in winter.

Searching patterns

It’s hard to go past Woolly Bugger variants for searching the water when not much is showing. I like Woolly Buggers in olive or black – lightly weighted for shallow water, or with a tungsten bead for deeper water. It also pays to have a few patterns with a bit of sparkle and/ or a bright orange bead for when you need to attract the trout’s attention.

A tungsten-beaded Woolly Bugger is a good winter fly for searching the deeper water.

One specific fly which falls into the latter group and is very handy in winter, is an orange-beaded Magoo.

Subtle searchers

Sometimes you need a searching pattern that’s a bit subtle; particularly for big browns. Fulling Mill’s Living Damsel, and the Tom Jones in the original sparse tie, are just the flies for this task.


When the trout are chasing big galaxias, a Green Machine is a great option. For smelters chasing juveniles or Australian smelt, try a Wet’s Zonker, the Tom Jones again, or Olive BMS.

Midge feeders

Buzzers are my go-to fly for midging trout; more often than not, that’s what they’re eating. Carry a range of buzzer patterns in size as well as colour, because the fish can be quite selective. If you have to guess, go with red.

Red buzzers look tiny and boring, but winter trout love them.

For trout feeding on balling midge, a Griffiths Gnat with the bottom hackle squared off with scissors, is a great option – be sure to carry a few sizes.

Polaroiding or floodwater feeders

For polaroided winter trout or floodwater feeders/ tailers, my starting point is usually a Scintilla Stick Caddis (or similar) under an indicator. If that’s being refused, I’ll try a red buzzer or an orange-beaded nymph.

If the visibility is good enough, an alternative is to present a medium-sized, lightly-weighted black Woolly Bugger on the edge of the trout’s vision, and let it settle to the bottom. Strike when you see the trout eat the inert fly.

While believing in your winter fly is important, it also needs to be fished well.

The Whole Box?

Flyfishing being what it is, there are times (fortunately quite rare) when winter trout want a relatively obscure and quite specific pattern: cockchafer beetle feeders in late winter are one example, dedicated worm feeders are another. If you spend enough hours on the water, you’ll even find the trout occasionally feeding on floating caterpillars, etc., etc. But for 90% of my winter fishing, the above flies do the job if well-presented – a crucial ‘if’.