The edges of the river are frozen. Not frozen solid, though, as wader boots crunch through a thin layer of ice. Most anglers prefer to have this particular substance in a glass mixed with a significant level of bourbon at this time of year. It’s winter, and catching a buzz is much more productive than catching salmonids, right? Don’t be so quick to believe that. According to longtime guide Tad Howard ­(, long-rodding when the mercury hovers around 32 degrees Fahrenheit can be stellar.

“Most flyfishermen don’t even consider hitting the river once it gets cold,” the 36-year-old Colorado resident says. “Can it be uncomfortable? Yes, but not always. Can the fishing be slow? Yes, but you can also stumble on an epic bite. If you know what to look for and understand how to fish nymphs, the coldest months of the year offer solitude, unusual beauty, and oftentimes plenty of trout.”

Get With the Program
The coolest part—not literally—is that you don’t have to be a great flyfisherman to take advantage of this bite. If you can manage a 15-foot roll cast, you are good to go.

“Nymphing with tiny midges couldn’t be a simpler presentation,” Howard says. “Position yourself directly across from the fish, make a short roll cast upstream, and drift your offering to the target. Super easy, super effective.”

Howard goes to great lengths when it comes to rigging these midges. He uses what he calls “the buffet,” which is a series of three flies on a single tippet. Start with a small strike indicator, add a tiny weight (if you are fishing in 4 feet of water, the weight should be 4 feet below the strike detector), tie on an attractor fly (an egg or micro worm) 6 inches below that, then add two midge droppers separated by a foot or so. “Trout are going to be hugging the bottom, so you want each fly to drift by at eye level.” Use a 9-foot 4-weight rod, 4X to 6X tippet, and midges in sizes 18 to 22.

“There are a billion patterns that will work, but I have my best luck with red midges. I’ll also throw a lot of black, olive, and brown patterns,” says Howard. “The neat thing about offering trout a buffet is that you can use several different colors at the same time and more quickly dial in on the pattern that produces.”