Landon Mayer’s 5 Winter Trout Fishing Secrets

This article was written by Landon Mayer, an accomplished fly fishing writer, guide, ambassador, and public speaker. Here are what Landon considers to be 5 winter fishing tips/secrets for trout fishing success. 

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1. Storm Tracker

The cold season produces storms that are known to turn anglers away from the water. There are times when you simply cannot make the drive or prevent the ice sculptures from forming on your rod and fly line! On the other hand, a lot of the storm systems at this time are slow moving with cloud-filled skies. This is a match made in heaven for feeding conditions to tailwater trout. While everything is socked in, the air and water temperature will rise to 35-45 degrees or more, in many situations supplying off the charts Midge and Baetis hatches and activity.

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2. Chapstick

Ice in the guides has plagued anglers for years. While there is not a product that will prevent ice from forming, I find chapstick helps deny the build up of ice. While the question of what effect this can have on your line is still a mystery, I use natural Chapstick like Burt’s Bees to help minimize the use of chemicals and clean my line at the end of the day.

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3. Determining Diameter

All it takes is one item on your rig to appear unnatural for selective trout to go on alert and not eat because they detected something is wrong. While we can focus on the indicator and split shot as the culprit, I have notice targets over the years becoming wary of the way the fly drifts and seeing the thick taper on the end of a leader that connects to the fly line. Without the need of tapered leader to roll you flies over with long casting loops in big water, building a leader out of tippet can be the answer to better performance out of each drift in the narrows waterways of winter.

I prefer the three tier leader formula starting with a three foot piece 3-4 x Fluorocarbon tippet connected with a triple surgeons knot to three foot piece of 4-5x Fluorocarbon. To complete the leader I will end with a three to five foot piece of 5-6-7x Fluorocarbon, the size can be determined by how wary the fish are, and if needed a five foot piece of tippet can extend the leader from nine, to 11 feet. When you decide on the right diameter for your cold adventure the rewards of undetectable drag free drifts can be some of the best reaction from trout.

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4. Matching Midges

A big advantage to the chilly months is not having to dissect a complex hatch to find what food supply the fish prefer. A majority to the trout’s diet will consist of Midges with a side order of Baetis if they are available. The first component to the Midge mystery is size and silhouette. You want to match the natural midge or downsize by one followed by the proper silhouette, which for Midges means thinner is better. Most of the larva, pupa, and adults are skinny. The second part of the equation is the color scheme. Finding the right color for the job based on the trout’s reaction to your flies. I normally start with a confidence color like red, or a red ribbed midge (Tube Midge #18-20-22) as my main fly. Then with my second dropper fly start with a dark color (Dorsey’s Flash Back Black Beauty #18-22, Dye’s Two Tone Larva#18-22) and use this as a changing station through the day. Making it easy to retie and find what color the fish will prefer.

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5. Lifting to set the hook

For many anglers, most trout are lost in the first ten seconds or the last ten seconds of the fight. This makes the hook set one of the most important steps in fighting any trout. To successfully set on a fish your first need to understand how to apply pressure quickly on the trout, without overpowering the motion. To do this you want to lift the rod at a downstream angle while keeping the rod at a slight horizontal position. I always tell anglers to not break the plain of their shoulder on the set; this will prevent you from applying maximum flex to your rod, which would put too much pressure on your tippet. The downstream angle will place the fly in the corner of the trout’s jaw, away from the teeth that line the top of the mouth, and this placement will give you the best lifting angle when you are applying pressure throughout the fight. Being able to control the position, and power from your rod during the set will help you land more and larger


Landon Mayers angling success is fueled by an addiction to pursuing large trout with small flies and lightweight fly-fishing equipment. Mayer enthusiastically teaches and demonstrates his techniques and on-river knowledge to fellow anglers and has developed innovative strategies for sighting, hooking, and landing selective trout. He shares these tips and secrets in his books.

In his latest book The Hunt for Giant Trout, Landon discusses the 25 best places in the United States to catch a trophy trout. To purchase this book or to get in touch with Landon check out his website  or give him a follow on Instagram at @landonmayerflyfishing.

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