As the days get shorter, some of us fish a good deal less. A shame, reckons Dom Garnett, because there’s excellent and varied sport to be had for those willing to brave the winter chill. Here are six of his favourite winter fly patterns to keep catching in the cold.
When it comes to the whole fishing year, you could probably separate most of us into two camps. There are those, like my father, who tend to stop when it’s cold. Some folks just don’t relish frosts or alternative targets. But then there are also those of us who truly love the winter and get genuinely excited by pike and grayling on the fly.
Of course, the arsenal of patterns can change quite drastically with winter fly fishing. Here are six of my most successful winter flies:
1. Micro Beaded Pink Shrimp (grayling, roach & dace)
Hook: Turrall Barbless Grub (size 16-18)
Bead: Brass 2mm-3mm
Thread: Pink 8/0
Tail: Partridge fibres/ hint of flash material
Rib: Clear Mono
Shellback: Clear nymph skin or cut polythene strip
Body: Pink sparkle dubbing
Legs: Partridge fibres
This is a grayling classic, but also a fly I like to use for river roach and dace in smaller sizes. Don’t feel like you need to tie it big and OTT for grayling though. When rivers are clear and icy cold, a smaller fly can be more effective than a larger version – and will certainly spook fewer fish.
Tip: Rather than upping the size of your weighted bugs, try tungsten beads to achieve the sink rate you want. In clear or pressured waters, smaller flies can be vital.
2. Quill Buzzer
Hook: Turrall Grub Hook (size 10-14)
Body: Stripped peacock herl
Cheeks: Yellow goose biots
Cover: Strand of UV Multiflash
Buzzers will hatch even in the winter across our smaller fisheries, and this one is always a convincing little pattern. However, I’m also including this on my list because it’s such a nice pattern to tie. If you buy it stripped, peacock quill is so easy to use and gives a cracking effect. Add a pinch of CDC to the head and use a lighter hook, and it’s also easy to make this fly into an emerger.
3. Satanic Buzzer (rainbow trout)
Hook: Buzzer or grub (size 10-16)
Thread: Black, with red for head and butt section
Rib: Fine silver wire (or UV tinsel)
Butt: Red thread
Body: Black thread
Horns: Two strands of red flexi-floss
This brilliant little pattern was shown to me by Scottish fly tyer Leon Guthrie, a fiendishly creative tyer of some truly wild patterns. This one is practical and deadly, crossing the best bits of a standard buzzer with those flexible bloodworm “horns” (hence the devilish name). It’s a real get-out-of-jail-free fly for rainbow trout on small waters.
For anyone curious about Leon, he was the subject of my “Fly Life on Mars” article, that features in my book Crooked Lines. Anything but conventional, he ties everything from tiny garden birds through to miniature aeroplanes, fried eggs and even a tiny Dyson vacuum cleaner (no kidding, it even has a little plug!).
Tip: For smaller flies, try using a fine pair of scissors to separate your flexifloss into finer strands. This fly is also terrific in a size 16 or even smaller if the fish are fussy.
4. Marabou Montana (rainbow trout)
Hook: Longshank nymph, size 10-12
Bead: Brass 3mm
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Black marabou
Rib: Fine wire
Body: Black chenille
Thorax: Chartreuse fritz
Hackle: Black cock
The original Montana may have been a nymph, but this is more like a mini lure. I find a marabou tail is much more effective than the stiffer original. A gold bead also makes it much more practical to fish on a standard floating line.
Tip: Try retrieving this one a little slower with a picky figure of eight retrieve, rather than always stripping.
5. Kennick Killer (rainbow trout)
Hook: Longshank lure (size 10)
Bead: 2.5mm brass bead
Thread: Red 6/0
Tail: Olive and Sunburst marabou, with hint of Krystal Flash
Body: Trimmed down UV Killer Fritz (olive)
Head: Tapered thread, well varnished
This is such a brilliant pattern – often the one I will give a complete beginner to fish – it’s that reliable. It originated on Kennick Reservoir, near my home in Devon, but is equally deadly on smaller winter waters. You can creep it or strip it; in fact it’s quite hard to fish wrong! Whether the key is in the two tone body or the addition of UV reflective materials I can’t say, but it’s a brilliant fly.
Tip: If you see a fish following your lure, don’t slow down or stop. By speeding up you are usually more likely to provoke a reaction!
6. Savage’s Baitfish (pike)
Hook: Turrall Pike (2/0 – 4/0)
Body: Savage Hair in at least 2 colours, with UV tinsel mixed in
Cheeks: Jungle cock or pinch of hot orange synthetic fibres (optional)
Eyes: 8-12mm 3D eyes, held with epoxy resin or UV cure glue
I tie and fish with stacks of different pike flies through the cooler months. This is probably still my go-to design though, just because it’s so versatile and hassle free. You can tie these in any hue you like, but I always think two colours are better than one and I’m never without a good pinch of UV tinsel.
The original is the work of Rutland warden Nigel Savage, who has also caught zander on these using fast sinking lines. Tying the head part-way down the shank (third to half way down) helps avoid the body fibres tangling round the hook bend on the cast.
My favourite colour combos for this fly include yellow and white, pink and white and black and silver. The version pictured is a perch though, using white, yellow and green hair, and given some stripes with a Sharpie marker or laundry pen.
Tip: Never be too quick to lift a pike fly out of the water at the end of the cast. Count to three slowly at the end of each retrieve, just to make sure there isn’t a pike following.
Further Tips and Fishing Tales from our blogger…
Dominic Garnett is a West Country based fishing guide and author of several books including Amazon bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish and the acclaimed collection of fishing tales Crooked Lines. He also designs flies for Devon based company Turrall. You can read more from him at www.dgfishing.co.uk and http://www.turrall.com/blog
Last but not least, if you enjoy fly fishing through the whole year, you might also enjoy Dom’s YouTube film featuring action from Bratton Water, North Devon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KJPi8CYIM4