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The Peaks Fly Fishing Diaries – Winter Food

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As the thrust of the winter imposes itself on the mellow autumn scene outside... As the thrust of the winter imposes itself on the mellow autumn scene outside...

This month David takes a look at some of the winter food options that are available – and it’s not all hot soup and fruit cake...







As the thrust of the winter imposes itself on the mellow autumn scene outside, the natural larder of insects and flies that our trout and grayling have been banqueting on will start to decrease. Look at any hatch chart and you will notice a sharp decline in the availability of winter food, so it is worth having a look in a little more detail at the food that is available.

If you walk down the garden on a cold winter’s day, even with a biting frost or snow on the ground you may see a column of midges hovering in a shaft of sunlight. The midge becomes an important food for fish over the winter as it is one of the few flies that will be present in its larvae, pupa and adult stages all year round.

On stillwaters the rainbow trout will slowly work the bottom layers of water feeding on the larvae (bloodworm) and the pupa (buzzers) as they slowly try to ascend through the water. Anglers associate buzzers with summer fishing when midge numbers peak, however I have found they are effective as a winter fly fished slow and deep. This is especially true in cold water when the metabolism of the fish has slowed and they no longer chase their prey so eagerly.

Weighted midge pupa and bloodworm flies will also prove useful on the rivers in the deeper pools as the grayling will feed even in the coldest of temperatures. It is a small shame that many river anglers have a tendency to ignore the subsurface imitations of the midge because they can produce some wonderful catches, especially in the cooler weather when midges will have less competition on the fish’s menu.

We still may have small flurries of surface activity during the winter months with occasional hatches of large dark olives but these will be an exception and if you want to catch more often you will perhaps need to explore the sub surface world. For me this is the time of year where the freshwater shrimp imitation comes in to its own, especially on the river where the grayling will be nosing around the rocks picking off the natural shrimp from the conveyer belt of passing food. There are many shrimp imitations out there but I enjoy fishing using Sawyer’s Killer Bug. This simple fly of wool and wire is highly effective when cast upstream and trundled down near the bottom.

Over the years I have found the secret to winter fishing is to pick your days, watch the weather, have plenty of warm clothing and hope for a still, crisp, winter’s day. With the company of robins scouting through the frost bitten bank side vegetation, hot soup to hand and fruit cake to follow, the chance of a winter grayling or two is hard to beat.

Season’s greetings to all!



Dave Johnson lives near Sheffield on the edge of the Peak District where he has been fly fishing since childhood. He is manager of Peaks Fly Fishing and helps run the Birchinlee Fly Fishing Club. Dave is also brand director for Harkers Fishing and a keen fly fishing writer, contributing to various print and online publications.


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