If you live in the Northeast or Midwest right now you probably think I’ve had too much to drink when I talk about winter hatches. But, they exist and some of them are spectacular and bring plenty of trout to the surface. If you’ve fished some of the spring creeks of the East then you already know that afternoons in December, January, February and March can create some great opportunities for fishing over trout rising to midge and stonefly hatches. Almost every afternoon in mid winter you can see these trout feed sporadically along the shores of the Fisherman Paradise section of Spring Creek. One of the greatest midge hatches of late winter-early spring occurred for me on the Cache la Poudre River about 30 miles upriver from Fort Collins, Colorado. That early April afternoon I saw dozens of trout rise to the heaviest midge hatch I have ever encountered.
I’ve seen thousands of little black stoneflies crawling on snow banks near some of our better rivers in the East, Midwest and West in the middle of the winter. I’ve seen dozens of trout rise for these stoneflies on such disparate rivers and streams like the lower Bald Eagle in Pennsylvania and Tonto and Oak Creeks in Arizona.
But, you can see more than midges and stoneflies on your occasional midwinter or very early spring trip. I’ve watched trout rise to little blue-winged olive duns in December on the Red River in northern New Mexico, on the San Juan in the same state, and on eastern waters like central Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River. The Southwest has some of the heaviest hatches of little blue-wings—and they appear all winter long. I have experienced hatches of these size 18 and 20 mayflies in January and February every year in Arizona. Spent rusty spinners (the adult of the little blue-winged olive dun) often bring trout to the surface to feed on them in the late afternoon hours. When conditions were right on Oak Creek near Sedona and on the Salt River near Phoenix, both in Arizona, I’ve had a dozen and more trout feeding on the spent winged flies within casting distance. The little blue-winged olive is quite possibly the most common hatch in the Southwest. I’ve seen these small mayflies on just about every river and stream of Arizona and New Mexico. And to beat everything, these hatches often appear in mid winter.
But the biggest anomaly and the greatest winter hatch I have ever experienced, bar none, was that trico hatch on the upper Verde River at Cottonwood, Arizona. Several waters in the Southwest (New Mexico and Arizona) hold hatches of this small mayfly throughout much of the winter (See photos of this and the little blue-winged olive in the Mayfly Identification section). Now this hatch over most of its distribution appears from June or July through October. I’ve seen the hatch in late November in southern Pennsylvania on Falling Springs, on Mossy Creek in Virginia, and on the McKenzie River near Eugene, Oregon.
But, until a few years ago I had never seen this trico hatch in December, January, February and March—anywhere. I can’t say that anymore. I’ve witnessed hatches and spinner falls in December and January on the Salt River near Phoenix, and on the upper Verde River from mid February on. That day on the upper Verde River was the best day ever fishing over that hatch. The spinner fall began late—around 10:30 in the morning--and continued well into the afternoon. At that time of year the weather on the upper Verde is comfortable with afternoon temperatures often reaching the high 60’s. Craig Josephson and I fished over more than 50 trout rising to the trico spinner that mid February afternoon and most of those trout eagerly took our size 20 pattern. There—in the middle of the winter--we hit one of the greatest midsummer hatches ever. There—in the middle of the winter--we saw a dozen or more other anglers—but not one had a fly rod. That was truly a day I’ll forever remember.
Maybe that mid February was a fluke. Maybe it was a once in a lifetime hatch. I fished the same river again two weeks later and hit the same great hatch. It was no fluke. It was the real thing. That hatch occurred more than five years ago, but it still remains a pleasant memory fishing over rising trout in mid winter.
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