Winter Rainbow Trout on the Swift River

Fly Fishing for Trout in the Winter

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If you’re anything like me, you’re going crazy with the cold temperatures and most of the stripers gone already. Don’t despair though, there are plenty of opportunities to fly fish in Massachusetts (and close) all winter long – no matter how cold it gets! Here we’ll go over some of the locations and tactics you would use to target trout on the fly during the cold winter months. And I’m not talking about drilling holes in ice here, but actually remaining active and fly fishing for trout!

Dress for the occasion! Cotton is your worst enemy in cold weather outdoor activities. It will get wet, stay wet, and suck all of the warmth right out of you. Down is also not a great solution for on the water as if it gets wet it loses all of its thermal insulation ability. Dress in layers, wear synthetics or wool for insulating layers, and bring a shell to cut down on the wind and getting wet. Loose fitting clothing is also a must, as anything too tight restricts blood flow and will stop that part of the body from warming up effectively. The quickest way to get off the water in the winter is to have gloves or boots that are too tight, and you lose feeling and call it quits. I recommend 1-2 pairs of wool socks. If you sweat a lot, a pair of polypro socks (dress socks usually fit this bill) will help wick the moisture away from your skin. Waterproof gloves are great but any glove will do. I tend to wear fingerless gloves that are lightly insulated and keep hand warmers in my pockets if I need to warm up. Even rubber/latex gloves do a great deal to keep your hands warmer as the water won’t come in contact with your skin.


There are a number of locations in and around Massachusetts that don’t freeze over and hold fish year round. My two personal favorites are the Swift River in Belchertown and the Millers River in Royalston/Erving/Orange (pretty much follows Rt 2/2A). Here’s what you need to know.

Swift River

The first place I’m going to recommend is the Swift River in Belchertown. The Swift river is a bottom fed tailwater from the Quabbin reservoir. The beauty of that is the water is a pretty steady 55 degrees coming out of the bottom of the dam into the swift and it regulates pretty well during the hottest months and the coldest. The flows are also pretty slow and it’s a really easy river to wade, even for kids and people not sure of foot. The water is super clear and you can see the fish swimming and stacking around and cast right to them. The downside of the Swift however is that it gets crowded. The area north of Rt 9, between the dam and Rt 9 is fly fishing only and catch and release year round. The area below Rt 9 is open from Jan 1st – June 30th for bait fishing and catch and keep, then turns back to catch and release afterwards. Both are good spots.


Parking is available right at the entrance on Rt 9 but is limited. Directly across Rt 9 is also a couple spots to park. For fishing below Rt 9 follow River Rd and there are several spots you can pull off to park and fish.


Repeat after me: Low and slow is the way to go! Look for pooling fish in the deeper sections of the river and indicator nymph fish down deep to get them to take. Trout in the winter are going to be really sluggish and you almost need to get the fly to hit them on the nose for them to take. Even then it’ll be the most subtle take and is easy to miss. My favorite patterns for this time of the year are orange or yellow egg patterns, worms (“Wacky worms” work great in different colors but so does the San Juan worm), patridge and orange, and small casing caddis patterns. Get them down deep and watch the speed of your drift. You want them just barely bouncing off the ground and moving at the same pace as everything around them. Waiting till the sun has had some time to warm up the water a bit is a good tactic both for your own sanity (it’s warmer) and the fish are more active.

Millers River

The Millers river holds a special place in my heart for fly fishing for trout. There are so many good spots along the Millers that hold a good number of fish and reading the water is usually pretty easy if you know what to look for. The downside of the Millers is it’s not the easiest river to wade and when the flows are at 500cfm or higher, it can be downright dangerous to wade most areas. Check the flows before you go, have good wading boots, and a wading staff is recommended if you’ve never fished there. Filling your waders in the summer sucks enough, but doing it during the winter could be fatal. With that said, you can have some absolutely epic days on the Millers river. During the summer months there are huge caddis hatches and all winter long you can nymph caddis in the deeper pools and flows.


There are a bunch of places to park along the Millers river depending on what section you want to fish. For winter fishing, I’m going to recommend fishing the water treatment plant in Orange. or the Orcutt Brook area. There are some nice deep pools that hold fish and the wading is much more reliable and safe.


Caddis nymph patterns down deep work great here, but don’t discount the big nasty wooly bugger! Depending on the flow, pick a nice heavy bead head or cone head wooly bugger and swing it through the pools and hold on! The trout will be more lethargic than normal so you have to really work to get the bugger close enough to them, but a nice sized trout isn’t going to pass up a huge meal during the winter.

Fly Guy Guides doesn’t do guided trips during the winter for trout, but if you are looking for a guided trip with one of the best reach out to Patrick at Early Rise Outfitters at (339) 987-0496. Tell him Nick with Fly Guy sent you and he’ll put you on the fish!

Tight Lines,

-Captain Nick