Understanding Stillwater Trout – Part 8: Fishing in Winter

In previous articles we’ve covered fishing in spring, summer and , as well as general trout behavior and lake makeup. Now the last season, winter.

Keep in mind that we are focused on western Washington lowland lakes, so while the water is at its coldest it seldom freezes over.

I believe that winter is the hardest time to fish for trout. The fish’s metabolism is very slow, and it doesn’t take much to turn them off the bite.  So I get out less this time of year, and focus more on preparing for the upcoming year of fishing.

If catching fish is your goal, then one of the keys to fishing in winter is being picky about when you fish.  Warm days – especially consecutive – tend to be better.   If a storm front moves through, then avoid fishing for 2 or 3 days.

Lake Washington Cutthroat 1
Winter Cutthroat in spawning colors from Lake Washington

Also remember that winter fish are sluggish and are “sleepy”, which means:

  • Large bright lures are going to help “wake them up” enough to strike
  • Slow presentations work best

Early and Mid Winter

Early and Mid Winter are very similar.  The trout can be found just about anywhere in the water column, but I usually focus in 2 places – the top or the bottom.

Sometimes lethargic winter trout will hang out right near the bottom – moping, I guess.  These are not actively feeding fish, but bright lures sometimes can trigger a reaction strike.

On warm sunny days that top layer of water may warm up just a little, perhaps half a degree.  This can trigger plankton, which then attracts bait fish, which then attracts larger trout.  So this is a good place to target winter trout that are actively feeding.

In waters with wild trout, as we approach late winter, they will start to stage near mouths of rivers and streams to prepare for their spawning journey.  Those locations can be great places to target.

As started earlier – picking your days and slow presentations are key.

My favorite lures during this time are:

Late Winter

If fishing populations of wild trout then late winter is when they move into connected streams and rivers to spawn.  I usually avoid this time of year.

This is the time of year that the WDFW starts stocking trout into lakes, and those lakes are the best bet.  Keep an eye on the WDFW fish plant website to know what was recently stocked.

You’ll find freshly stocked fish near the surface in the top couple of feet.  Slow presentations (0.8-1.0 MPH if trolling) are usually key.

My favorite lures at this time are:


We’ve now covered general trout behavior, lake structure, seasonal changes and broke down each season.   Winter fishing is about picking ideal days, slow presentations with bright lures.

The final article in this series will talk about like weather, you will encounter in your fishing adventures.

For more about trout fishing, check out the trout fishing page.

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