What Do Trout Do in the Winter: Understanding Their Behavior and Survival Tactics

Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Kyle Whitley

what do trout do in the winter

Trout are cold-blooded animals that are adapted to live in freshwater environments. Understanding what do trout do in the winter can help anglers improve their chances of catching fish and contribute to the conservation of trout populations. As the seasons change and the temperature drops, trout undergo physiological changes to survive the winter months.

During the winter, trout’s metabolism slows down, and they become less active. As a result, they require less food and are less likely to chase after bait or lures. Instead, they stay in deeper, slower-moving pools with more stable water temperatures.

Anglers who want to catch trout in the winter should focus on fishing in these areas and use bait or lures that mimic the natural food sources available to trout during this time of year.

Despite the challenges of winter fishing, many anglers find it a rewarding and enjoyable experience. It requires patience, skill, and an understanding of the habits and behaviors of trout. By learning more about what trout do in the winter, anglers can increase their chances of success and deepen their appreciation for these remarkable fish.

Trout Behavior in Winter

Metabolism and Activity Levels

During winter, trout metabolism slows down as the water temperature drops. This means that they require less food to maintain their body weight. As a result, trout will be less active during the winter months and may not move as much as they do in warmer months.

Trout will also be less active during the day and tend to feed more in the early morning and late afternoon when the water temperature is slightly warmer. They will also be more active during the full moon, making it an excellent time to fish for them.


Some trout species may migrate to deeper water during winter to escape the colder surface temperatures. This is especially true for larger trout, which require more oxygen and are more sensitive to changes in water temperature.

Trout may also migrate to tributaries or other river areas with warmer water temperatures. This is particularly true for rainbow trout, which prefer water temperatures between 55-60°F.

Feeding Habits

Trout will still feed during winter but will be more selective in what they eat. They may focus on smaller prey, such as minnows and aquatic insects, rather than larger prey.

Trout will also tend to feed in slower water during winter, as it requires less energy to hold its position. They may also be found in deeper water, where the temperature is slightly warmer.

It is important to note that trout may not be as active during hatches in the winter months. This is because aquatic insects are less active during the colder months, and trout may not expend the energy to feed on them.

Overall, understanding trout behavior in winter is crucial for successful fishing during this time of year. By knowing their metabolism, migration patterns, and feeding habits, anglers can adjust their fishing techniques and increase their chances of catching a trout.

man trout fishing in river in cold weather

Winter Fishing Techniques

Several techniques can increase your chances of success when it comes to winter fishing for trout. Here are some tips for fly fishing, bait fishing, and lure fishing during winter.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing in the winter can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. The key is to focus on slower water and use smaller flies. Some effective patterns include midge patterns, zebra midges, blue wing olives, and sparkle duns. Dead drifting your flies with an indicator can also be effective.

Bait Fishing

Bait fishing for trout in the winter can be productive if you use the right bait. Some practical options include worms, fish eggs, and egg patterns. When fishing in deeper pools or lakes, consider using a split shot to get your bait down to the bottom where the fish are. When fishing in rivers, look for slow-moving water near boulders or a redd where the fish might be holding.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing in the winter can be effective if you use the right lures and techniques. Slow retrieves with streamers and nymphs can be effective in enticing sluggish fish. Crayfish and fish egg imitations can also be effective. When fishing in tailwaters or tailraces, try using a dead drift technique with a split shot to get your lure down to the fish.

Regardless of your chosen technique, it’s essential to dress appropriately for the weather. Layers, gloves, and wind-resistant clothing can all help keep you comfortable on the water. Drifting your bait or lure can also be effective in the winter, allowing you to cover more water and find the fish. With the right techniques and patience, winter fishing for trout can be a rewarding experience.

woman fly fishing in cold weather

Spawning Season and Regulations

Trout spawning is a natural process during winter when water temperatures are low. During this time, trout migrate to specific streams for spawning. It is important to note that trout spawn in specific areas called “redds” and disturbing them can negatively impact the population.

Spawning Streams and Redds

Trout spawning streams are typically located in colder, higher elevation areas. These streams have specific characteristics that make them ideal for spawning, such as clean gravel beds and adequate water flow. Trout will construct redds in these streams, which are shallow depressions in the gravel where they lay their eggs.

Anglers must be aware of spawning streams and avoid fishing in these areas during winter. Disturbing redds can damage or destroy the eggs and negatively impact the trout population.

Regulations and Rules

Many states have regulations in place to protect spawning trout populations. These regulations typically include restrictions on fishing in spawning streams and rules regarding catch-and-release practices. Anglers should familiarize themselves with these regulations and follow them to ensure the health and sustainability of the trout population.

In addition to regulations, anglers can also practice responsible fishing techniques to minimize their impact on spawning trout. This includes using barbless hooks, handling fish gently, and releasing them quickly.

Understanding the spawning season and regulations is crucial for maintaining a healthy and sustainable trout population. By following rules and regulations and practicing responsible fishing techniques, anglers can help protect these valuable fish for generations.

Finding Trout in Winter

Trout can be challenging to find during winter, but understanding their behavior and where they are likely to be can help anglers have a successful day on the water. Here are some tips on finding trout in winter:

Stream Structures and Vegetation

During the winter, trout seek out stream areas with more structure and vegetation. These areas provide cover and protection from the cold water and predators. Look for areas with submerged logs, boulders, and overhanging vegetation. These structures provide shelter and food for the fish.

Shallow Flats and Deep Holes

Trout will also seek refuge in shallow flats and deep holes during the winter. Shallow flats are areas where the water is less than knee-deep, and the bottom is typically covered in sand or gravel.

These areas are warmer than deeper parts of the stream and provide easy access to food. Deep holes, on the other hand, are areas where the water is deeper than six feet. These areas are typically cooler than shallow flats, but they provide a haven for trout to avoid predators.

Tailwaters and Flooded Rivers

Tailwaters and flooded rivers can also be productive areas to find trout during the winter. Tailwaters are areas below a dam where the water is released from the reservoir.

The water is typically warmer and more consistent than other areas of the stream, making it an ideal place for trout to congregate. Flooded rivers can displace trout several miles downstream, making them vulnerable to anglers. Look for areas where the water is slower and deeper than usual.

In summary, finding trout in winter can be challenging, but understanding their behavior and where they are likely to be can help anglers have a successful day on the water. Look for areas with structure and vegetation, shallow flats, deep holes, tailwaters, and flooded rivers.

Winter Fishing Safety Tips

Taking extra precautions when fishing during the winter is essential to ensure your safety. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while fishing in the cold:

Dressing for Cold Weather

Dressing appropriately for cold weather is essential when fishing during the winter. Layers are crucial to staying warm, and it’s essential to wear clothing made from materials that will wick away moisture. Good gloves are also essential to keep your hands warm and protect them from the cold.

Using Proper Fishing Gear

Using the right fishing gear is also important for safety during winter fishing. Waders can help keep you dry and warm, but it’s important to ensure they fit correctly and are in good condition. Wearing a life jacket or flotation device is also a good idea, especially if you’re fishing in a tailrace.

Avoiding Dangerous Situations

Winter fishing can present unique dangers, such as thin ice and fast-moving water. It’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and avoid dangerous situations.

Don’t fish alone; make sure someone knows where you are and when you plan to return. Avoid fishing on ice unless you are sure it is thick enough to support your weight.

Following these winter fishing safety tips can help ensure a safe and enjoyable fishing experience even in cold weather. Remember always to put safety first and be aware of your surroundings.

Summing it Up: What Do Trout Do in the Winter

During winter, trout tend to become more lethargic and feed less frequently. This is due to the colder water temperatures, slowing their metabolism and reducing their activity level. As a result, they will often move to deeper, slower-moving water to conserve energy and avoid expending unnecessary effort.

Trout will also seek out areas where the water temperature is slightly warmer, such as near the mouths of tributaries or where the sun shines directly on the water. This can make them easier to locate and target for anglers, especially on warmer days when they may be more active.

It’s important to note that not all trout behave the same way in the winter. Some species, such as brown trout, may become more active during this time of year, while others, like brook trout, may become almost completely dormant. Understanding the behavior of the specific species of trout you are targeting can help you choose the best tactics and strategies for success.

Overall, winter trout fishing can be challenging, but with the right approach and knowledge, it can also be incredibly rewarding. By focusing on deeper water, warmer areas, and the specific behavior of the trout you are targeting, you can increase your chances of success and enjoy great fishing even during the coldest months of the year.


Trouts Fly Fishing


Carolina Sportsman