Cutthroat Chronicles : My Favorite Winter Streamer Patterns

I’ve fly fished for a long time. I think I started at the tender age of six or seven, but I don’t remember the first time I threw a fly rod. What I do remember, though, is my grandfather telling me that if a fish wasn’t caught on a dry fly, it didn’t count. He’d then proceed to sit me next to his tying desk at home and watch as he cranked out elk hair caddis after elk hair caddis. He tied commercially for 27 years and unless a customer specifically asked for a pheasant tail or zebra midge, he tied dries.

So of course that’s how I fished growing up until I discovered the world of dry-dropper rigs, Czech nymphing, and soft hackle flies. I still only fish dries when I go with my grandfather (otherwise I’d have to pay for gas) but I’m eternally gratefully my fly selection pallet has expanded over the years. And just over a year ago – while out on the Snake River between Jackson and Alpine, Wyoming – it expanded into the last bit of uncharted territory left.


I don’t profess to be any kind of streamer expert – the guys here at Fishwest are, though, and can answer more technical questions – but I know I love the smack of a big fish hitting a big fly, and the methodical, continuously active motions that accompany streamer fishing.

Just as with dry fly fishing, I have a few select favorite streamers I’m loathe to leave the house with these days. Specifically, I can always count on these patterns to produce during the winter. They’re just that solid.

They may be the same patterns as yours, or they may be different and new. Or you might be in the same position I was a year ago – never having fished streamers much in the first place. If that’s the cast, the folks here at Fishwest know their streamer stuff (just look at their carp, bonefish, and pike photos to start) and can answer your questions. Additionally, materials to tie the streamers listed in this post can be bought either in-store or online.

#1 Favorite – The Zuddler
Zuddler fly

I just love everything about this fly. There’s really nothing to dislike. As the name suggests, the Zuddler is a combination between the Zonker (a great fly for tiger trout here in Utah, I’ve found) and the Muddler Minnow, a longtime classic in the streamer world.

Combining the two, in addition to the action of the rubber legs and rabbit zonker strip, creates a treat most trout can’t resist. This rainbow, and five of his bigger friends, couldn’t resist it a few weeks ago on the Green River.

Trout in water

#2 Favorite – The Muddler
Muddler fly
The Muddler was originally designed for catching brook trout in Canada, but it works just as well up high in the Rockies for cutthroat, tiger trout, and even some kokanee salmon. The Muddler is popular and proven enough it doesn’t need much more description – it’s simply an incredible fly, and a go-to for me in the winter.

#3 Favorite – Black Wooly Bugger
Black Wooly Bugger fly
It works. It’s probably caught more fish than any other fly in the world. And you need them, especially in the winter. An entire box in a range of sizes is ideal.

In all seriousness, this fly produces year-round, but if all else fails and you’re throwing streamers, a black Wooly Bugger usually gets the job done.

#4 – The Gray Ghost
Gray Ghost fly
This is one of the first patterns I clearly remember my grandfather tying when he had to tie “dirty flies” for clients. Coming from Maine, the Gray Ghost (and all other related Ghost patterns) works on salmon, trout, steelhead, and bass. I love it in the winter, though, because it’s a simple, easy tie and the ribbing shines particularly well in the lower, clearer waters of winter.

I don’t leave home without these four patterns during the winter. Which streamers are your favorite for this time of year?

Spencer is an outdoors columnist, novelist, and journalist based in Utah. He’s a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Connect with him on Twitter @Spencer_Durrant.