Where Do Trout Go in the Winter: Cold Weather Hideouts

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The fisherman was waiting patiently for the fish to bite as the sun was lowering.

In the winter, trout look for comfortable water temperatures, cover, and structure. In rivers, you’ll find trout deep in pools where the water temperatures are warm and flows are minimal. In lakes, you’ll find trout from drop-offs near rock piles, vegetation, or fallen logs. Warm water is the priority. 

Life slows down in the winter. Trout and anglers take a few months to hunker down, stay warm, and dream of the days of warm weather and sunshine. While trout still eat during winter, they focus on saving energy and surviving challenging conditions. 

Where Do Trout Go in the Winter in Rivers

In the winter, water levels usually drop, resulting in fewer places for trout to hide and find protection. Also, the water closest to the surface cools first, so trout avoid the shallow water as much as they can due to the uncomfortable temperatures. 

Trout move to pools and other deep river sections in the winter. The deeper water holds its warmth the longest, so trout sit in it as long as possible. 

Pools often have logs, rocks, and other cover and structure at the bottom. It allows trout to find warmer temperatures and stay safe from any predators. 

Not only do they want warm water, but they also want minimal flows. 

Fighting the current is exhausting for trout. The less current they have to fight, the more energy they can preserve. 

Deep water has less current. Avoid the riffles and shallow sections if you’re fishing for trout in the winter. Find the deepest water, and fish your lures, bait, or flies along the bottom. Slow drifts through the pools and deep seams produce fish. 

Trout move up in the water column as the day warms. The temperatures warm in the middle of the day, and the occasional hatch occurs. 

The daily feeding window is small for trout in the winter, but it happens. If the sun pops out, it’s even better. The trout soak up the sun as it warms the water near the surface. 

Their metabolisms are slower due to the cold weather, so their appetites aren’t as big. Don’t expect trout to feed in the winter like they do in the spring, summer, or fall.

Late-Winter in Colorado, river and beautiful mountains.
Late-Winter in Colorado

Where Do Trout Go in the Winter in Lakes 

Trout find the warmest water they can in the winter. In lakes, the warm water is towards the bottom in the deepest sections. The surface water cools the fastest, and ice usually forms. 

If the lake has vegetation, trout sit near it because it produces oxygen and provides a safe space for other food in the lake. 

If they aren’t sitting near vegetation, trout look for rock piles, fallen logs, or other places that provide protection. While they’re willing to roam and look for food, they don’t move far in the winter. They identify a food source and spend time near it until it’s exhausted. 

Hatches don’t regularly occur in the winter, so they rely on eating nymphs, crustaceans, and smaller fish. Their metabolisms are slower, and they don’t eat as much in the winter. They spend time preserving as much energy as possible. 

Find a drop-off if you’re ice fishing or fishing along the bank. This way, you can fish at various depths to see where the fish are hiding. 

Start at the shallowest part and work your way to the bottom. You’ll likely find trout towards the bottom in the most comfortable temperatures. 

Danny picked up the trout from fish net in the water.
Brown trout caught in winter

Will Trout Bite in Cold Weather 

Yes, trout bite in cold weather. When I fish in the winter, I always use an indicator because many strikes are weak. I try to feel small tugs or watch when my line stops. Trout don’t strike nearly as hard in the winter as in the rest of the year. 

I usually don’t head to the water until the late morning or early afternoon in the winter. I wait until the sun reaches its highest point and the air is warm. It’s common to find a small midge hatch in the middle of the day. Trout won’t aggressively break the surface, but they’ll slurp any midge that’s drying its wings. 

Don’t expect a lot of action during the traditional prime feeding hours. Take a peak at the weather and head to the water when the air is warm. 

Danny's hand holding a trout facing the water.
Winter-caught brown trout

Trout Behavior in the Winter

Trout are slow in the winter. Their energy is precious, and wasting it fighting the current or covering water is dangerous. If they see a food source, they’ll move towards it. Otherwise, they wait and observe until they have to feed. 

They spend time in the traditional holding areas. They need their protection and always drift towards warm water. 


Predicting trout movement and behavior in the winter isn’t always easy. While you can assume they’re sitting in the warmest water possible, you never know their exact location. They’re not aggressive or going out of their way to feed. If the food comes their way, they’ll eat as much as possible to keep their energy levels high. Keep your baits, lures, and flies deep and fish them slowly. 

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