Fly Fishing in the Winter — Ice in the Guides?

by | Jan 27, 2019 | 11 comments

** NOTE: This is Part Five of a Troutbitten series on fly fishing for trout through the winter months. You can find the whole Winter Fly Fishing Series here. **

Alright, so it’s the middle of winter, and it’s time for a gut check. How much do you really want to fish? December was easy compared to this. The weeks around Christmas were snowy at times, but not all that cold — not like January and February.

In a good portion of trout country, the heart of winter brings temps in the low teens or even single digits. And every passing front blows in with winds that bite into your will to be outside.

This winter series started with advice on keeping your hands warm, because that’s where it all begins. Next came how to keep everything else warm (head, shoulders, knees and toes), since none of this how-to-fish-in-the-winter stuff means much of anything if you can’t stay warm and focused.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing in the Winter — The System

Likewise, nothing about having a winter system or using a specific nymphing rig makes any difference if the guides of your rod are frozen. And every fly fisher who has stepped into a winter river with the air temps below, let’s say, twenty-five degrees has dealt with some kind of trouble. Every angler has her own advice about eliminating guide ice too. And here I guess it’s time to give you mine.

Photo by Bill Dell

The Truth

Nothing will solve your ice-up problems completely. Icy guides are part of cold winter fly fishing, and that trouble is not going away for good.

My friend, Matt Grobe, fishes through the Montana winters, and as long as he finds open water at springs and tailwaters, he’s out there making casts and catching trout. When I asked Matt about guide ice, he made this excellent point:

“We don’t have the humidity here like you do in the East, so icy guides are never really an issue unless temps go under about fifteen degrees.”

I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, around here, ice gives us trouble at a higher temperature.

“So, what do you do to keep ice out of your guides,” I asked Matt.

“Same as you,” he said. “Use a Mono Rig.”

Winter-Ready Long Liners

Among the countless advantages of a Mono Rig, one of the most useful features is its performance in the winter. In fact, I initially started using the Mono Rig for more than tight line nymphing (indy rigs, streamers, etc.) in the winter, simply because the long 20# mono butt section was effective at keeping my guides ice-free.

It’s an elementary concept. The Mono Rig in your rod guides is thinner than fly line, so it carries less water with it — and there’s less stuff to freeze. Mono also sheds water quicker than its fly line counterpart (yes, it’s thinner than a euro fly line too). And importantly, when ice does begin to form, stiff mono shooting through the guides knocks ice away better than fly line.

Photo by Matt Grobe

Don’t shoot until you have to

On the coldest days, keep all shooting and stripping to a minimum. Line traveling in and out of the guides is what builds ice. So find a way to fish without all of that. Think Tenkara. Tight line your nymphs or streamers with a fixed length of line as often as possible. Move your feet to get to a better position instead of stripping and casting more line. Moving around helps you stay warm anyway.

Dip it

No matter what you do or where you live, ice will form in your rod guides when it’s cold enough. So dunk your rod in the flow. Hold it there until the ice thaws. Maybe swish it around a bit. You’ll see the ice melt away, and then you can start casting again.

** Pro-Tip From a Dummy **  Don’t smack your rod tip on the water’s surface to bounce the ice off. I’ve broken two rods this way.

Thanks, Stanley

So even with a Mono Rig there are still ice-up troubles at the lowest temperatures. But when using a fly line, a lot more ice is involved.

With either line choice, Stanley’s Ice Off Paste can work wonders — for a little while.

Buy Stanley's Ice Off Paste Here

** Note ** This is an affiliate link. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, Troutbitten will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. So, thank you for your support.

Ask around and you’ll hear a bunch of home remedy solutions for guide ice. From Chap Stick to Pam cooking spray, shivering anglers are out there slathering on Vaseline, silicon Muclin, motor oil and more.

It all works. Seriously, it all works about the same. Apply your water-repellent stuff of choice, fish ice-free for between five and fifteen minutes, then watch ice start to form again.

After years of experimentation, I’ve settled on carrying the Loon stuff.

I don’t know who Stanley is or what is in the half ounce tub, but it lasts about twice as long as anything else I’ve applied to a cold line to keep it ice free.

I put the paste on the line, the guides and the rod — not the whole rod or the whole line — just the parts that are freezing. And it works for a while.


Don’t let the winter beat you down. A large part of winter success is your ability to enjoy the extra challenges — icy guides being one of them. It’s a state of mind, really. And if you let a calming peace of the winter woods fill you up, a little ice in the guides is nothing.

Fish hard, friends.


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There’s much more to come in this winter fly fishing series.

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. I just bite the bullet and do what I have to do.and that is FISH.My boss(wife)thinks I’m mental,anybody else out on the ledge.tight lines laddies!

  2. Another solution to icing guides is to move to Texas. Of course, then you have the problem of. melting guides in the summer.

  3. I moved to California. I have at least 4 tail waters to fish within 2 hours. No need to worry about frozen guides. Don’t even need to bring a heavy winter jacket. May run out of water some day but that’s a different issue.

    • What part of Mexico did you move to?

      • The part that probably fuels most of the technology you enjoy everyday and if we were our own country would represent the world’s 5th largest GDP. 🙂

        • Meant no disrespect.tight lines.

  4. I use both a tenkara rod and regulars fly rod in the three warmer seasons. Enjoy both. But I do all my tight-lining nymphing with the tenkara rod in the winter.

    It is so much more enjoyable.

  5. Re: Stanley paste … I have had the same success here in upstate NY particularly fishing for steelhead with a bottom bouncing Mono rig. I’ve fished temps even below 10F and it has minimized ice buildup especially when slathering the rod guides with this paste. You still need to carefully remove the ice but not nearly as often as with Pam or some of the other items mentioned. Also when I previously used a typical floating line and leader system buildup was much worse than with the Mono rig. Dealing with the ice buildup is much less frustrating. Good luck out there.

  6. Winter fishing in southwest PA, I always put a little chap stick on the rod guides. It seems to work fine, but this year has been a little colder than recent years and I seem to apply the chap stick a little more often.

  7. While not perfect, I just use the rod dunk method. My only variation is to give the rod shaft a nice little karate chop with my non rod hand after rod is out of the stream which removes most of the water that wants to freeze again.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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