Winter Fishing The Lower Madison – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Winter Fishing The Lower Madison

Winter fishing in Montana can be brutal to say the least. It is usually freezing cold, snowy, and many of our favorite holes can be iced over. This can turn many anglers off which can make the river much more peaceful for the die-hard fly fishers out there. If an angler goes to the river prepared for the worst conditions it is very likely to have a great day of fishing. The lower Madison is no exception to the possibility of great winter fishing. Here are a few tips from your Bozeman Fly Shop to catch the most possible fish while winter fishing the lower Madison.


This will be your best bet when trying to catch fish in the winter. Trout do not want to exert a ton of energy while feeding in the winter so you will need to put the fly right in front of their face. This means fishing the water that fish are holding in and fishing the correct depth.

Water to Fish

In the winter, trout will be holding in deep slow moving holes or inside bend runs where they can easily hang out without trying very hard. They will be very near the bottom of these holes and aren’t afraid to be around plenty of other fish. If you hook one work the hole over thoroughly to have a good opportunity to hook more.

Flies to Use

Many of the usual Lower flies will still work in the winter but there are several that are less effective. Among the less effective flies are crawfish and larger mayflies. Flies that still work very well in the winter include worms, small mayflies and midges, and also attractors such as a prince nymph or hares ears again in small sizes like #14 or #16. Flies that aren’t typically thought of as great lower Madison flies but work very well in the winter (and spring) are brightly colored nymphs such as pink, orange, and purple scuds and sow bugs. Also, don’t be afraid to use a fire bead or bright pink beaded nymph, as these are highly effective to attract trout in the winter.

Proper Rigging

Using the proper rig when winter nymph fishing will greatly increase your success. For me, this generally will include two nymphs, heavier one as the top fly, a split shot about 16” above this fly, and a ¾ inch indicator 4-5 feet above the split shot. This is the traditional nymph rig, which I usually use, but there are several other methods that work which can be viewed here. My second favorite is the Czech style, substituting a blood knot with a long tag end for the tippet ring. This setup works particularly well with European style jig-head nymphs.

Pick Your Days

Knowing a good day to hit the water will make the difference between having an enjoyable day and catching fish or just having a miserable cold day on the water. The biggest deciding factor for me is going to be temperature. Anything below 25 can be pretty rough, as you will be battling icy guides all day and it is plain cold. Along with this, if you get out after the warmest part of the day and it is sunny, the water will have warmed up enough to get the fish actively feeding and increase your odds of hooking a trout or two. I rarely get out early. Sleep in, have a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, and check the weather before you head out to have the best possible day of winter fishing on the lower Madison.

Stop by our Bozeman fly shop for recent fishing reports, flies to use, or just to say hello before you hit the river this winter!