Winter Fly Fishing the Gallatin River
Winter fishing can be a difficult endeavor in several aspects. Finding the correct layering and motivation to get yourself out in the cold water is a challenge. Finding holding water that is not iced over and knowing the correct flies to use are all problems that need to be overcome to have a good day on the Gallatin River in the winter.
Where to Fish
Finding winter holding water that is not frozen is challenging. Getting out before we get a significant freeze is one good way to avoid this issue. But for hardcore anglers that like to fish even in January it is important to know the water to look for. Fast riffles or drops leading to pools are a good place to start. The holes will often freeze on the sides or where they eddy out but often if the main current is strong enough the centerline will be open through the hole even in the coldest weather. Make mental notes of these locations so you can go straight to such spots in frigid weather. If you are fishing a juicy hole but don't catch fish after several casts don't beat up the water as it is very possible fish are not holding there. Move on to the next deep hole until you find fish. When you do catch a fish, that is when you want to spend time working the hole. Fish are often congregated in specific holding water in the winter so when you find one it is likely to find several more.
Flies to Use
The Gallatin is a picture perfect freestone river meaning it has a great population of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis and midges. The nymph stage of these bugs will be around all year so fishing sub surface is going to be the best method of fishing by far. For stoneflies it is hard to go wrong with a size #10 coffee/black Pat's Rubberleg. Sometimes you may need to switch to orange/black, olive/black, black, or straight brown but the coffee/black is by far my favorite. The next best pattern to fish is going to be a standard san juan worm. There are days in the winter where I do not have to switch from these two flies until I get curious if other patterns will work. For midge/caddis the $3 dip in red and silver can cover both types of insects and i tend to have very good luck with this fly. Zebra midges, squirrel and copper, tung darts, or guides choice hares ear are my other go to flies. I usually will fish these patterns in sizes #14 or #16 during the winter. For mayflies only two patterns seem to have me covered. The pearl lightning bug and a pheasant tail cover natural and flashy and are very rarely refused in the winter. Additional flies that I find success with when I'm struggling to catch fish include fire bead sowbugs and prince nymphs in that #14-#16 size range.
For maximum production when winter fly fishing it is incredibly important to put your flies right in front of the fish. Fish will be sitting deep close to the stream bed during the cold months and not willing to move much to eat a fly. Heavy flies and split shot are necessary to get your flies right in the face of trout. When it is incredibly easy to get a quick winter meal, opportunistic trout will have a tough time turning down a fly. Extending your leader by moving the indicator up a foot to a foot and a half to let those flies get down to the depths.
Gallatin River Fly Selection
We pick each assortment of flies to give you a well-rounded mix of dries and nymphs for your day on the water. These hand-picked assortments are specially curated by our Bozeman fly shop staff based on what we fish when we are on the Gallatin ourselves. Use the comment field out at checkout with any specific directions- such as when you expect to fish them next - for your fly selection as we put them together based on current conditions.