5 Tips for Winter Fishing
The Winter months provide some good angling opportunities. If you play your cards right, you can still hook into some really quality fish, especially those post spawn brown trout. This season is not for the faint, it can pose many difficulties towards your succes, bad weather, loads of snow, and minimal bug activity. This being said, Winter can also offer you angling solace and congregated trout, allowing you to put your flies in front of a lot of trout.
1. When to Go
My favorite time to fish in the Winter is when the air temps are 28 degrees or warmer. This prevents your guides and fly lines from freezing up too quickly. Fishing in the afternoon to late afternoon is the best. Fish are cold-blooded meaning, they are most active when the temps go up. Sleep in, make some coffee, tie some flies, whatever you want. There is no rush to get to the river to secure your favorite fishing spot.
2. Where to Go
Many rivers in the area fish well during the colder months. The Gallatin Canyon remains open year-round and offers some excellent fishing after a day of skiing or a quick drive from town. This river has many slow, deep runs that fish stack up in. Nymphing can be killer here with rubber legs, midges, and worms. All of our tailwaters offer open water as well and can be great options if you are willing to drive a bit further. The dam below Ennis Lake and the dam below Hebgen are great places to fish during this time. Look for slow-moving water after a run and oftentimes you'll see the fish. Lots of fish share the same space with one another, so once you find some fish, don't leave looking for more until you have thoroughly worked that spot.
3. Fly Selection
The selection for flies during the Winter is a lot more simple than throughout Summer. There are fewer hatches going on and a limited amount of food sources available to trout. Matching the hatch is less important during this time. The main menu items for trout during the Winter include Midges, Scuds/Sowbugs, Rubberlegs, worms, Baetis, and other small mayfly imitations. Don't overthink things. Focus more on presenting your flies to these trout. This often means that weight and leader length is key.
4. Rig Setup
Nymphing is typically the most effective way to catch fish in the Winter. There are good days fishing dries for Midge adults in certain places but this is done with patterns that are #18-#22, making it difficult to see your flies. For a nymph setup, I like fishing a 9ft 4x leader with small tungsten flies. Tie your larger/heavier fly at the top and run a smaller fly 10-12 inches from the top fly. For weight, I normally run one split shot of AB 14 inches above the top fly. A standard rule of thumb for nymphing is setting your indicator at 1.5x the depth of the water you want to fish, during the Winter, I typically run it about 2x the depth. If you feel that your flies are still not getting deep enough, adjust your indicator or apply a second split shot.
5. What to Wear
Dress for the worst! The temps can drop quickly this time of year, so if it's 40 degrees in February in the afternoon, it could very well be 30 degrees by the time you get off the water. Base layers are key this time of year and wearing something that allows you to fish comfortably can determine your success on the water. Patagonia and Simms both offer excellent options in this department. The thermal weight line from Patagonia and the Midweight Core series from Simms are both great options. A good down, or puffy, is the next step and really allows you to keep all of the heat you'll need. Last but not least, a good shell. We still get windy, wet days on the water in the winter
Swing by our Bozeman fly shop before hitting the river this winter for more helpful tips and tricks!