Winter Fishing the East Gallatin
The East Gallatin river is lesser known in comparison to its famous older brother, the Gallatin river, but still offers some exceptional angling. Unlike the rocky bottom, the East Gallatin is a slow meandering valley stream, more made up of mud and silt. The water stays open for most of the Winter due to the Bozeman Water Treatment plant and some small springs that enter and end in the East, making this an ideal spot to try your luck. This area offers prolific hatches and can be a great, close-to-town option when it gets chilly.
Fishing flies under an indicator is the best method to use when you head to the East. With the lack of insect activity on the surface, most of the action is happening below. The banks are a perfect environment for different food sources for trout: worms, sow-bugs, scuds, small mayflies, midges, and crayfish, offer a consistent meal for a trout. Pattern types are not terribly important when trout have limited food to work with, I often find myself more so messing with colors and sizes of flies. Pink and red are both great color options and some days you will have to fish smaller than an #18.
Fish are cold-blooded creatures and are heavily effected by the temperature of the water, so during this time, expect to find fish in the slow moving and deeper pools where they are comfortable. Some of these areas will seemingly hold zero fish, so keep moving and trying different spots until you find one. Trout tend to congregate into specific areas in the Winter. If you had luck in one spot, keep working that water as it likely has more fish.
I typically use a 7.5-4x leader when nymphing here. Some of the areas on the East can be pretty deep, but using this shorter a shorter leader helps control how you measure depth. The use of weight isn't terribly important. The slow moving water allows your bugs to sink easier, especially if you fish tungsten flies.
Dry Fly Fishing
Catching fish all Winter under an indicator can be exciting but many of us long for that subtle sipping motion that keeps us coming back for more. You will often find anglers stalking to banks through a foot of snow and below freezing temperatures, looking for rising fish. One common misconception about fishing in the Winter, is that there isn't any dry-fly opportunities. This couldn't be more wrong.
Midges are plentiful on the East. These tiny bugs are easy to miss and write off, but when they hatch in numbers, trout have a hard time ignoring them. I have seen large pods of fish rising in a slow run, mowing them down. Tying a dry fly can make fishing with numb fingers all worth it.
I use a 9-10ft 4x/5x leader for fishing these. Coupled with some floatant and dry-shake, I will use a Hi-Vis Griffiths Gnat with a Quigley's Cluster behind so I can see them riding on the surface. Fishing these downstream or against the glare can really help you locate your flies, especially when there are multiple trout rising. Many midge patterns work great, it really comes down to size when fishing them. If there aren't that many on the water, a midge cluster imitation may not work, so its good to have a small selection.
For many of us our sanity counts on being able to head out and chase some fish, so it is nice knowing we have so many wonderful options here in SW Montana. The East Gallatin provides an excellent experience, beautiful views, and quality fishing. It has been a local favorite and will continue to allow anglers to find solace year round.
Drop by our Bozeman fly shop before your next winter fishing expedition.