Winter fishing around Bozeman – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Winter fishing around Bozeman

As winter approaches now is the time to start thinking about winter techniques for catching trout. One of the great things about winter is the solitude you can find on the water. Nymph tactics will be the most productive; although streamer and dry fly fishing are sometimes good options. Here are some tips to having productive fishing during winter.

Winter fly fishing with Fins and Feathers of Bozeman

1. Choice of places to fish. Tailwater rivers below dams are a good choice as ice and slush tends not to be much of an issue and the water temperature can be a bit warmer. The Lower Madison is a local favorite as the lower elevation doesn’t see as much snow as some of the higher elevation rivers. The Upper Madison between Hebgen and Quake Lake stays ice free, but the snow tends to be deep which makes walking along the river bit tougher. Freestone Rivers like the Gallatin and Yellowstone tend to get pretty iced up, but the Gallatin Canyon generally stays open with more moving water to keep the ice from building up.

2. Fish slow and deep. Trout hold in slower, deeper water so they don’t have to expend energy holding in fast current. Use a strike indicator with weighted flies and split shot to get right down on the bottom. A good dead-drift is essential, as the fish aren’t going to go out of the way for a nymph. Using a high stick Czech nymphing technique can also be a good choice.

3. Swinging flies. Swinging with nymphs and streamers is another way to catch them in winter. Sinking lines work best for this. After casting you’ll want to throw a big mend to help get the flies down deeper which allows the flies to swing slow and deep.

5. Streamer fishing. Stripping treamers can sometimes be effective, and letting them sink deep with a slow strip is best since they’re not going to chase too hard.

6. Rising Fish. You may see fish rising to midges during winter, and it usually occurs starting late morning into the afternoon. Have some Griffiths Gnats, or midge clusters along in cast you get into a hatch. Small midge or baetis emergers are also effective when fish are feeding on them.

7. No need to head out early. The warmest part of the day is when fish tend to feed. Sometime between noon and 3:00 is often when the best fishing occurs because the trout have warmed up a bit. Calm days will be best to look for rising fish.

8. Light tippets can make a difference. Water is very clear during the winter. I sometimes will go down to a 5X fluorocarbon on the smaller nymphs.

9. Knowing where holding water is. Fish will stack up during winter in deeper, slower water. Once you catch one try not to disturb the water and continue to fish in the same place. Cover the slow water thoroughly, but move often if you aren’t catching.

10. Fly Selection. Small midge and mayfly nymphs are standard on any river, and scud and sowbug patterns are good choices on tailwaters. Try the different colors when fishing midge nymphs. Sometimes one color will work better than another, so try red, black, olive or purple. Pink is also a good color throughout winter and spring. I like to fish a pink Ray Charles, eggs or pink sowbug-scud patterns behind a San Juan Worm or crayfish when I’m fishing on the Lower Madison River. Smaller stonefly nymphs make a good lead fly on rivers like the Gallatin, Upper Madison and Yellowstone. Small midge nymphs such as a Zebra Midge are go-to flies in winter. Smaller streamer patterns like a small Zonker tend to be much more effective then the big boy streamers. Griffith Gnats, midge emergers, small para adams and midge cluster are all good choices when fish are eating dry flies and emergers.

The downside to winter fishing is getting cold and picking the ice out of your guides. Stanley’s Ice Off Paste by Loon is a great product to help with the frozen guides and having the right clothing and gloves is key. Patagonia capilene, R1 Pant, and Nano Pants are all good underwader pants. Patagonia R1 gloves are my favorite gloves as long a the temperature is above 25 degrees. They are waterproof and you can still manage fly line easily. Sometime a big pair of ski gloves are needed when its really cold; although line handling can be tough.

Stop by or contact us at our Bozeman fly shop for the latest tips or check our Bozeman area fishing reports. If you find yourself in Bozeman for a ski trip this winter, you can try some fly fishing when the weather permits. Our Montana fly fishing guides can take you out on a guided Madison or Gallatin River fishing trip.