Winter on the Lower Madison
The Lower Madison River is one of the better choices of places to fish around Bozeman during winter. Snow usually doesn’t get too deep and the river only freezes during the coldest parts of winter. Plus, the close proximity to Bozeman makes it easy to get to for a few hours of afternoon fishing. The river starts below the Ennis Lake Dam and flows down to Three Forks where is meets up with the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers forming the Missouri River. The river starts out flowing through the Beartrap Canyon which can be accessed below the dam, or from the trail going upstream from the bottom of the canyon. Water flows faster through the canyon, with lots of boulders, buckets and deeper runs to fish. Just below the dam generally stays free of slush and anchor ice, which makes it one of the only options around when other rivers are flowing with slush and ice. From Warm Springs fishing access, downstream to Three Forks the river slows down and flattens out. The river can be hard to read, but it’s not too complicated once you learn to recognize the good holding water.
Look for deeper buckets, drop-offs, or slots between weed beds. Don’t overlook holding water in the middle of the river. There are some good banks to fish, but fish can be just about anywhere in the Lower Madison. Once you catch one fish then cover the water thoroughly since more fish will be usually be holding in the same area. Wade fishing is often times more effective than fishing from the boat since trout are concentrated in a small percentage of the river. Fishing with nymphs is going to be most reliable during winter. Crayfish patterns and San Juan worms are most commonly used as a lead fly with smaller midges or pink colored sowbug-scud patterns for trailer flies. Make sure that you’re using enough weight, so that the flies are bumping right along the bottom. Keeping the line mended for a good dead-drift is key. Set the hook on the slightest bump of the strike indicator since fish tend to hit very lightly in cold water. Midges can be hatching anytime, and the hatch gets thicker as winter progresses. The hatch will normally start later in the morning, and dry fly fishing can be good when the wind permits. Ideally the best days to fish dries are when its calm and overcast.
Stop by our Bozeman fly shop or check out our Bozeman fishing reports on your way out to the Madison and we can fill you with the latest on fishing in the Lower Madison. We can take you on a guided fly fishing trip if you’re in town this winter and weather conditions permit. Late winter can be a great time to get in a day of fishing while on a ski vacation.