Lower Madison in Winter

Avoiding cabin fever through the pursuit of trout

By Tackle Shop Guide James “Jim Bob” Terry

As fall turns to winter, us Montana fly fishing anglers in the colder regions can get a bit restless. The months of dry dropper rigs and cold beer paired with hot days are long gone, and the ski-resort lifts are running full steam ahead. Many anglers turn to snow sports, tying flies, and baking home made bread… but why not just dawn an extra layer and go fishing? Here are some tips to help you stay on the water despite the season.

Pick your battles.

There are days that are worth it, and days that aren’t. If I think I’m going to spend as much time clearing ice from my guides as I am casting, it’s a no-go. There are plenty of decently nice winter days even here in Southwest Montana. Look for warmer days with low wind. Lastly, adjust the time of day you fish. I find that getting on the water around 11 and off around 4 lends the highest success rate and most comfortable conditions on my local fisheries. Obviously that window can be bigger and smaller depending on the month and where you’re fishing.

Dress for success

Proper layering can save your life fishing during the winter, as well as make for a comfortable day on the water. When it comes to the base layer, I live by the saying “the only thing that should be touching your body is wool”. Add additional layers once you get to where you’re fishing and if you’re going far be sure to have room for any layers you shed. Throwing an extra layer in your pack is not a bad idea either. The one thing you don’t want is to end up in a hypothermia situation, know the signs and never ignore them.

Understand winter time trout and insect behavior

Winter time trout behavior is simply put, the most extreme form of their summertime behavior. In the summer trout will seeks out slow, deep runs with a steady food supply. In the winter they will seek out slower, deeper runs with a steady food supply. As their metabolism slows, the fish want to find a spot that they can put minimal work into holding and let a stream of bugs come right to them. Often times if they have to move much more than a foot or two for an insect, they’ll wait for the next bug, so work the water thoroughly.



Midge box


As for the bugs… many anglers spend the winter working streamers low and slow on sinking lines searching for a class of fish my friends and I affectionately call “walter”, while others run their usual fair on nymph rigs (stoneflies, lightning bugs, worms, eggs, etc). For me, it’s a midge game. Living minutes from a tailwater that offers prolific midge hatches in the winter leads me to spend the time trying to match the hatch with midge dries, emergers and nymphs. It’s a blast.

Above all, winter fly fishing in Montana  is about adapting to the conditions. Do your best to pick the “good days”, be sure to dress properly, adapt your fishing techniques, and most importantly… be gentle to your fishy friends

Fishing Reports and Trips

  • Fishing Reports

  • Want to know the most up-to-date information to find where the fish are biting? The Tackle Shop Fishing Reports provide you with a comprehensive look at current water conditions, recent hatches and flow data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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  • Float Trips

  • The Tackle Shop offers a range of full-day and half-day float trips in the Madison River Valley area. The trips are all-inclusive and cover files, rods, reels, waders and boots. Leave your worries behind and let us give you the fly fishing trip of a lifetime.

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  • Walk/Wade Trips

  • Enjoy one of our full-day or half-day walk and wade trips for a more immersive, slower-paced fly fishing experience. The Tackle Shop will cater to your individual needs so you are able to take in the sights and sounds of the best waters in Montana.

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