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.
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