Picking ice out of your guides all day, hiking through snow to get to the river, tying flies on with cold hands all for a few fish… Well, that’s winter fly fishing in Missoula, Montana. Don’t let that deter you from getting out for those fish that heat your cold hands and feet up when you hook into them. There is something about catching a fish in the winter. It’s like you cheated mother nature and found a way to still get out on the river in the depths of a season that can drive people mad sitting inside waiting for spring and skwala’s. There is a chance at success too. Last weekend we even caught fish on dries on a day where it hovered around freezing and spit snow on us intermittently throughout our float. All you need is to be prepared and be ready to face the elements. Follow these tips and you’ll find a way to cure your cabin fever this winter.
Dress for Success. Dressing for whatever winter throws at you is half the battle in winter fishing. If you are dressed correctly your not only staying warm, but staying safe. Dress in layers and stay away from cotton. Cotton keeps in moisture. Look for breathable materials like wool or fleece these materials wick moisture away from your body and keep you warmer in the long run. Make sure you dress in layers. If you’re too hot you can always take a layer off.
Get Fishy. Knowing where fish are holding can save you time and help you understand cold water temps. The fish you caught on a goldenstone in July won’t be in the same spot in January or February. As water temps drop so do the fishes metabolism. They aren’t chasing down food quite as much and are conserving their energy. Look for slow seams where the water is about walking speed. Fish the inside of bends where the water is slower than that outside corner near the bank that looks really fishy. Fish every inch of those areas as fish won’t move far for food.
Flies, flies, flies Fly selection is always a big deal from season to season, winter is no difference except for the fact that it’s a lot simpler. There aren’t a whole lot of bugs out around in winter. The only bugs you can count on being out are midges. Even then fish won’t always key in on them even if there is a blanket hatch. If they do your day just got a lot warmer. It’s hard to beat catching a fish on a dry in January or February. When fish are keyed in on midge dries reach for your 5x and a sz 20-22 Griffith’s Gnat, P-Haze or P-Adams. Most winter days, you’ll most likely be fishing nymphs under a bobber (indicator). This will be your bread and butter. If you are against nymphing or are a purest… Winter fishing won’t be your cup of tea. Our favorite winter nymphs are San Jaun Worms, Rubberlegs Stones, Eggs, Princes and Zebra Midges. There is always a chance at catching fish on streamers too. Remember to slow down everything when it comes to streamer and pare down the size of your flies. Dead drifting a small Wooly Bugger or Sparkle Minnow can be a deadly presentation for bigger fish.
Winter fishing isn’t for the faint of heart, but the rewards are well worth the trouble. Give it a try this year and you might just be surprised.