Winter time can be tough on outdoorsmen and women who reside in Montana. From the final weekend of deer and elk season, to the opener for spring bear and turkey season, what do you do? For most people, the answer is not much. There are people who brave the cold temps and hunt for mountain lion or try to fill their shoulder season elk tag, but this isn’t a reasonable option for everyone. So this brings me back to my opening question, what do you do?
The answer is simple, FISH! Although this can be tough, depending on ice and frozen rivers, nealy all locations of Montana are close to some fishable waters. It isn’t going to be like summer fishing conditions, but you can still get into decent amounts of fish. Frozen guides, numb toes and frigid temps are a name of the game, but when you’re hooking into 18 inch bows, who really cares, right?
A lot of people are under the belief that because there aren’t many prolific hatches during the winter months, the fish aren’t eating much. I personally think it is the exact opposite. Regardless of the time of year, the fish still need to eat in order to stay alive. So because there is a lack of major hatches during these winter months, the fish are constantly looking for an easy meal. This is where the fly selection comes into play.
My preference is to always run a rubber legs as my top fly. I will always carry a few different colors just incase the fish are targeting one specific color, but black is usually a deadly pattern for the winter months. Next, I like to have a variety of dropper flies in my vest as well. Generally speaking, I stick to attractor patterns to maximize my success on the water. Prince nymphs, pheasant tails, San Juan worms, hare’s ears and lightning bugs usually provide the most success, and if you have these options in your fly box, you are bound to hook into some fish. For more of a selection on flies and tying material, I would suggest visiting the Grizzly Hackle Fly shop. Their shop is located in Downtown Missoula, or you can click here to visit their website. They have a giant assortment of flies and fishing gear and you can shop online as well.
One other major key to catching winter fish is fishing DEEP. If your flies aren’t on the bottom, it’s as if you aren’t fishing at all. A couple split shot matched with a heavy top fly will usually get your flies at the right depth, but adding more split shot is always an option. Lastly, you might want to target slightly different types of water until you find the fish. With water temps in the upper thirties to low forties, the fish are definitely going to be lethargic. So fishing slower and deeper water will likely lead you to finding more fish than your typical trout water.
Winter can be tough on all of us, but it is almost time to start chasing gobblers and bears. In the meantime, I hope that you have will use these tips to make the winter pass by a little faster. If you use these tips, you should be able to round up a few fish. Make sure to buy your updated licence before you hit the river and be aware of the melting ice chunks. I hope to see you on the river.