Many folks we talk to actually cant believe that we are fishing year round here in SW Montana. Granted, there are days when sitting at the tying vise with a cold refreshment, restocking the boxes, sounds a bit better than freezing rod guides and cold feet. That said, when the thermometer hits the double digits and the sun is shining, there aren’t many things I’d rather be doing than enjoying an afternoon out on the water. Need an example of why? See the below photo. You’re not gonna see that in the fly tying room, unless you’re home is situated nicely along DePuy Spring Creek in the Paradise Valley.
One thing to keep in mind is that winter fishing requires a bit more preparation and planning than your standard summer afternoon. Here are 10 Tips to make your winter fishing experience more pleasurable.
#1 Stick to the Tailwaters Or Spring Creeks
This is certainly not the rule, but in general, Tailwater fisheries and Spring Creeks tend to fish more consistently throughout the winter than their Freestone counterparts. This is likely due to the more constant temperature water coming out of the dam or out of the spring source. Additionally, you can usually count on ice free conditions.
Around our neck of the woods, some of the best winter fisheries are the Missouri, Madison, Ruby and the various Paradise Valley Spring Creeks…..
#2 Choose Your Gear Wisely
If there is any time of year where high-performance gear becomes essential, it is winter. Going out to the river with your old leaky waders, torn up wading boots, and a light shell jacket is just not going to make the cut. This is the time of year where we can actually make the argument that higher quality gear will help you catch more fish. It’s simple. If your gear allows you to stay out on the water longer, fish longer, you will catch more fish.
High quality waders, like the Simms G3 Guide Wader, combo’d with a wading boot built for traversing over snowy, icy rocks, yet sticking tight while wading, take the Simms G3 Guide Boot for example, will improve your winter fishing experience. In addition, utilizing proper layering techniques, and high quality layering pieces can make all the difference between a warm and a freezing day on the water.
The Simms Kinetic Jacket
#3 Loosen Those Boots A Touch
A big time bummer of winter fly fishing is cold feet. Believe it or not, sometimes squeezing your feet into three pairs of wool socks, then into your waders, then into your wading boots, is not going to result in warmer toes. Go with one pair of high performance cold weather socks, and don’t cinch down quite as hard on those wading boots. Your blood circulation will improve and your toes will thank you.
#4 Utilize the Landing Net
One recipe for disaster with winter fishing is cold hands. The difficulty with this is generally you will be catching quite a few fish, and cold wet hands can happen quickly. The solution to the problem? Use a net.
Now, keep in mind, using a net still requires proper catch and release and fish handling techniques. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, don’t squeeze, and pinch your barbs.
Keep those hands dry
#5 Fingerless Gloves
Fingerless gloves, such as the Simms ExStream Half-Finger Gloves, go a long way in improving hand warmth while fishing. Fingerless gloves allow you to wear the glove while you’re fishing and do not take away from your feel and dexterity with the fly rod and line handling.
#6 Pink is the real MVC (Most Valuable Color)
Pink nymphs are the go-to winter bug. Don’t ask why…because we don’t know for sure, but our guesses are that they represent a wide variety of food sources, including Sowbugs, Scuds. Additionally the pink color could be mistaken for an egg by the fish. Either way, Pink nymphs just seem to work great in the winter months. Don’t leave the house without a stocked box full of different sizes and variations. If you need help picking some out, we have a great stock of pink winter bugs.
#7 Your Rod Guides WILL Freeze
This is less of a tip and more of a gentle reminder. When the air is colder than the water, your rod guide are likely going to build up with ice. Unfortunately that is just the price to pay for a great day of winter fishing. There are a few products out there that will help, but nothing is perfect. Inevitably, you will end up popping off the ice with your thumb.
About the only way I’ve found to reduce the amount of ice build up, is to simply not strip in line. I have resorted to a lot of roll and Single Hand Spey casting techniques while winter fishing. This allows me to get a nice drift, and cast again without having to strip in line. I still get some ice build up when I adjust my cast length or when I catch a fish, but it is significantly less than when I have to strip in line to re-cast every time.
#8 Split Shot is Your Friend
When the water temps start to drop, so do the fish. They find a nice deep hole, where the water temps are a bit more consistent, and they just hangout and wait for the food to come to them. If you’re not using heavily weighted flies, and/or Split Shot to get down, you’re not going to have much success. Never leave a good spot without a little experimentation with depth and weight. You’ll be surprised how many more fish you get into.
#9 Don’t Forget the Streamer
Big fish tend to be more difficult to find in winter months. The reason being is that they don’t like to spend a lot of energy eating small bugs when they can eat one or two meals that will produce a few weeks of energy. A large brown trout might only eat once a week, or even once a month, so in order to catch him, you’re going to need a fair bit of luck and the right fly to entice him into eating. This is where the big streamer comes into play. Don’t forget about the big sculpin, and whitefish patterns this time of year. You could find yourself hooked up to the fish of a lifetime.
#10 Try a Smaller, Or Better Yet, No Strike Indicator
Often times when a fish eats a fly in the winter, it is not going to make an all out commitment. The strikes in the colder water are much more subtle and often times, if you are using a big strike indicator you won’t even know it happened. This winter, test out a few new strike indicators. Yarn works well, as do the guide secret Balloons. Old-school Palsa Pinch-Ons are great as well when fishing smaller flies. This winter is also a great time to work on your tight line nymphing skills. If you really want to get into great numbers of fish, tight line, Czech, or Euro style nymphing is the way to go. You feel every little bump, and when the fish eats, you’re a lot faster on the hook set.
Watch this informational video from MidCurrent for more tips on Czech Style Nymphing.
I hope these tips help you out! Remember, the Winter season is not just for skiing and snowshoeing….you can catch fish too! And you don’t have to do it with a tip-up and a hole in the ice!
Before you go….
What is your favorite river for Winter Fly Fishing?