A few mornings this week I woke up to fresh snow. Always a great sight, even as I work through my own morning fog before the caffeine clears my head. Snow in our mountain town means smiles on most faces—even my two Labrador Retrievers’ tails shake with more enthusiasm, if possible, with the slightest dusting. For all the anglers in Big Sky, snow, and lots of snow is embraced: snow now means better summer stream flows, but it also means people are on the slopes and not on the river. Cast or carve? This decision has become cliché in our shop, but, we really do live in the best place on earth. To get the best out of your winter fishing, here are some tips.
A quality pair of waders and boots. Waders keep you dry and provide a layer of warmth. A pair of boots with good traction is important. A fall in icy cold water ruins your day of fishing and could end your life. It is nice to have non-felt soles for winter fishing. Felt and snow love each other, so snow sticks to felt and makes for uneven and dangerous walking to and from the river. Put spikes or studs in your non-felt boots.
Consider hiring a guide. We fish a lot in winter here near Big Sky, Montana. And with the favorable weather forecast, our Montana fly fishing guides will be working.
Layer your clothing. If it gets warmer outside than expected or if you are walking a lot, discard layers and keep comfortable. If one layer gets wet due to a fall or sweat, you can shed to a drier layer. Quality long underwear and socks is a must for an enjoyable day on the river.
Carry a pack. A backpack allows you to bring extra clothing, gear, and food, and easily allows you to take-off or add layers of clothing.
Bring a net and hook removal tool. A net allows you to keep your hands dry. With hook removal tool, such a hemostats or a Ketchum Release, you can release a netted fish without getting your hands wet or touching the fish. Win-wins.
Simplify your fly selection. Trout feed sporadically in winter. Gone is the need to match a hatch, as hatches are minimal. Most local guides fish a handful of patterns. Be sure to have a few size 8 to 12 Pats’ Rubberlegs in brown/tan. A few size 16 to 20 beadhead midge patterns. Our guides love Broughton’s Root Beer midge or a red or black Zebra midge. This winter a gold- or fire-bead San Juan Worm in size 10 has been catching fish for those willing to admit it. If you are fortunate to see rising fish on the Gallatin in winter cast a size 18 or 20 Parachute Adams or any midge cluster pattern and the hungry trout should be fooled.
Be willing to fish sub-surface. Because winter hatches are minimal, trout congregate in slower, deeper pools. It’s not pure and it’s not pretty, but, use a strike indicator and some weight and you might have enough action to forget your hands are cold or to keep you from calling it early because you can’t feel your feet any more.
Still need more and want to challenge your angling skills? Consider attending our guide school, the Montana Fishing Guide School.