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Why Oh Why Would you Fish in Winter?
Since this will be the last article I pen for the season I thought it appropriate to take a little look forward to the next few months when so many anglers across the area will be retiring their fishing gear until next spring. Now, I’m not one of those folks who puts my fishing gear away at the sign of the first freeze, oh no. When everyone else is getting their skis or boards polished up for the season I’m throwing on an extra layer or two and heading to the river for a few hours of solitude and winter fishing bliss. November can’t truly be considered a “winter” fishing month, but when December and January roll around and snow hits the ground, that’s when crazies are separated from the casual fishermen. As a member of the former and not the latter category, I’ll admit that my fishing habits borderline on “insane” as my wife often remarks. There’s something simple, calming, and refreshing about spending a brisk day on the water in the deep of the winter watching fish do their dance across the wintery backdrop of Montana’s rivers and streams. If you enjoy spending time in nature with very few people around, then you just might have what it takes to enjoy winter fishing. For those of you crazy enough to read on I’ll gladly share some winter retreats and a few tips on what you should be prepared with.
Winter: When What you Wear is Important
For the vast majority of the fishing season I contend that you can fish in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals if you like, not the case in the winter. If you plan on doing any winter fishing at all you are going to need to layer up just like you were going to go to the ski hill and find yourself some nice socks too because nothing kills a day of fishing faster than cold feet. Some sort of headgear is always necessary for fishing to protect the melon from flying hooks and something with a brim is nice for allowing you to see better on sunny days. For warmth purposes there’s a ton of “jeep caps” out there these days and if you can stand to look like Radar from MASH you’ll be a lot better off during the winter. As for gloves, some love ‘em, some hate ‘em, personally, I don’t fish in the winter without some sort of mitten or glove… Make sure that you’ve repaired the leaks in your waders, and if you plan on doing a lot of winter fishing consider investing in a studded rubber soled wading boot – snow clings to and builds up on felt but not rubber. Finally get some good polarized sunglasses – there’s no worse glare than that coming off of snow and water in the winter.
When to Go, When to Stay Home
Now that we’ve fully hashed out everything you need for winter fishing consider the timing of your pursuits next in line of importance. The best times to go during the winter are during the middle of a warm front. If it’s been sub zero for 3 weeks, don’t pick the first warm day to head to the river, there will likely be ice flows and frozen river to contend with, neither of which are safe or productive for fishing. I personally try to find days where temps are into the low 40’s, but as long as it isn’t too far below freezing you can fish in spurts if you’re willing to endure the temps. Line will freeze and so will your guides on your rod, so if you go when it’s too cold, plan on picking ice out of your eyelets, there is not a paste or product that works to keep your rod ice free when temps are below freezing. Another word from the wise – check the wind forecast, wind in winter is brutal and really messes up a day of fishing.
Places to Head Besides the Ski Hill
If you are looking at a place to head to during the winter, look at tailwater fisheries first. Tailwater rivers flow out of dams and maintain more consistent and warmer temperatures during the winter, this is key to finding open water during the cold spells. Rivers like the Missouri, Bighorn, Beaverhead, and Madison are all tailwater fisheries and all of them tend to have far less ice on them than their freestone counterparts like the Big Hole, Gallatin, Yellowstone, Boulder etc. Spring Creeks are another good winter option – Livingston, Montana sports 3 of the most well known Spring Creeks in the world and all of them provide an excellent winter fishing option with consistent water temps and rich bug life in the dead of winter. Wherever you do decide to head to during the winter make sure and tell someone where you’re heading and exercise caution when wading – ice flows are dangerous and fishing in the winter by yourself isn’t for the novice angler.
What to Stuff in Your Flybox
If you’ve ever found it difficult to decide what flies to use when you head to the river, then winter will be a welcome change. There’s really only about a half dozen different things you’ll need to take with you depending on where you are going. During the winter a trout’s diet consists mainly of aquatic insects and worms, thus you don’t need to bring along a ton of dry flies. Midges, worms, eggs and maybe some leeches or stoneflies and you’ll round out a fly selection for most rivers in the winter. Don’t over complicate things, bring split shot, indicators, short stout leaders and maybe a flask filled with something that hints of cinnamon…
Winter fishing is oftentimes nothing more than an excuse to drive a long distance on terrible roads to the middle of nowhere where you will find very few other sensible creatures besides a few birds and hopefully some fish. Perhaps I’ll see you out on the water this winter, if I do I’ll happily share a bend of river with you and toast to being a little off!
Kris Kumlien is the General Manager at Montana Troutfitters and can be found rambling on about anything to do with fishing at www.troutfitters.com