Stillwater Anglers Winter Fly Fishing

Everything You Need to Know About Winter Fly Fishing in Montana

Saying you want to fly fish during winter may sound like a paradox, but there are excellent opportunities for adventurous and patient anglers. There are plenty of winter fly fishing opportunities in Montana throughout winter!

The cold season usually signifies un-crowded and quality fishing for most anglers despite (or thanks to, depending on how you look at it) extreme weather. Here we explain why.

Winter Fly Fishing: Everything You Need to Know in Montana

Firstly, you need a different approach to winter fishing. You also need to know a bit about the ideal scenarios that yield the best results. Secondly, it is important to review the recommendations for safety. Finally, you need to know some of the best places in Montana where you can fly fish during the winter months.

In fly fishing, patience is important. You need to wait for the right type of winter weather. Most people understand Montana winters as arctic landscapes containing piles of snow and igloos used for shelter. Those of you who are yet to visit Montana during winter may be surprised, as most of the weather is relatively mild.

While there may be arctic cold fronts, the occasional blizzard, and sub-zero temperatures, the average daytime temperature is around 40 degrees. Even though this may not strike you as being overly warm, keep in mind that there are also low winds, low humidity, and sunshine present. The days can, therefore, be surprisingly pleasant.

It is not only essential to wait for the right weather, but also for the right time of day. The days are shorter during winter, but this is not a problem if you enjoy early mornings. Brew a hot cup of coffee and get out there!

Now let’s dig into the most technical aspects of winter fly fishing in Montana.

Locating the Winter Trout

Trout usually move outside their summertime haunts during cold weather and when winter really kicks in. Their metabolism slows, and fish engage in a maintenance diet during the cold months and go through very little growth. To conserve valuable energy, the fish migrate to slower moving water.

Trout prefer deeper water (more than 3 feet deep) in the more massive rivers for additional safety. During this time, most of the river becomes nearly devoid of trout. To guarantee your success in winter fly fishing in Montana, you should focus on the slower and deeper runs holding fish.

The Best Time of Day

Since trout are naturally cold-blooded and feed when water temperatures reach their peak during the winter months, there is no need to bother fly fishing before 11 am. The reason behind this is that the fish will be in a thermally induced coma. The best hours for fishing in the colder months is usually between noon and 4 pm.

Winter Nymph Strategies

Winter fly fishing in Montana is mostly a game of nymph fishing, but there are exceptions. There are different patterns highly recommended. Stonefly patterns, egg patterns, and midge larva are a good choice. The most significant part of nymphing during winter is in getting a slow drag free drift.

Choose Your River Wisely

Success during winter fly fishing trips depends extensively on the temperature of the water. Numerous freestone rivers may be unfishable in the case of large ice shelves developing. There are some freestone rivers that usually stay relatively ice-free. These include stretches of the Yellowstone River and Gallatin River.

Most anglers seek out the tailwaters like the Bighorn or Missouri for winter fly fishing. They’re generally ice-free. In addition to nymph fishing, midge or baetis hatches my offer some dry fly fishing opportunities.

Nothing can ruin a day of winter fishing faster than getting wet and/or cold. It can quickly lead to hypothermia and be dangerous. In addition to boots and waders, wear layered clothing, headwear and gloves or mittens. If doing a lot of walking or movement. Be sure and ventilate. If wade fishing a distance or float fishing, at a minimum, carry an extra layer, as well as a change of gloves and socks. It’s much easier to stay warm and dry then it is to get warm and dry.

However, the weather in Montana remains unpredictable. If you want to book your fishing trip in advance and come here from out of state, our suggestion is to speak to a local shop or guide. We can tell you exactly where to go and what to bring. Even for the most seasoned of anglers, advice from a local can make a world of difference!