Winter on the Fly

Winter Fly Fishing, Bozeman, Montana

Winter on the Fly

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Hostetler, Jeff

Have a little winter fin.

When tourists think of Montana fly fishing, they wistfully imagine green-bottomed, vodka-clear mountain streams glinting with mid-afternoon sunshine. However, the reality of winter fly fishing is more harsh. If the air temperature is below freezing, especially for multiple days, the low rivers develop either a skim of ice or take on the appearance of a clear smoothie. Neither situation is conducive for fly fishing. But when the snow is hard on the mountains and the air is between 25 and 35 degrees or warmer in the valley, the rivers call my name.

On ideal days, the motivated angler can walk miles of uninterrupted riverbank, and might even have some of the best dry fly fishing of the year. I would hate to lead anyone on, so expect that 80% of your winter fly fishing will be under the surface. Anticipate a lot of weight blindly searching riffles and tail-outs for hefty but lethargic feeders on the bottom with nymphs.

Some effective patterns are #12 Prince Nymphs, #14-16 Pheasant Tails, and the same sizes of all colors of Copper Johns. My favorites are the various tiny midge patterns, which include #16-18 Dave’s Emerger, #18-20 Marco Midge in various colors, and #18 Brassies (check for the recipes). Winter fly fishing in southwest Montana can be a real undertaking, but it’s a peaceful way to get out of town, embrace the elements, and have a little fin.

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