Montana Fishing Reports
Winter fishing isn't rocket science. Just make sure to find the deeper water that still has steady current. Make frequent
adjustments to the indicator and weights when nymping and focus on the prime hours after lunch. Severe cold snaps can
slush up rivers with the exception of the spring creeks and tailwaters just below dams.
Not much - a few midges here and there.
Eggs are still producing and will all winter. Same with san juan worms, big stoneflies and smaller midge larva or baetis
nymphs trailed behind. Fly selection doesn't have to be too fancy in the winter. Just make sure to find the fish.
Look for longer runs with a few feet of depth - winter meat holes are few and far between but the fish will be stacked there.
Skip all of the riffles and shallow glides.
Upper Madison - Fair
The Upper continues to be a decent option but with cold weather ice shelves and wind are an issue. Trout are avoiding the fast
water that makes up a lot of this section of the river so if you can find some slower runs they will be filled with trout. The water
near Ennis is a little more diverse than the "50 mile riffle" upstream and has some great holding water but also is the first to
ice up. Nymphing stoneflies trailed by smaller baetis nymphs has been effective. Eggs and some of the larger midge larva
patterns such as 3 dollar dips are also a good option.
Lower Madison - Very Good
The Lower has been outstanding on good days and good enough on slow days. This is always a good winter choice as long
as the wind isn't blowing too hard. Severe cold snaps can also cause the river to slush up and then fishing is almost
impossible but the breaks in between cold snaps can produce great results.
Yellowstone River - Poor
The Yellowstone is still fishing well near Gardiner but the lower river becomes tough to fish with large ice shelves forming
during cold weather. Float fishing isn't as productive as wading but a short float to taxi from run to run is still a nice option.
Nymphing the slower deeper runs with stoneflies, small attractor nymphs and egg patterns will produce trout as long as you
find where they are holding. As soon as more sever cold snaps arrive the ice shelves will form fast and continue deep into
Gallatin - Very Good
The Gallatin is low and gin clear right now. The fish are starting to stack up in the slower slicks and runs with some depth and
slow to medium speed currents. Nymphing has been most productive most of the day with smaller baetis patterns offering the
most productivity. Egg patterns are also producing in wake of the whitefish spawn and before the brown trout spawn. On mild
days we have observed some decent midge hatches that are bring a few trout to the surface so bring some small midge dries
just in case. Several springs come in near Big Sky junction that keep the upper canyon free of slush during all but the worst
cold snaps. The fishing in the lower valley can be good during mild weather but large ice shelves and slush in the river become
a factor during colder weather.
Boulder - Good
The Boulder is low and very clear right now. Fishing is still good but requires a stealthier approach and a decent cast to get to
fish before they see you. Nymphing smaller patterns can be productive but ice will become a persistent problem in the near
Jefferson - Poor
The Jefferson gets significant ice shelves in the winter making fishing very difficult most of the time. If a prolonged mild weather
period develops it can be an option, but otherwise look elsewhere until the early spring.
East Gallatin - Good
The East fishes more like a spring creek than a freestone stream in the winter months. The numerous spring creeks and
springs that feed the river in the lower valley keep ice shelves at bay and this is a decent winter fishery for locals. Definitely
focus on the bigger and deeper runs that will be holding all of the fish. Nymphing is usually the best option but slow stripping a
streamer can sometimes produce as well.
Ruby River - Very Good
The Ruby is a fun option in the winter. The water below the reservoirs stays open all year and can produce some decent dry
fly fishing over midge hatches on a mild day. Nymphing or slow stripping dark streamers can also produce.
Missouri - Very Good
The upper river is slowing down and has a lot of ice shelves but the tail water section around Craig is a good winter bet.
Floating is an option even in the winter but plan a very slow float and try to find some slower seems that will hold fish.
Nymphing the normal Missouri standards of scuds, sow bugs and smaller midge larva or baetis nymphs will produce. Just
make sure you find the fish. Some dry fly action over midge hatches can also be a lot of fun in the late afternoon.
Lakes - Poor
Spring Creeks - Red Hot (relatively compared to other winter options)
The Livingston creeks (Armstrong, Depuy and Nelson) are a great option in the winter. Since these magical fisheries are fed
by ground water they have higher than normal water temps in the cold weather months. Nymphing is the best option with a
sow bug and a midge larva a good combination. Fly selection isn't as important as presentation. Takes will be very delicate so
consider a yarn indicator. Mild days can also produce a few rises over midges to the watchful eye. Winter rates are just $40 a
day which is still cheaper than a ski ticket.
Other fisheries - Poor
Most of the smaller waters around the state will be closed until the general opener in May.
Yellowstone Park - closed
MADISON RIVER VALLEY ~ YELLOWSTONE RIVER VALLEY ~ GALLATIN RIVER VALLEY ~ BOZEMAN ~ ENNIS ~ LIVINGSTON ~ BIG SKY ~ GARDINER
Montana Angler Fly Fishing, 76 Lucille Lane, Bozeman MT 59718
Montana Fishing Report Overview
Fishing is starting to settle into a very predictable winter pattern. The fall
spawn is largely over or coming to an end soon depending on the fishery
and water temperatures are falling quickly with long nights and short days.
The hard cold snaps of mid winter have not yet arrived and most of the big
fisheries are still ice free and providing good access. Small streams will
be closed for the winter but most larger and medium sized rivers stay
open along with the Livingston spring creeks of DePuy, Armstrong and
Trout are now in the mode of a maintenance diet and their metabolism is
directly tied to the water temperature which means it is slow. Most of the
fish in our local waters have already moved into their winter runs. This time
of year you need to be have laser focus on where you fish and target the
deeper runs with slow to medium currents. Trout will no longer be found in
the fast riffles or bustling pocket water that was so productive in the
warmer months. The good news is that once you find some of these
winter time honey holes they will be packed with trout. Fish densities in
the best winter runs can be staggering with dozens upon dozens of trout
Nymphing is hands down the most effective technique in the cold weather
months (although streamers and even dries can still be an option). The fly
selection doesn't have to be fancy but will very from fishery to fishery. On
the bigger freestone rivers such as the Yellowstone, Gallatin and Madison
it is nice to still fish something larger as the top fly such as a stonefly
nymph, crayfish pattern or sculpin trailed by a smaller nymph. For small
nymphs think small with hooks in the 18-20 range. Patterns that produce
include small baetis emergers, pheasant tails and midge larva. San Juan
worms and eggs are also good patterns to try and if you are fishing a tail
water or spring creek a sow bug can produce (especially pink). On spring
creeks the big/small rule for nymphing can still apply but the "big fly"
might be a size 14 sow bug trailed by a size 22 midge larva. Takes in the
cold weather months are always very "soft". The fact that trout are not
moving much for flies along with the slow water that they are found in
produces a very light reaction on a strike indicator. It is important to
experiment with weighting to ensure flies are right on the bottom. Many of
our guides also prefer a yarn indicator in the winter which makes it easier
to see subtle ticks and changes of speed. If your indicator tilts, slows
down, speeds up, or looks "funny" set the hook and ask questions later.
On a mild winter day you might be lucky enough to run into some rising
trout feeding on midges. Even freestone streams like the Gallatin will
produce some sporadic midge hatches. If the hatch isn't too strong dries
that imitate single midges are more productive such as a palomino
pattern. On tail waters like the Bighorn the midge hatches in the winter
can be thick in the late morning and the insects will cluster together so
many of the patterns such as the Griffiths gnat that imitate these "rafts" of
insects can out produce single insect patterns.
Time of day is also important this time of year. Early mornings can be
very tough fishing. The magic window in the winter is from around 1pm
until 4:30 or so each day when water temperatures are peaking.
As we progress farther into the winter months it will pay to seek out
waters that have some thermal protection from frigid air temperatures.
Waters that are great producers even during cold snaps include the spring
creeks, tail waters and certain freestone waters that have significant
spring fed influences. Big freestone waters like the Yellowstone River will
develop large ice shelves resulting in dangerous wading conditions.