Montana Fishing Report

Fishing is in a very predictable winter pattern. Most streams and larger rivers now stay open all year long, as well as the Livingston spring creeks of DePuy, Armstrong and Nelson.  

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 packed together.  

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 vary 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.

Winter time water levels are always on the low side and there is a lot of definition to the water.  The key to winter fishing is finding slower holding water and fishing in the afternoon when water temperatures are at their peak. 

Midge hatches can be strong in some locations in the late morning and early afternoon when warmer mild weather settles in.  Otherwise the fishing is a nymphing game.

Fly selection
Fly selection is simple in the colder months.  If there is a midge hatch choose your favorite midge dry or cluster pattern.  Palamino midges and Griffith’s gnats are good enough. For sub surface try a rubber legs, egg or worm pattern on top and a smaller midge larva or baetis nymph on bottom.

Reading water
Water temps are cooler and trout have moved out of the heavy water and riffles in favor of softer holding water. Trout will be very heavily concentrated in large, slow runs and nearly absent everywhere else.  It pays to skip a lot of water and only focus on these slower runs. Fish slow and deep in the peak afternoon hours.

Yellowstone River Fishing Report

- Poor
Yellowstone River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The ‘Stone will be a tough option once the big ice shelves begin to form and the slush is in the river. The best winter fishing tends to be up near Gardiner The Month Ahead: Conditions will continue to the same as above. Long Term Fishing...Read more

Upper Madison River Fishing Report

- Fair
Upper Madison Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Upper has produced some action. The best fishing is in the slower water which is sometimes hard to find on the Upper Madison. The waters around Ennis are a good bet since there are several really nice big winter runs that concentrate a lot of...Read more

Lower Madison River Fishing Report

- Fair
Lower Madison Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Lower is generally a consistent winter fishery. The trout have all moved into the slower and deeper runs so make sure to stop and work this type of water. Most of the faster riffles will be devoid of trout. Float fishing isn’t as productive but...Read more

Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Fair
Gallatin River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Gallatin is low and clear and is fishing well for most of its length. Mild days are even producing some risers over the midge hatch. Nymphing is the best bet and it pays to skip a lot of water and jump from one deep run to another. Look for...Read more

Montana Spring Creeks Fishing Report

- Good
Spring Creeks Fishing Report Current Conditions: The spring creeks are a great winter option. The water that percolates from the springs are always at Montana’s mean annual temperature of 48 degrees which is much warmer than surrounding freestone rivers. This produces a higher metabolism in spring...Read more

Stillwater River Fishing Report

- Poor
Stillwater River Fishing Report Current Conditions: Fishing will be tough for most of the winter with ice shelves and slush. The Month Ahead: Same as above Long Term Fishing Forecast: The Stillwater is a relatively cold river and isn’t as productive as some other fisheries in the region in the...Read more

Boulder River Fishing Report

- Poor
Boulder River Fishing Report Current Conditions: Now that winter has set in for good the Boulder is a very, very cold river with a lot of ice issues. We avoid it until spring. The Month Ahead: Same as above Long Term Fishing Forecast: The Boulder will become a good option again in April when the...Read more

Jefferson River Fishing Report

- Poor
Jefferson River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Jeff is running low and slow right now and large ice shelves make access difficult. Concentrate on the bigger runs below riffles and experiment untilyou find the right water speed and depth. Nymphing will be the best producer and as a rule...Read more

East Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Good
East Gallatin River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The water on the East is low right now and the fishing has been good. Nymphing the deeper runs is definitely the ticket. The trout are highly concentrated in these buckets and not found in the rest of the river so if you aren’t fishing some...Read more

Missouri River Fishing Report

- Good
Missouri River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The fishing on the upper waters is slowing down but the tailwater section near Craig is still a great choice. The temperature moderation provided by the dam near Wolf Creek produces ice free waters all winter. The key when fishing the Missouri is to...Read more

Ruby River Fishing Report

- Fair
Ruby River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Ruby is a nice option in the winter months. The smaller valley doesn’t produce as strong of winds as the Madison and the dam protects the waters a bit from ice shelves. Nymphing can be pretty good most days and you will often be surprised to find...Read more

Montana Lakes Fishing Report

- Poor
Lake Fishing Report Current Conditions: Not a good option until spring The Month Ahead: Not much Long Term Fishing Forecast: Ice out is from April until June depending on the elevation of the lake and is always a great time to site fish to cruising trout or strip streamers for trophies.Read more

Other Waters Fishing Report

- Poor
Current Conditions: The smaller streams around Montana are mostly closed until May. The best fishing is on the larger waters. The Month Ahead: Smaller streams will be closed Long Term Fishing Forecast: Most small streams in Montana are closed in the winter months and will reopen in May.Read more