Montana Fishing Report

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.  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 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.

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

- Fair
Yellowstone River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The river is still a good option closer to Gardiner but the lower river develops a lot of ice shelves and becomes difficult to fish. Plan on fishing the after lunch hours with nymphing being the staple. Rubber legs trailed by a prince is as fancy...Read more

Upper Madison River Fishing Report

- Good
Upper Madison Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Upper continues to produce some consistent 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...Read more

Lower Madison River Fishing Report

- Good
Lower Madison Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Lower has been a consistent producer recently and should hold form into the heart of winter. The trout are already moving 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...Read more

Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Gallatin River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Gallatin is low and clear and is fishing well for most of its length. The ice shelves are still at bay on the lower water and the river in the valley is still fishing well. Mild days are even producing some risers over the midge hatch. Nymphing...Read more

Montana Spring Creeks Fishing Report

- Very 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

- Fair
Stillwater River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Stillwater River is low but trout are moving into the deeper slots and nymphing has been productive. This is a colder river and once the temperatures drop a bit more the big ice shelves will form. The Month Ahead: Fishing will be tough for...Read more

Boulder River Fishing Report

- Fair
Boulder River Report Current Conditions: The Boulder is low and the trout are spooky so making longer casts helps to reduce sending trout in the wrong direction. The good news is that fish are moving into deeper water where they aren’t as nervous. Standard fair for nymphing like stone fly nymphs...Read more

Jefferson River Fishing Report

- Fair
Jefferson River Fishing Report Current Conditions: The Jeff is running low and slow right now but the big ice shelves are still at bay and there is still good fishing to be had. Concentrate on the bigger runs below riffles and experiment until you find the right water speed and depth. Nymphing will...Read more

East Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Good
East Gallatin Fishing Report Current Conditions: The water on the East is low right now and trout but 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 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 seek out the runs...Read more

Ruby River Fishing Report

- Good
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
Lakes 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

- Fair
Other waters Current Conditions: The smaller streams around Montana are very dependent on weather this time of year. Most of the mountain streams will be snow and ice covered until April or so. If you find a small spring creek to access, these can be great winter spots due to the constant water...Read more