You gotta pick your days for fishing this time of year. Between the months of December, January, and February, days with highs in the 30’s, combined with calm winds are few and far between. When we do have days with those conditions, you’ve got to jump on your opportunity to fish. For me, I like to watch the overnight low temps. If there’s a streak of two or three days with overnight lows in the 20s or 30s, fishing can be surprisingly fun in the dead of winter.
Recently, Parker and I had just those conditions and we decided to head up between the lakes (Hebgen and Quake Lakes), on the Madison for a unique fishing experience that we recommend to all anglers living in these parts during the winter.
Armed with snowshoes, sleds, a flask of fireball, extremely poor cinematography skills, and a Trout Stalkers puck full of eggs and turds, we took off from Refuge Point. Within 5 paces from the truck, Parker broke his rod on a snowbank. Bummer. We quickly grabbed a replacement and struck out again.
As you’ll see in the video below, we had some fun transporting ourselves to the river, which involves about a 10 minute sled ride (Blue Square for all you gnar bros) to the river. Watch out for moose!
Once at the river, be very careful getting in the river. The snowbanks are gigantic and deceiving. Most of the time, the snowbanks extend several feet past where the ground banks actually are. So if you’re not careful, you could end up like Parker (i.e., face first in an icy river).
During this time of year, there’s a basic selection of flies and techniques that can be successful on calm, cloudy/snowy, balmy days. We were ready and willing to sling tiny dries for winter sipping trout, it just didn’t go that way. The bugs were there, the trout noses weren't. Instead, we fished a variety of colors of eggs and rubber legs with success. The most successful color/size combo of egg was a size 18 tangerine trailed behind a size 6 coffee/black rubber legs stone fly nymph. A pretty typical setup, but also very reliable this time of year.
The fly is fairly easy, but this time of year it’s all about finding the right water. When water temps drop substantially for lengthy durations of time, you can increase the odds of success on the river dramatically by focusing on the calmest, slowest water possible. And on the Madison, this is both a blessing and a curse. Obviously, a curse because the Madison is mostly a 50 mile riffle, but a blessing because if you can manage to locate long slow pools with varying depth, there’s a very good chance that it will be loaded with stacked up fish, holding for the winter.
Many times, the slow pools are deep, and sometimes they are shallow, only 6 inches deep like they were on this particular day. In these situations, leave your bobbers in your wader pocket and instead tightline nymph similar to tenkara for easier detection of strikes.
Wherever you decide to fish on the Madison this winter, be sure to stop by the shop for a warm coffee, sage advice on whiskey selections for your flask, and flies for your fishing ventures!
- Tangering Egg
- Coffee/black Pat's Rubber Legs
Tools of the trade:
- SIMMS G4 Pro Stockingfoot Waders
- Patagonia Rio Gallegos Stockingfoot Waders (2015 Model ON SALE here)
- SIMMS Waderwick Thermal Top and Bottom
- SIMMS Exstream Foldover Mitt
- $9 sled from WalMart