When the middle of winter rolls around in southwest Montana, fishing ventures are all about keeping things short. When it’s ten degrees outside during the warmest part of the day, like it was yesterday for Parker and I up around the Pine Butte area of the upper Madison, there aren’t many mortal human beings that can keep their extremities warm enough to fish effectively for very long.
We highly recommend jazzercise sessions on the banks to help with this. Which is why keeping your fishing excursions short and close to the vehicle where your heater vents and whiskey flasks are located are so key. That’s not to say the fish aren’t around and that they aren’t willing to eat during these times when most sane Montanan’s are back home stoking the fire. They most certainly are. And typically, they’re stacked up in the softest and deepest water around, making it fairly simple to find fish if you know what type of water to look for. Gentle riffles, deeper undercut bends in banks, calm eddies behind large boulders, and the rare slow deep run on the Madison. These are all places to focus in the wintertime.
It’s also important to keep your casts short in the wintertime as well. For a couple of reasons. The more casting and retrieving of line that you do when temps drop into the teens, the more ice you’re going to have to pick out of your guides. By letting out 10 feet or so of fly line, plus your leader, and maintaining that line distance as much as possible throughout the day, you will reduce your frustration and fits of rage from ice build up considerably. With this “high stick” or “short line” nymphing technique, you fish with a tenkara mindset. Stealth and close approach to fishing lies without spooking fish is key. Keep it short and simple. As an added bonus, keep your non-dominant hand in your jacket pocket to prevent them from going numb! Cast, drift, swing, and repeat.
This week was a pretty decent fishing week for us here at Trout Stalkers. We got in three different fishing sessions at different locations along the upper Madison including Three Dollar Bridge, Pine Butte, and Eight Mile Ford near Ennis. Highs were in the 20s this week near Ennis with very little moisture to speak of. But, thankfully, the snowpack in the surrounding mountains are still looking good.
Fishing up at Three Dollar was pretty good during the middle/warmer parts of the days. Even when temps dip into the teens, if the clouds are overhead and the wind is calm, you can bet on midges being in the air and on the menu. And they certainly were. Midge dries tucked behind boulders in eddies took plenty of fish. No monsters, but enough to satisfy anglers. Down at Pine Butte, temps were also frigid, but with very little dry fly action. In fact, I don’t think I saw a single nose break the surface at Pine Butte yesterday on a classic overcast calm winter day. However, the nymphing was spectacular. Eight Mile was a little slower in the fishing department. We landed a few fish, but not as many as further upstream on the river. During the winter, the fly selection in fishing reports around here can sound like a broken record pretty quickly. Zebra Midge, Eggs, Rubber Legs, rinse and repeat. If you’re not typically out in the winter time fishing, these flies will get you in the game quickly, but they’re not the only flies that work.
We’re planning on mixing it up a little in our fishing reports, so stay tuned. Come on in the shop sometime to see our selection of baetis and midge patterns. Looking into next week, the forecast is warm with a little snow coming. That long-standing struggle between fishing dries and skiing fresh powder will surely come into play.
- Tangering/Peach Egg
- Coffee/black Pat's Rubber Legs
- Zebra Midge
- Parachute Griffith’s Gnat
Tools of the trade:
- 9' 6wt. TFO Professional Series II Fly Rod
- Trout Hunter 5x Leader and Tippet
- Patagonia Rio Gallegos Stockingfoot Waders (2015 Model ON SALE here)
- SIMMS Waderwick Thermal Top and Bottom
- SIMMS Exstream Foldover Mitt