Winter Fishing

Winter Fly Fishing

Photo: Louis Cahill

Bill Krise – Bozeman, MT
Sure enough, it’s winter again. I visited a few local streams just this past week and discovered ice flows blocking access to the open water. It makes me think twice about wading into some of our open rivers to fish.

On those days that I don’t quite feel up for a frigid dip in the near-arctic waters near my home, winter is the time to dream and prepare for the seasons to come. For many of you, whether your go-to streams are closed outright or approaching the deep freeze, it seems you may have the opportunity to dream along with me. And for that bold group who fish their local streams well into the winter, well, you can join us too and dream out on the water.

During the winter months, dreaming can be put to practical use. It is a time for preparing and strategizing in anticipation of the upcoming spring hatches (represented by such patterns as the Quill Gordon, Blue Wing Olive, Hendrickson, Western March Brown and the Mother’s Day Caddis to name a few). It may be cold now, but next year is on the way, and so are the critters.

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As spring starts to break through and warm us up, it’s wonderful to watch the weather and water conditions come alive again as the new season approaches. I can picture it now: a group of otters swimming out from their dens in Yellowstone Park as a small army of visitors crowd around for close-ups. I often think of the deer and wait in anticipation for that time of year when the herds come to quench their thirst in the streams as I fish. The scenery in trout country and the unexpected visits from Mother Nature are a significant part of the fly fishing experience for many.

Winter also gives us all a chance to repair equipment and get things tuned up. Although some of us may be inclined to procrastinate all the way into next year’s fishing season, this can be a great opportunity to clean our fly lines, repair or replace leaders, and figure out what equipment and flies we may need come spring. By doing routine maintenance during this “seasonal downtime” so to speak, you can extend the season of this amazing hobby and start dreaming of catching that big one a whole season earlier.

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Here in Montana, we do a lot of winter fishing. I remember my first time out. I was glad that the temperature stayed above freezing (so my line wouldn’t freeze to the guides on the rod), but I wondered if the neoprene waders would actually keep me warm enough! It was a good afternoon. There were small black midges all over the water, but not one fish took interest. But as we all know, catching fish isn’t the only thing that makes the fly fishing experience so great. That old adage comes to mind: “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Winter fishing tends to be a different experience than what most of us are used to during the regular fishing seasons. In particular, it offers the opportunity to fish small midges and nymphs of various sizes. I prefer big stonefly nymphs, prince nymphs, Whitlock’s squirrel nymph, and pheasant tails this time of year. So get out there and start experimenting. If you have had luck with other flies during your own winter fishing trips, feel free to share them below in the comments for others to reference. But above all, remember that if you can’t get out on the water just yet, Winter offers a great opportunity to reflect on last year’s fishing, get your gear ready, and start dreaming!



    Bill, Just a couple of days ago I saw a picture of you holding a huge rainbow trout , which I thought was on this web page. Cant find it now to show Larry. Where is it? thanks He loves the flies and he loves to tie. He recognizes yours. thanks

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