Winter on the MO

Photo: Mark Raisler

Photo: Mark Raisler

Spring is right around the corner but that doesn’t mean you still can’t take advantage of some awesome winter fishing.

For many anglers, winter is the time to escape the cold and play out their salt water flats fishing fantasies. As much as all of us at Headhunters Fly Shop love exchanging our wading boots for flip-flops from time to time, we also enjoy fishing our home waters during the coldest season of the year. Can you fish during the winter months with snow banks shrouding the river and shelf ice encroaching trout filled moving waters? Absolutely. So if you are skipping the crystal clear flats of the tropics or aren’t planning a trip south of the Equator, take advantage of the pressure free trout waters in your region.

Once you’ve decided to give winter trout fishing a shot, how do you proceed and put yourself in a position to find winter success? Safety is the number 1 objective. Mother Nature can be cruel, so having an understanding of your local river conditions is imperative before you jump into frigid winter waters. Shelf ice, floating ice, slushy flows, and that nasty North Wind are all pieces of the puzzle that you need to be aware of.

It’s always important to dress for the conditions but it becomes even more important during the winter months. Proper footwear, waders, base layers, mid-layers, socks, gloves and so on are the first things to focus on when entertaining a venture into the cold. Staying warm is not only a safety precaution, it’s how you enjoy your time on the water. If you’re warm, you’re comfortable and that’s half the battle when it comes to winter trout fishing.

So, now that you’re safe and warm, how do you go about catching trout in the winter?

The beauty of winter trout fishing is that most of the fish hold in very specific areas. During the summer, trout are happy residing bank to bank. That’s not the case in the winter. Once the cold comes, trout bundle up in the deepest, inside bends of the stream. The first rule of winter fishing is to stay away from all those sexy riffle runs and good looking outside bend bank lines and focus your efforts on where the winter fish actually are — on soft, inside bends — at the tailout of the run — in waters that allow them to conserve energy. Metabolisms have slowed, and so have food sources. Obviously, during the winter months, trout aren’t in the business of chasing grasshoppers on the surface. Instead, they make their living sucking in sowbugs or scuds slowly tumbling near the bottom of the stream.

Photo: Hank Welles/Montana Angler

Photo: Hank Welles/Montana Angler

Once you locate these seasonally nomadic fish, you can cut to the chase. Get the bobber out and find the depth. Winter trout are catchable and they are almost always glued to the bottom of the river. Find the bottom, come up a bit, and drift your patterns through the fish. Again, be selective of the water you fish. Ideally, you will want to fish water that is nearly stopped. That truly is the key to winter fishing. This time of year, trout live in some pretty stale environments. Medium slow to nearly stopped is the water speed we find them here on the Missouri River. Your creek may be different, but I’d be willing to bet that the trout in most river systems, like to reside in similar locales during the winter.

While nymphing is the primary technique for winter success, it’s not the only way to achieve that buzz. Here on the Missouri River just as many anglers are employing trout spey techniques. The two-handed rod is offered in great trout sizes from a 10’ 2-weight up to a 12’6” 6-weight and many sizes in between.

As winter fades and spring approaches, you can find yourself enveloped in an early season midge hatch. Early BWO’s can show as well giving you the opportunity to throw dries. While most of the time you will be nymphing or swinging a streamer, you should always be prepared for that occasional winter hatch.

The winter season is long and cold here in Montana. We can’t always get away to those coveted sunny beaches of Florida or the Bahamas, so most of our winter fishing is spent chasing trout. The Missouri River is one of the best 12-month trout fisheries on the planet. While many other Montana and western rivers are iced over, bank to bank, we have fishable trout water for 95% of the year. Not all trout fisheries are open all winter as some close for the winter. But if you are fortunate enough to live near water that is open all year round get out there and wet a line.

Don’t let winter get you down. No! Get out your trout rod and go fishing. You may just find that the winter fishing game is for you. The quiet waters of winter can be equally as rewarding as the summer season.