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Guide to Winter Fly Fishing in Montana

angler fly fishing on Montana's Gallatin River during the winter

Winter Fly Fishing with the Montana Angling Company

The snow is falling, midges are hatching, trout are rising, and there isn’t another angler around. Winter fly fishing in Montana is an unique experience that can make for special days on the water, when conditions are right. Winter in Montana should not be underestimated and anglers should expect consistently cold, windy, and snowy conditions.

While we would not recommend planning a trip to Montana for the sole purpose of fly fishing during the winter months, if you find yourself in skiing in Bozeman, MT or are a local angler, conditions regularly present themselves that make for quality fly fishing. The flexibility to pick and choose your dates is key to a successful and fun day spent winter fly fishing.

 

Highlights

  • Anglers fly fishing during the winter months will enjoy unique scenery and solitude on our Montana rivers
  • Mild winter weather makes for great angling conditions and consistently good fly fishing on the Gallatin River, Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, Madison River, and Missouri River
  • We offer Winter Guide Trip Specials at a discounted rate with our professional fly fishing guides

 

What to Expect

Anglers fly fishing in Montana during the months of December, January, and February should expect winter conditions that make for often tough angling conditions. Luckily for anglers high pressure systems are common and make for conditions ideal for great winter fly fishing. Temperatures above 10F and winds below 20mph make for comfortable and productive angling. Good gear goes a long way during the winter. Gore-tex waders and outerwear, quality insulation layers, and wool socks are recommended.

 

Where to Fly Fish during the Winter

Anglers will find the best fly fishing in Montana during the winter season on rivers and streams that offer consistently open water in spite of cold temperatures. Many of our larger rivers like the Yellowstone River experience significant ice formation and damming making for limited access and angling. Floating is also largely impossible due to frozen boat ramps but wading is still an optional on many local waters. It is always best to play it safe during the winter, know before you go.

The Paradise Valley Spring Creeks offer the best winter fly fishing for anglers in Bozeman, Montana. DePuy’s Spring Creek, Armstrong Spring Creek, and Nelson’s Spring Creek all offer near constant water temperatures throughout the winter making for consistently great fly fishing. Midge hatch under the right conditions, making for some dry fly fishing opportunities. While the fly fishing is always technical on the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, the lack of pressure during the winter makes for forgiving conditions and some of the best catch rates of the year.

The Gallatin River is another great wade fishing option for anglers in Bozeman and Big Sky. Geothermal hot springs near Big Sky mean open water and above freezing water temperatures down stream of town center. Even on the coldest of days anglers can expect good fly fishing for trout.

The Madison River offers good winter fly fishing opportunities both close to Bozeman on the lower river as well as near Ennis, MT on the upper river. The fast current means open water during all but the coldest of stretches. Anglers will find the most success in the Bear Trap Canyon as well as the upper wade-only stretch from Pine Butte upstream to Hebgen Lake. Anglers wanting to access the Madison River near Three Dollar Bridge should expect a significant hike through deep snow and our guides strongly recommend snow shoes.

The Missouri River near Craig, MT is another great winter fly fishing option for anglers in Montana. For anglers wanting to float and fly fish during the winter will find the Missouri River is often the only option. The upper river from the Dam to Craig is often accessible and anglers can expect reliably good fly fishing throughout the winter. Wade fishing is also a good option when flows are below 4000CFS.

 

Winter Fly Fishing Tactics

Anglers will find nymphing is the most productive tactic on all of our Montana rivers during the winter. Hatches are few and far between making for limited dry fly fishing opportunities. Cold water temperatures mean our wild trout are generally not willing to chase a streamer. Most trout will hold in deep and slow runs that are ideal for nymphing. Expect to have success with both a dead drifted indicator rig and euro-nymphing techniques.

Targeting reliable holding water with midge, stonefly, worm, and bright attractor nymphs will be productive. Pink tends to be a favorite color. Our trout have a tendency to “pod up” during the winter months as ideal habitat becomes concentrated. Expect to find multiple trout where you first find one and seek out similar water for the best success.

Anglers unfamiliar with euro-nymphing techniques should consider the winter to be an ideal time to learn and experiment with this tactic. The lack of fly line and changes in distance while casting limit ice formation on the rod guides, a common frustration while fly fishing in sub-freezing temperatures. The ability to manually manipulate your flies and detect soft subtle takes is another advantage. Anglers wanting to learn more should check out the Modern Nymphing Video Series that can be ordered on DVD or online on Vimeo.

Winter Fly Fishing Trips in Montana

Anglers interested in a Montana fly fishing trip with our professional guides will enjoy our Winter Guide Trip Special. Our discounted rate accounts for often shorter days and winter conditions. Winter Trips are a perfect “day-off” from skiing at Big Sky Resort or Bridger Bowl. Winter trips are also great for local anglers wanting to learn more about fly fishing our Montana rivers during the winter months safely and productively.

All winter trips are subject to cancellation due to unsafe weather and conditions. We generally wait to finalize bookings on all winter trips 72 hours prior to the date of your trip, for the most up to date forecast.

We would encourage anglers interested in a winter fly fishing trip with our Montana fly fishing guides to contact us and learn more.

 

 

Notes From Downstream

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May 2021 Montana Fly Fishing Forecast

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We offer full-day and half-day trips, as well as float and wade fishing options, that cater to seasoned and beginner anglers alike. Book your fly fishing trip with our professional guides.

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Angler couple enjoying winter fly fishing

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Take advantage of special rates on your spring and winter fly fishing trips in Montana. Enjoy the same great fly fishing, world-class rivers, and professional guides all year long.

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