Be ready for the season
By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
As the snow flies, many anglers long for warmer days, wet wading and sunscreen. For those desiring more comfortable conditions, the Gallatin Valley Mall is always nice this time of year.
More folks holiday shopping means fewer people fishing the best runs of the Gallatin and Madison rivers. Winter fishing is for those willing to sacrifice some comfort, yet benefit from the rewards of solitude and silence.
Winter angling action can rival the warmer days of summer, but the feeding activity of our local trout in the colder months is as fickle as it is plentiful. To get the most out of winter fishing:
Don’t rush it. Winter fishing is great for folks who like to sleep in because daytime temperature changes tend to occur after 11 a.m. Trout only need water temperature to rise a few degrees for them to feed. Watch the temperature, and fish during the warmest part of the day.
Invest in quality waders and boots. Waders keep you dry and provide a layer of warmth, and a pair of boots with good traction is important. Falling in icy cold water ruins your day and could end your life. It’s nice to have non-felt soles for winter fishing because snow sticks to felt and makes for uneven and dangerous walking. Put spikes or studs in your non-felt boots.
Layer your clothing. If it gets warmer outside than expected, or if you’re walking a lot, shed layers and stay comfortable. If one layer gets wet from a fall or from sweat, you can shed to a drier layer. Also, quality long underwear and socks are a must for an enjoyable day on the river.
Carry a pack. A backpack is handy for carrying extra clothing, gear, and food, and allows you to add or remove layers.
Bring a net and hook removal tool. A net allows you to keep your hands dry. With a hook removal tool,such as hemostats or mitten scissor clamps, you can release a netted fish without getting your hands wet or touching the fish.
Simplify your fly selection. Trout feed sporadically in winter and most locals fish a handful of patterns. Be sure to have a few size 8 to 12 Pats’ Rubberlegs in brown and tan and a few size 16 to 20 beadhead midge patterns. For those willing to sacrifice a little purity, fish a gold- or fire-bead San Juan Worm in size 10. If you see rising fish on the Gallatin, cast a size 18 or 20 Parachute Adams or any midge cluster pattern and the hungry trout should be fooled.
Be willing to fish subsurface. Because winter hatches are limited, trout congregate in slower, deeper pools. It’s not pretty, but use a strike indicator and some weight, and you might have enough action to forget your hands are cold or to keep you from calling it early because you can’t feel your feet.
With the recent snow, it’s evident that fall is over. Fortunately for anglers, the deeper we get into winter, the sooner spring will arrive. However, winter, and especially the snow that comes with it, makes our summer angling special. This Thanksgiving, be thankful for the snow that falls this season.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and Pat operates the Montana Fishing Guide School and the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School.