By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
The schizophrenia of September is over. After a stretch of fires and heat waves early in the month, winter storms in the middle of the month, and a sunny and warm final week, we’re moving into the heart of winter. While most local sporting goods stores are replacing their stock of fly rods and waders with skis and snowboards, those of us whose livelihoods depend on fishing know that this is our time.
As a career fly-fishing guide and outfitter, the past six months of my professional existence has been about taking care of others’ needs before mine. Things are about to change. With the exception of guiding a few trips on my personal calendar, the next few weeks are when I get in some much-needed personal fishing time. Here’s a list of my favorite spots these next few weeks that are fishable on foot.
Hatches of Blue Winged Olives and midges on the Paradise Valley spring creeks. We’re blessed to have three world famous walk-and-wade fisheries nearby: DePuy’s, Armstrong’s/O’hairs, and Nelson’s spring creeks. These small creeks are ideal for anglers who revel in the quiet nature of fly fishing and enjoy subtle presentations made with two- and three- weight rods.
Head to the creeks on a day with little wind and you’ll find fish eating tiny dry flies. If little or no hatch occurs, fish size 18 or 20 midge nymphs below a very small indicator and you should have success. If you want a head start or wish to learn more about these fisheries, a knowledgeable spring creek guide is crucial—a fact I’ve learned from guiding anglers on these creeks for over 20 years.
Northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. This remote corner of our nation’s first national park is home to some heavy hitters like Slough Creek, the Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek and the Yellowstone River. In my younger days, when covering 10 miles in a day was the norm, I spent days here. Pack extra layers and plenty of black woolly buggers or Sculpzillas as the Yellowstone cutthroat in these rivers are bulking up for winter and don’t pass up a well presented meal.
Upper Madison between the lakes or above Lyons Bridge. If big fish on foot is your goal, consider this area. As the lure of trophy bull elk keeps many people in the woods, the potential for large brown trout and solitude exist on the Upper Madison. Dead-drifting or slowly stripping large streamers is the most often used method, however for anglers who can see little dry flies, hatches of midges are a daily occurrence. If you like techie dry fly angling, be sure to carry along some size 18 or 20 dry flies. Watch the forecast because an overcast day certainly will bring more fish to net as Upper Madison trout are not fans of bright sun.
Gallatin River near Big Sky. And of course, the Gallatin River right here in Big Sky. Talking about the consistency of the Gallatin is good and bad: you want people to know it’s damn good, but not so good that it feels crowded. Hatches of midges can occur, but you’ll find the most success fishing tandem nymph rigs with an indicator.
For locals, the Gallatin is ideal—you can get in a few hours of fishing during the best time of day and still have time to work, make a supply run to Bozeman, or in the case of a fishing guide in his or her downtime…take a nap.
Young fishing guides might think drift boats are sexy and the cool kids in the guide community are wearing jeans and knee-high Muck Boots because they’re too lazy or too cold to wear waders, but local anglers who care more about catching fish than liking or tweeting know now is the time to ditch the phone and buckle up the waders.
Pat Straub is one of area’s most respected spring creek and walk-wade guides. He 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.