The winter season on the Bighorn offers an extraordinary and rewarding opportunity for many anglers. As the fishing pressure slows down there are a select few willing to brave the elements in the hope of catching one of the rivers abundant trout. The Bighorn offers a variety of unique challenges in the winter, and demands an approach that you would not typically use any other time of year. Below are eight tips to consider before heading out on the water this winter.
Think Slow and Deep- One difference that you will notice is that shallow riffles will not contain as many trout as they once did in the summer months. As the temperatures drop, trout become lethargic and are found in slow deep pools, and in the slack water along the edges of runs. This slower water allows for trout to efficiently consume calories without expending much energy. When fishing this time of year it is important to find and focus on these well-defined runs and pools, until you find willing trout. As you present your nymph imitations remember to provide yourself with plenty of weight, as this will get your nymphs to the bottom quick and efficiently. Trout will be very much concentrated this time of year, but once you locate them work a productive area thoroughly until you feel you have covered every section.
Choose the Right Tippet- Focus on the size of your tippet as going lighter can be rather beneficial. Our choices for tippet this time of year are 5x and 6x, as the water clarity is clear and flies are small. Pay attention to the shadow contrast on these bright winter days, as this has an effect of making trout leader shy. It is very important that your flies drift directly to the trout, and having a smaller tippet size is important for cutting through the water.
Fish a Streamer as a Nymph– This can be a very deadly tactic when the water temperatures have dropped. When fishing a streamer as a nymph treat it as you would a normal nymphing system, with a dropper and strike indicator. This can be a great technique when a trout will not take a streamer on its conventional manor. When fishing a streamer in this method be sure to pay attention to line control, same as you would with a normal nymph system, and finish off with a swing.
Focus on Weather and Water Temps- One thing to always remember when considering to fish this time of year is to pay close attention to the forecast. If you keep up to date with the weather it will better help increase your chances of success. Ideal temperatures to fish a river are when the water temperatures are between 45 to 65 degrees. As the temperature outside decreases many rivers can drastically drop in temp, unless of course you have the opportunity to fish a tailwater. Tailwaters such as we have here on the Bighorn can produce a relatively consistent water temperature. As the water flows out of a damn the average tailwater river can remain in the areas of 35 to 50 degrees throughout the winter months.
Dry Fly Tactics- The first tactic that comes to mind fishing this time of year is set up your rod for strictly Nymphing. Keep in mind that the Bighorn this time of year can bring great dry fly action, mainly small midges and olive mayflies. Winter midge hatches on the Bighorn can be fantastic, and will definitely bring fish to the surface. When looking to throw dries try focus on the warmest time of day, as this can slightly increase water temperatures. The benefit of having a tailwater in the winter is that we experience relatively consistent water temperatures, which helps bring relatively consistent dry fly action.
Slow down your Approach- When trout are slow this also means that you as an angler must slow down when approaching a run. At this point of year many rivers are typically lower and often times clearer than what they have been months before. When approaching a section of river slow down your movements much more than what you would have earlier in the season. One thing to remember is that the sun is in a much lower position in the winter. With this in mind be very cautious of your approach as you can create long shadows over a run that can easily spook a fish. Spend your time in what I like to call “spot and stalk” as you can increase your chances finding and focusing on a single trout, rather than blind casting.
Choose the Best Strike Indicator- This time of year expect very soft strikes. When it comes to strike indicators there is a large area of debate on which is the best for the job. One problem that many anglers have is that they use strike indicators that are too small, and that have a tendency to sink slightly under the surface with heavier flies. This is a problem as fish this time of year are subtle, and a strike may go unnoticed. Depending on the size of flies you are fishing, relatively small on the bighorn, small indicators do come in handy in slow water areas where trout typically hold. Another method to keep in mind is to nymph without an indicator. This can be a challenging method but be surprised on how effective it can be.
Dress for the Occasion – If you are planning on staying on the water for long periods of time prepare for the harsh weather that Montana can bring. Keeping your body warm is crucial in order to keep you on the water for long periods of time. The three major areas that you need to pay attention to when fishing this time of year are your hands, feet and face.
For your feet we recommend that you wear liner socks and a pair of wicking socks to keep them from freezing up as you stand in the water. If your hands start to get chilled take time to stop fishing and put them in your pockets. This should give you enough time to warm up and continue on your way. When it comes to gloves it is never a bad idea to have a backup pair, just in case you’re original pair get wet and start to freeze.
As for your face and neck it is a great idea to wear a buff to keep you protected from the harsh wind. One thing that has always stayed in my mind is that cotton kills. As you dress for the try and stick with wool or anything synthetic when it comes to layering, as cotton will not insulate nor keep you warm when wet.
This post was written by Bighornangler