Food for Thought
Tricks to keep warm while fishing in winter
For those of us who stay on the water year round, fighting the cold is a never ending battle. Just the thought of standing in 33 degree water in the middle of February is enough to make most normal people shiver. Here is a short and sweet list of the top five things I do to keep the cold at bay for as long as possible.
Update on the Gallatin
The Gallatin has been fishing very well from 4-corners through Big Sky. The trout are starting to stack thick in the deeper slower runs. Concentrate on this type of water. Fish your nymphs heavy and slow. You really need to get the flies close to the fish this time of year. Unlike the warmer months, trout will not move very far for food in the winter due to the cold water and slow metabolism. A rubberlegs with a zebra midge trailer is hard to beat this time of year. Focus less on the specific choice of fly and more on making sure your flies are deep
Thankful for Fly fishing
Fly fishing has been the most constant and prevailing aspect of my entire life. For that, I am thankful for.
No matter how erratic my course may seem between changing jobs, moving, and being in and out of school, I can say without question that standing in the river waving a stick has always grounded me in some steady fashion. The ironic part is that much of the change in all other aspects of life has been caused by my constant pursuit of chasing fish with feathers.
End of the season? Nope...
“When does the fishing season end around these parts?” I get this question on almost a daily basis here at the shop. Truth is, catch and release trout fishing is a year-round endeavor for a lot of local fishy folk. Sure our ‘busy season’ is that May through September time frame, but winter fishing in Southwest Montana can provide some of the most productive adventurous trips of the year.
Breathe new life into packages of rabbit strips
Rabbit fur is a very versatile material for tying flies. It is a staple in many popular trout patterns such as the sculpzilla or my favorite, the copper zonker. Unfortunately, the way small packs of rabbit fur are packaged smashes down the fur and leather strips. This leads to a tangled mess that is hard to work with.
Luckily, there is a quick five-minute solution that will transform the rabbit strips back to the original pre-packaged condition. Simply boil some water and utilize the steam created to re-fluff the rabbit. Use a pair of tongs to hold the rabbit strips in path of the steam. Occasionally brush the fur back in one direction and pull on the leather to encourage the fur and hide back to the original position. Be careful not to leave the fur in the steam to the point where it is dripping wet with condensation.
Last winter Peter and I went a little crazy with the color blue. We tied lots and lots of streamers with it, nymphs with it, I even tied a couple dry flies with it. We had all kinds of blue materials in the shop on the tying wall. Some people thought we were crazy. We sure didn't.
Blue is one of those colors you don't see too much of outside of the steelhead market. Will it work for trout flies? Sure, why not. Everyone thought that purple was just a fad and a crazy color that couldn't possibly catch fish. But people tied flies in it and sure enough it stuck around. Today everyone knows about the Purple Haze. There aren't any bugs that come to mind off the top of my head that are purple. What makes it work so well?
My personal theory is that fishing colors that trout don't see all the time really makes a difference. Purple worked so well when it first came out partly because no one was fishing purple flies. If you look in fly bins at a Western trout focused shop, you likely won't see much blue. That's one of the reasons I tied a lot of flies in it.
Earn Your Success
Fishing this time of year can be a challenge. By now, the trout are wise to the most popular methods, especially in the easy to get to spots on the water. The biggest thing an angler can do to increase their success rate is to think outside the box. Sometimes, the crazier the idea, the more success it might lead to.
We had an interesting one in the shop last week. Two Scott Radians and two Hatch reels that had been left on the top of a car and had fallen off on the freeway. I can't imagine the horror of seeing those slide off the roof and bounce down the road in the rearview mirror... Needless to say, the guy was pretty upset.
He had placed the two rods on the roof of his car to avoid crushing them under some duffels he was loading up. He said two out of three times he checks the roof of his car whenever he leaves anywhere just to make sure, and he didn't this time. You can bet he will ever time after this! One of the rods got away with some minor (but still crippling) damage, but the other got run over. Crushed the rod, and as you can see it did a number on the reel as well.
Beating the Heat
Southwest Montana is in the middle of the first big heat wave of the summer. Currently it’s 98 degrees here in Downtown Bozeman and it feels much hotter. Water flows are low and river temps are on the rise.
A rise in water temperature is bad for fishing in a couple of ways. Trout don’t like warm water and they won’t eat as readily as the temp climbs. If they aren’t comfortable they just don’t want to be messed with. They may sink down to the lowest holes or cluster around springs in an attempt to stay cool.
Water temps over 72 or so degrees can be dangerous to the fish. They can barely survive at that temp, and when they get caught, played, handled out of water and then released the odds are very good they won’t make it. Trout mortality rates go through the roof once the water hits a certain point.
It also reaches a point where FWP starts mandating closures. If water temps hit a certain point and stay there or higher for a set period, they will either close a river altogether or institute a “Hoot Owl Closure”. Generally, a Hoot Owl Closure shuts a river down to fishing from 2pm to midnight. These aren’t too bad since they still allow you fish in the cool of the morning.
There is nothing quite like a morning on the river in Montana. Patrick recently spent a couple days fishing the Upper Madison, including spending a night out under the stars. He woke up to this one morning: