Driving in to work today at 8:30, I could have had the car windows down in complete comfort. It has been incredibly warm and sunny lately, much more so than normal. This has got an increasing number of people worried about the winter, and by extension the snowpack for next year.
Usually there is a mid winter thaw that lasts a couple of weeks max. This winter, it has lasted almost six weeks. Pretty much all the low level snow in the Gallatin Valley is gone. There is very little ice and snow along the rivers. The skiing has been really pretty subpar this winter. In downtown Bozeman we’ve seen more people walking around in shirt sleeves and shorts than we ever would have guessed.
What does this mean for the winter angler?
A couple of things. First, access is super easy. The lack of bank ice and snow makes wading the rivers a whole lot easier. You can reach more water, easier, than you can in other winters. Boat launches that are normally covered in feet of snow and ice are clear and usable. People are floating sections of the Yellowstone that they normally can’t get to for a couple more months.
Second, it means the fishing is really pretty good. Really good. Normal winter fishing can be really good, but it is tough. With the warmer air temps, the water temps are rising as well. Fish are becoming slightly more active, and are more willing to chase down flies. You’ll still want to get your flies down deep and slow, but fishing has been much better this year than most.
Next, this warm weather has brought a lot of people to the rivers with it. Normal winter fishing means solitude, and lots of it. This year though, with the ski slopes in bad shape, everyone is out on the river. If you go to the river during a nice day lately, you will see other fishermen. If you go out on the weekend, be ready to deal with some crowds. But, there is still lots and lots of water and room for everyone.
Hopefully things will turn around soon and we will get the snow we need. Historically, we always get a fair amount of snow in March and April so I wouldn’t be too worried yet. There is absolutely nothing we can do about the weather, so might as well enjoy it while we’ve got it! Get out on the river and enjoy some great fishing and not having to break ice out of the guides every five minutes.
Photos by Peter King