Winter Fishing

Depuy's RainbowThe unseasonably warm weather has me thinking about getting out for a bit of December fishing fun! With that in mind, just thought I’d share a few words that I penned a little while back on the subject of fly fishing in the Winter months:

When the temperatures are in the negative, it’s hard to think about fishing. And maybe that’s a good thing (see Suggestion #1). But at some point, cabin fever sets in, it warms up, and some of us feel the need to get out on the water. At least for a few minutes, if only to say we fished in December.

Suggestion #1: Enjoy the seasonality of fishing. Take a break. Sit in front of a fire with a mug of hot chocolate (spiced up with a little rum, if that’s your style) and tie up some killer patterns for next spring and summer.

BonefishSuggestion #2: Book yourself a fishing trip to somewhere warm and exotic. Bahamas, Belize, Brazil…. Make some memories that will last a lifetime.

Suggestion #3: Spend a day on one of the Paradise Valley spring creeks. Winter rates are very affordable ($40 per angler) and the near-constant water temperatures ensure that the fish keep eating and that your toes are less likely to go numb. It’s primarily a nymphing game this time of year. Small midge and mayfly patterns, scuds, etc…. Leave the big pink bobbers and heavy split-shot at home. We like small pinch-on foam indicators, especially in white, and tiny (if any) weights. If you go on a warmer, cloudy day, you may see some fish rising to midges, so be sure to have some midge dries and emergers in your box. Stop in to any of the local fly shops and they’ll be happy to help you out with flies and advice.

Suggestion #4: If you must, you must. Fish the Yellowstone, that is (or one of the other local freestones). If you can find some ice-free water, you can usually find fish. With the cold water temperatures, the fish will tend to congregate in slower, deeper water. Tie on a double nymph rig under an indicator, with plenty of weight, and try to hit them right on the nose. They won’t move far for food. Try a bigger, dark stonefly nymph with something a little flashy as a dropper (e.g., Copper John, Lightning Bug). Zebra Midges are another effective dropper. If you catch a trout, keep fishing the same spot; the fish tend to “pod up” this time of year. And for goodness sakes, be careful out there. Watch for thin shelf ice that may protrude out over deep water. If you start to feel light-headed (or heaven forbid, fall in or get wet), retreat to a warm place immediately. Hypothermia can set in quickly, especially when you’re concentrating hard on the fishing. And remember, it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t grit it out for “just one more cast.” See Suggestion #1.

Today’s the Day…

…to get out on the river. Unless you’re a fan of cool rain and gusty wind. That’s in tomorrow’s forecast. So grab your rod and get out there today. Streamers are still faring well on the Yellowstone River. Olive was the color that got the most eats a couple of days ago. But don’t get stuck in a rut. If one color’s not working, try something else. White, black, brown & yellow. All are worth a try. Some streamers you might try include Sculpzilla, Morrish’s Sculpin, Beldar Rubber Legs, and the Space Invader. If you like throwing the big articulated bugs, give Silvey’s Sculpin Leech a spin. Stop by Sweetwater Fly Shop and we’ll set you up with some juicy streamers. If you’re not into giving your casting shoulder a workout, give smaller dry flies a go. Trout are still being caught on small mayfly imitations like the Parachute Purple (frankly, a small Parachute Adams would probably work as well). Ants are still crawling around the river banks; an ant pattern could fool some fish. And don’t neglect nymphs. They always make up a large percentage of the trouts’ diet. Dead-drift a smaller streamer with a beadhead nymph dropper and cover your bases. The red Copper John has been a winner lately. You might also go with a small mayfly nymph, such as a peacock Anato-May or a BWO Nymph, as the baetis are still around. In other words, you’ve got lots of choices today, except for staying home.

Announcing Our 2nd Annual Short Video Contest!

Did you get some great fly fishing footage on the Go Pro this summer? Package it up into a short (5 minutes max) video and enter it in the 2nd annual Sweetwater Fly Shop short video contest. Fish porn? Humor? Scenic? We’ll accept all genres. Telling a good story will be weighted more heavily than production slickness. Extra props for including the Sweetwater Fly Shop logo somewhere in your video. All entries will be posted on the Sweaty Waders blog for the world to see. The Grand Prize? Well, we gave away a fly rod last year, so why not a reel this year? Let the editing begin! All entries must be received by midnight on December 31st, 2014. Amateurs only, please (if you got $50 for filming your cousin’s wedding, you’re still eligible). For details on how to submit your entry, just send us an email. Be creative and have fun!

For some inspiration, check out last year’s entries.

Don’t Forget Dries

The emphasis lately has been on fishing streamers on the Yellowstone River. And for good reason. This is the season for throwing the big bugs, and some nice fish are being picked up on streamers. But that’s not the only game in town. Dry flies are still catching trout. Even though the baetis mayflies have been scarce, the trout are taking small mayfly imitations. A small (size 18 or 20) Parachute Adams or Parachute Purple is worth trying, even if you don’t see any rising fish. Or tie on an ant or beetle pattern; we haven’t had a hard freeze yet, so the terrestrials are still out and about. Have confidence in your choice of fishing methods, stick with it, and you may very well be rewarded with some nice surface-feeding trout.

Don’t stay in this weekend! The meteorologists are predicting some very nice Fall weather. Highs in the 60’s and only a breeze (a nice change from yesterday). Get out on the river and enjoy the Autumn colors while you still can!

On an unrelated note, it’s been well worth getting up a little early to view the spectacular sunrises over the Absarokas. Wow! If you’re not an early riser, not to worry. The sunsets have also been something to see lately.

Yesterday on the Yellowstone

In the two weeks since my move from Pennsylvania to Montana, I’ve had the opportunity to do some cool things.  I’ve begun working at Sweetwater Fly Shop.  I’ve hunted geese and ducks.  I’ve nearly hit a herd of elk with a truck.  I’ve seen my first in-person bull moose.  And, of course, I’ve floated the mighty Yellowstone several times with my friend and fly fishing guide, Jason Corbin.  One of those floats occurred yesterday.

My wife and I have been coming to Montana for several years, so I’ve floated the Yellowstone before.  But I’ve never been here in the fall when I had the chance to watch puffy clouds drift into barren, rocky mountain slopes and then leave them painted white with snow.  It was snowing in the mountains yesterday when Jason and I launched the boat.  We weren’t looking for just any trout.  We were throwing big, articulated streamers for brightly colored browns that are quickly becoming spawn-aggressive before the long winter freeze.

We did see some of the first redds of the season in the tail of a long pool.  One had a pair of very large browns that quickly scattered as our boat approached only to rejoin at their gravely love-nest once we passed.  We weren’t looking to hassle these fish anyway.  I’ve long believed that its best to let wild trout make more wild trout without interference from me.  Besides, all the river’s brown trout do not spawn at the same time.  So while some are busy dealing with the birds and bees others are looking for something to eat.  Hopefully that something is tied to my fly line.

Jason and I both caught trout yesterday, but Jason got the fish of the day: a lovely, buttery brown that exceeded the magical 20″ mark.  The stars must have been aligned for him because he also caught a nice brook trout, not unprecedented, but certainly uncommon, in the Yellowstone.  I had my chances at some big one too.  After boating a couple nice 16-17 inchers, I had follows from two very large fish, but I couldn’t make them eat.  Near the end of our float, my streamer swirled around a boulder before being inhaled sideways, like an ear of corn, by a big brown.  But the heavy brownie kept its mouth open just enough, as I stripped to set the hook, that the fly pulled free.

Most of our fish came from black streamers.  We moved more fish on olive, but for reasons known only to trout, they failed to completely take the bait.  Maybe they’ll want them later in the week.  I know I’ll be fishing.  Fall is too brief to spend any unnecessary time at home, and the biggest trout of my life just might swim in the Yellowstone.  I’d like to meet her before that mountain snow reaches the valley and winter is here.

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