Last Chance?

Josh Mills with a nice winter brown

Josh Mills with a nice winter brown

Today and tomorrow might be your best opportunities for a little while to get out and do some winter fishing. At least reasonably comfortably. There are dropping temperatures and a chance of snow in the forecast, starting on Sunday. So don’t waste this chance. Put on some layers and warm socks and head out for a couple of hours.

There’s plenty of open water on the Yellowstone River, so I won’t tell you where to go. It is worth noting that if the wind is blowing (which it’s not supposed to, at least not much, these next couple of days), it tends to moderate as you head up higher.

We’re still talking mostly nymphing at this point. There have been some midges flying around, but only a few sporadic rises from the fish. You could take along a couple of midge dries, just in case. The Sprout Midge is one of my favorites; and, of course, there’s the good old Griffith’s Gnat. But most likely, you’re going to be watching an indicator. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve been having good luck lately with a size 8 Rubberlegs, particularly in the goldenstone color, but also in brown and black. I also dredged up a couple of fish the other day on a worm (the fly, not the annelid). Midge larva and pupa patterns should be good as a dropper. A Zebra Midge in red or black might be just the ticket. Or a small Copper John (say, size 18) in red, copper, or black.

Deeper, slower water is my winter mantra. But not too deep, or you won’t be able to reach the bottom with your nymphs. Somewhere around waist deep is a good rule of thumb. And not too slow. About the speed of a slow walking pace. At that depth and speed, one size B split shot should keep your flies down low in the water column. If you’re not seeing evidence of you flies bouncing off the bottom occasionally, adjust your indicator. And if you do catch a trout, be sure to fish that area thoroughly. Where you find one, you’ll often find more. And don’t regret catching a few whitefish. Those eager natives can enliven an otherwise slow day of winter fishing.

Have fun! That, of course, is the most important rule of fly fishing in any season.

Warm Weekend

PaulThis weekend’s predicted highs look great for getting out and doing a little winter fishing. The predicted winds, less so. It’s likely to be blowing hard down near Livingston. What should you do? One answer would be to fish today, when the winds are forecast to be only moderate (and a high of 44). Tell your boss that you’ve taken ill (“cabin fever”) and hit the Yellowstone River or one of the Paradise Valley spring creeks this afternoon. Bring your nymphing box and dredge some slower, deeper water. The other option? Head up high this weekend. The breeze is likely to be much weaker up at Point of Rocks, Carbella, or even above Yankee Jim Canyon. There’s plenty of open water right now to fish with nymphs or dead-drifted streamers. Rubberlegs, red, black or chartreuse Copper Johns, Lightning Bugs, smaller Wooly Buggers or Zonkers…. You’ll likely see me somewhere up that way on Sunday. I’ve got some sample flies I need to test. The hard work never ends!

Yellowstone River Pipeline Spill – The Good and The Bad

By now, you’ve likely heard about the massive oil pipeline leak that occurred on the Yellowstone River a couple of days ago. Eerily reminiscent of the spill that happened a few years back, this one dumped approximately 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone (according to the pipeline company). Montana governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency, and agencies are scrambling to begin what promises to be a long and difficult cleanup effort.

The good news (for us, at least)? The spill occurred out east of Billings, far downstream of any of the trout-holding stretches of the Yellowstone River. It won’t affect the river’s famed blue ribbon trout fishing. Not at all.

The bad news? I hardly need to tell you that an oil spill of this magnitude is bad. Bad for the river and its denizens; bad for local residents. Our best wishes go out to the people and wildlife of the lower Yellowstone River! Let’s hope that the long-term effects are relatively minor.

Dry Fly Surprise

It’s been a weird week. After a November autumn that gave us arctic air and temperatures in the negative teens, it seems as though Mother Nature has thrown us a December holiday bone.

As I type this from the Sweetwater Fly Shop desk, the windows reveal bright sunshine and warmth approaching 50 degrees. The snow is nearly gone in Paradise Valley, and it feels more like the advent of spring than the precipice of winter.

The warming trend has made me think of fishing rather than hunting lately. And that led my wife, Ruthann, and me to schedule a day at DePuy’s Spring Creek on Friday.

It took me a while to find my fishing stuff; a sad commentary on exactly how much time has passed since my last fishing trip. But the rods, waders, fly boxes, vests, and other items that make our sport so interesting (see expensive in the dictionary) eventually came together. I even narrowly avoided leaving the house sans fly reels.

It was calm and cloudy during our short drive to DePuy’s. But as soon as we began to wader-up the dreaded “W” made its presence known. You should never say the “W” word out loud during a fishing trip, lest it hear you and show itself. And just writing the word “wind” here makes me pretty sure that my next several trips are now doomed to blow.

Wind makes it difficult to cast with distance. Difficult to cast with accuracy. Difficult to get drag-free drifts. But most importantly, wind seems to inhibit fish from rising. This is especially true with hatches of small aquatic insects. I’ve long surmised that trout have difficulty seeing the bugs on the surface of water that’s being rippled by wind.

I was struggling to grasp my wader’s right suspender strap as a strong wind gust made it flutter beyond reach, when I noticed something along the far bank. A small grassy peninsula jutted out from the bank, and it created a wind-protected zone below it about a two feet wide and six feet long. There were tiny olive sailboats flowing through this calm zone–mayflies. And trout were rising to eat them.

I’d like to tell you that the fishing was epic, one of the best trips of my life. But it wasn’t. The wind made it tough, and occasionally, the sun would peak through the clouds and the fish would stop rising even when there was a break in the wind.

After an all too brief flurry, the mayflies dwindled, and the water’s surface was relegated to a few midges. Rise forms diminished from near constant to sporadic. But not before we each caught several December dry fly trout with size 20 CDC Compara-duns. And that was a pleasant surprise.

It was autumn’s departing gift; one with a short expiration date. Because it’s only mid December, and the warmth is just visiting. The long winter is nearly here.

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