Winter fly fishing can appear to be an oxymoron for many fly anglers. The mixture of freezing temperatures and a wind that might be never ending doesn’t seem to bode well for a conducive fishing experience. With the proper layering and correct assortment of flies, anything is possible here in Montana. While I’m a firm believer that almost any fly can have it’s any given Sunday, there are a few chosen patterns that consistently stock my box throughout the chilly months of winter. My fly fishing mentor once told me that there are no rules within fly fishing, only guidelines. This philosophy holds true with fly selection as well. Try out a few different patterns and figure out what works best for you here in the Treasure State. Here is the Madison River Fishing Company's best winter flies to use in Montana.
1. Pat’s Rubber Legs
Stoneflies continue to be abundant throughout the harsh winter. It’s best to downsize from what you’d typically throw in the warmer months of the year. My favorite colors are black and coffee in sizes #6 through #10.
2. Zebra Midge
Perhaps the M.V.P. for almost every fly angler here in Montana, the Zebra Midge is a pattern that is simple but unbelievably effective. While the most common color for this pattern is black, numerous variations are effective such as red, olive, and tan in sizes #18 through #24.
3. Griffith’s Gnat
Do not underestimate the power of the Griffith’s Gnat. Epic midge hatches are not uncommon on sunny days here in Montana, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and carry a few of these in your box. Winter sizes #16 through #20.
4. Three Dollar Dip
One of the more infamous flies on the Madison River, the Three Dollar Dip has been known to catch fish year round on almost every river in Montana. The simplicity of this fly makes it a great pattern to tie for the novice and veteran tyer alike. Winter sizes are #18 through #24.
5. Prince Nymph
If I had to fish with one fly for the rest of my life during winter in Montana, the Prince Nymph would be under serious consideration. The Prince Nymph imitates a variety of aquatic insects from stoneflies to mayflies. Winter sizes are #16 through #20.
6. Pink Squirrel
What would a top 10 list be without a bit of controversy! Made famous in the Driftless region, the Pink Squirrel is a fast sinking attractor nymph that simply gets it done. If you haven’t fished this fly yet, allow me to gently nudge you to give it a try. Gently. Winter sizes are #14 through #18.
7. Wooly Bugger
Is it a bait fish? A stonefly? I’ll leave that debate to the entomologists. The Wooly Bugger can be an electric winter fly when all else seems to fail. Strip it, dead drift it, hell you can even fish it under an indicator! Your streamer box doesn’t need to be put away until spring, let that thing ride! Winter sizes are #4 through #8.
Originally intended to be a baetis emerger, the RS2 successfully doubles as an outstanding midge imitation. When the Griffith’s Gnat ceases to produce fish, the RS2 can save the day. Winter sizes are #16 through #20.
9. San Juan Worm
Worms exist throughout the year within Montana’s different river systems. In particular, the San Juan Worm is an excellent option for winter trout. Successful colors vary by the day so it’s optimal to have a variety of colors ranging from red, tan, orange, and pink in sizes #6 though #12.
10. Globug Egg
Although brown trout spawning occurs in the fall, their eggs often become dislodged throughout the winter. Pink, orange, and chartreuse are all great color options for late season eggs. Pair your egg with a San Juan Worm and you’ll have yourself the world renowned Spaghetti and Meatballs combo! Winter sizes are #14 through #18
By Danny Eiden
Danny grew up fishing the Driftless region of Wisconsin focusing on warmwater species, tricking bass, northern pike and muskies with big streamers and poppers. A recent college graduate, Danny finds himself tying a lot of flies and working on navigating his new territory around the Madison Valley while contributing to the MRFC blog.