Great Falls Fishing Report
December 13, 2018
Winter fishing is all about the weather. Our temperatures in Montana bounce all over the place. When we get warming trends, the winter fishing can be exceptionally good. It’s all about having the freedom or fortune to go when the weather is right.
The Missouri River is an awesome canvas on which to apply a swung fly. December through March is an excellent time to employ the swing game.
Picking the right water is the key to winter time success. You may find some fish nosing toward faster water at shelves and drop offs during the warmest part of the day, but in general, think softer water. Walking speed current is often ideal. That zone between the faster mid-river flow and the almost dead water near the banks is key. Groups of fish will move back and forth throughout slow-moving runs. Water from 3 to 6 feet of depth is ideal. The most active fish will often feed where current picks up at the head and tail of a run, but they avoid the quick water zones frequented in summer.
Flies that work especially well in slower moving water are small minnows, micro intruders and leech pattern streamers. Often, a bit of a retrieve will be needed to activate the fly as it swings into the slowest flow or the dead water nearer shore. Don’t feel that your cast is done if your swing is complete. Many fish will follow the fly into the dead zone and eat on the retrieve.
Winter is fire bead season. For serious hatch matchers, it can be a boring time of year, but many folks love the simplicity of winter nymphing. Pair a fire bead nymph like the pink FB Ray Charles or the skurp with a black, red, or purple zebra and you should be in the game. The most important part is where and when you fish your flies. You will want to fish where the fish are and when they are biting. Easy right? Think midday and near the dam for the most consistent results. Target slow to moderate currents.
If you can find an abundance of midges collecting in soft water areas, you can target active feeders on single adult midges. Drifting a tufted zebra under a cluster midge through the fish feeding zone can also be a productive approach. Slowly retrieving a tiny pulsating emerger is a good way to cover flat water if the fish are cruising.
Warm fingers and toes are the key to enjoying fly fishing in the winter. If you can afford them, a pair of boot foot waders will keep your feet happy. Otherwise, make sure to have warm socks and get out of the water and stamp around from time to time to keep your blood moving.
It’s also a good idea to bring some heat. A thermos of warm soup or a hot beverage can provide a major attitude adjustment. I often pack a small backpacking stove if I’m hiking any distance from my vehicle. Not only does the stove allow me to heat up food or beverages on demand, but I can instantly warm chilled fingers.
If you want the best foundation for your flies, you’ve got to come in for the new Genryuu Hook Company hooks. The 90-degree jig hook is simply the best for building leeches, micro intruders, and small baitfish streamers. If you are frozen and just want to talk about fly fishing, the coffee is always on and we tell some pretty good stories.