In a rut always fishing nymphs in the winter? Try leaving the bobbers home and dedicate your day to fishing streamers only. You may not catch the numbers you normally would, especially this time of year, but you may be surprised at the quality of the trout you’ll tie into and I’m guessing you’ll have more fun too! Here’s a how-to on catching more trout on streamers during the dead of winter.
First, it has to be at least warm enough that the river isn’t frozen solid. Some ice can be present for you to successfully catch trout on streamers. The less the better obviously, but I’ve seen plenty of trout taken with ice on the surface of the river, as well as in the guides and even on the leader of the rod.
Lower and slower ~ Probably the single most important tip is to slow down your presentation. Winter water temperatures below 40° will slow down a trout’s metabolism, so mirror that with your fly and give the fish time to come and get it.
Once you’ve placed your fly, make a good mend and feed some line and give the fly a second or two to get down to where the fish are. How much line you feed will depend on the depth and speed of the water you’re fishing as well as other factors like the weight of the fly and the sink rate of your line. Or if you’re fishing a sink tip or adding weight to your leader.
Once you think you have your fly at the desired fishing depth – pretty close to bottom, make your strips and/or tip movements slower. As you’ve also probably heard a thousand times, let your fly swing. Even make your entire presentation a “steelhead swing”. After you’ve made your first mend and perhaps first feed of line, keep mending upstream, slowing the swing speed of the fly.
And although you probably anticipate me telling you to downsize your fly size, I actually prefer to start with a large fly first and see if the trout will move. I find myself typically starting with a size #1 single or even triple articulated pattern. That equates to about a 5’ or 6” fly. Why? Because, an articulated fly swims better. Especially when not being jerked and stripped real fast. And, I’m a firm believer that big fish like big food. Then I’ll try different colors. What determines what colors I fish depends on the specific river. If I’m on the Big Hole my streamer probably has some copper or rusty brown. Maybe even a little yellow. If I’m fishing the Madison I’m usually starting with something neutral like olive then going to white. If white doesn’t get any strikes I’ll go back to darker tones, or good old black.
Winter streamer fishing might not be the fastest fishing action but with a little bit of extra dedication and warm layers you can certainly catch the biggest fish of your season in the late winter months.
For winter streamer fishing I recommend the following Winston rods:
Michael Stack is the head guide and owner of FishTales Outfitting based in Sheridan, Montana. Mike has spent the last twenty years becoming intimate with the legendary rivers and streams of southwest Montana and is always exploring out-of-the-way water, usually pulling streamers through it. Be sure to check out Mike’s website and blog at www.mtfishtales.com for other unique fishing tips and opportunities in Southwest Montana.