Written by: Josh Duchateau, Firehole Ranch
The mercury is getting more and more difficult to find in my thermometer. Most Montanans are trading their fly rods in for skis, but for the reluctant ones there are enough days with temps above freezing and plenty of open water to fish in between tying sessions. Winter fishing can be very good, if not fantastic. Selecting flies during the winter months is generally a little easier, since there aren’t any complex hatches unlike some of our summer fishing excursions. Here are a few of my “go-to” imitations for frigid water.
[Click the name of each fly to be taken to a place to buy, a recipe, or a video.]
1. Pink Scud
(Sizes 16 and 18)
Some say that because of its color, that fish mistake a Pink Scud for an egg. I can agree with that…sometimes. At least it offers a guilt-free approach of fishing an egg. Either way, there are various colors of this “freshwater shrimp,” and pink is my favorite for winter. If you are going to fish a spring creek or tailwater with weed beds, this one better be an option.
2. Hot Spot Sow Bug
This is a variation of a few sow-bug imitations. I originally used the fire orange colored thread so that when the fly got wet, the orange would illuminate through the dubbing, but it also differentiates the bug from other naturals, “triggering” a reaction bite from the quarry. Once again, for the most part, this is a spring creek or tailwater bug.
3. Midge Pupa
(Red and/or black; sizes 16-22)
I generally carry versions without beads, since the fish are usually in slower and shallower water when they really get on midge hatches. I really think the wing bud makes a big difference.
4. Buzz Ball
Created by my favorite fly-fishing author and theorist, Gary LaFontaine. Not only do I chose this pattern because it can be applied for just about any small insect hatch, but also because it shines during midge mating clusters. In larger sizes, it’s a great dry fly to hang a light nymph off.
5. Wool Head Sculpin
(Olive and black; sizes 6-10)
We are definitely in the midst of the major “streamer revolution,” and there are countless variations on the same theme. They all work, but during the winter I like to keep it a little bit smaller and simple and almost always fished on a sink tip or a full-sinking line.
There are a lot of crayfish patterns that include quite a bit of weight and are meant more for an animated retrieve. I prefer ones with very little to no weight. I usually fish these under a bobber and add split shot accordingly.
7. Rubber Leg Stonefly
(Black, olive, or tan; sizes 6-12)
Stoneflies reside in pretty much all of our western rivers. It’s so suggestive that the fish could be eating it for a few different things. Don’t leave home without them.
8. San Juan Worm
(Various colors; sizes 10-14)
Aquatic worms are found in all bodies of water as far as I know. They also come in all different colors and sizes. If catching gets difficult, try a worm. They work
9. Zebra Midge
(Red and/or black; sizes 16-22)
Much like aquatic worms, midges are found everywhere and are probably the only aquatic hatch you will find during winter fishing. This is always a great fly to start with—a simple, suggestive, and a great bug for a beginner fly tier.
10. Pink Lightning Bug
I’m not really sure why trout like this fly, and. I don’t really care. It works most places, especially during the winter. It’s a great attractor and a great place to start particularly if you are fishing the Missouri.
Josh Duchateau is head guide at Firehole Ranch in West Yellowstone, Montana.