Early Start to the Fishing Season


The unseasonably warm weather this February has jump started the fishing season for many local anglers.  This time last year we were buried in snow and brutal cold, but a long string of days in the 40’s and even 50’s has thawed our local rivers and even given some life to the resident trout.  While it has been productive on the streams lately, there are still a few things to keep in mind if you plan to head out fishing.

The air temps have been above average but the water it still cold and the trout are relatively lethargic.  That means nymphing with subsurface flies will be your most productive technique.  Stonefly nymphs, san juan worms, and standards like bead head pheasant tails and prince nymphs will all produce, but the flies need to be at or near the bottom.  Choosing the right water type is also important.  Avoid fast runs and heavy currents this time of year.  The trout don’t want to work harder than they have to so look to slower runs and mild riffles.  Knee deep to waist deep water is the ticket right now.

Afternoon success on the Missouri

Afternoon success on the Missouri. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

While the nymph fisherman will do best most days, there are still opportunities to fish dry flies and streamers.  The dry fly window is short, during the warmest part of the day, and anglers need to keep a keen eye on long, slow flats for subtle dimples that indicate surface feeding.  The streamer gang seems to be as devoted to the craft as the results, and a persistent angler can move some big fish using slow and deep retrieves.

Time of day is also a huge factor in late winter.  There’s no need to be on the water at the crack of dawn.  Banker’s hours, in fact, lazy banker’s hours from 11-4 is the time of day when the trout will be most active.  The weather is just as important.  The warmer the better although any day with highs above freezing will offer reasonable fishing.  If the forecast calls for 25 and snow then you are probably better off hitting the slopes than the river.

Many days you will have the river to yourself

Many days you will have the river to yourself. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.


Keep in mind that the new license year starts March 1st so make sure to pick up a new fishing license soon and double check the current regulations.  The main rivers are all open to catch and release angling but most of the smaller creeks are still closed.  Some of the best options right now are the Bitterroot, Rock Creek, and Missouri.  If cabin fever has been closing in on you take advantage of the nice weather and get out fishing!

The rewards of early winter fishing

The rewards of early winter fishing. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

Tight Lines,

Tony Reinhardt, Montana Trout Outfitters


Tony Reinhardt BioTony Reinhardt is the owner, outfitter for Montana Trout Outfitters in Missoula.  He has been a guide on the rivers of western Montana for 16 years and absolutely loves his job.  When he’s not working you’ll find him fishing with his two children or in the woods hunting.