Thursday, December 10, 2015

The trout will rise again: Where to find risers in December

(#tbt; originally published in the November/December 2008 issue of the Montana Sporting Journal)
Damn fish. 
While hiking in the Bear Trap Canyon of the Madison River a few years ago, a buddy and I saw one sip a midge from the surface. Then it happened again. And again.

The damn part: It was in December. And, being neophytes, we didn’t bring our fly rods.
He vowed never to hike along a river sans fly rod ever again, and I make sure to always have a few Griffith’s Gnats and H&L Variants in my box.
But trout eat dry flies many places in December on Montana’s rivers. Try these places.

Poindexter Slough

Poindexter fishes well in December due to the fact that it is part spring creek, which keeps waters steady year round, and part tailwater (much of the flow in Poindexter is water from the Beaverhead River).
It’s midges here, as it is with most places you’ll find rising fish in December.
Keep in mind that while Poindexter remains open year round, it’s catch-and-release only from December 1 to the third Saturday in May.

Upper Clark Fork

It gets windy at the UCF. 
Based on my empirical research, I’d guess that Montana’s official midge convention takes place here every December. Even though the midges can be thick, the rising fish can be difficult to track down some days. But keep looking – you should be able to find some.
The Upper Clark Fork is an outstanding winter fishery in general. It’s a lot like a tailwater, as it comes from the water released from the Anaconda Settling Ponds.
Big fish can be caught here in the winter, but the biggest probably won’t take a dry. You’ll have to run streamers through the deeper holes for the piggies.

Depuy Spring Creek

This one is pure spring creek, so its temperature stays at about 54 degrees 365 days a year. This will probably be the only place you’ll find anything other than midges – you can find some baetis activity and trout looking up for them. And of course, you will find midges.
Paradise Valley’s other pay fisheries, Armstrong’s Spring Creek and Nelson’s Spring Creek, will probably have the same sort of bug activity (especially Armstrong’s, because it is actually a different section of the same creek). I just cannot specifically speak to their bug activity, as I’ve not fished either in December.

Lower Madison River

This is the place where I first learned that fish will rise in December. The best bet is probably directly below the dam and the first mile or so after that. But anywhere on the Lower, particularly in Bear Trap Canyon, holds the possibility for rising fish.
Some of these midges here can be thicker in the body and a shade of gray.

Bighorn River

This is a great place to fish in December, rising fish or not. It’s one of Montana’s best winter fisheries and the crowds of the summer are absent.
Most times in December, the Bighorn will be at its normal winter flows which means wading is very much a possibility.
This is one place where thicker tippet might be needed – there are lots of 18- to 22-inch fish in the Bighorn.

Yellowstone River at La Duke Spring

While the Yellowstone River is a freestone river and does freeze from bank to bank most winters, there is a section near Corwin Springs where La Duke Spring (a geothermal spring), among others, dumps in, which causes the river to remain warm enough to hatch midges. There are a lot of native cutthroats in this section, which adds to the notability of this spot. But as with anywhere on the Yellowstone, there are lots of whitefish.

You might also take a peek at the Yellowstone where Nelson’s and Depuy’s dump in. These spots are known to be decent for fishing at other times of the year, and are likely to have warmer water than the rest of the big river.

Other likely places:

Big Spring Creek around Lewistown, the Kootenai River, the Beaverhead River, the Missouri River below Holter Dam…Pretty much any tailwater or spring creek will be warm enough to hatch midges.
Don’t forget that many times when trout are rising, they are taking pupae in favor of adults. Be sure to have plenty of Griffiths Gnats, but also be sure to have a good selection of midge emergers in different colors.
Maybe the best part of finding rising fish in December is that there is a solid chance you’ll have a more-than-adequate section of water to yourself. Don your GoreTex and make sure your feet get plenty of blood flow, then double check your knots and be ready to set the hook.

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