16 Do’s and Don’ts of Winter Fishing


Ah yes, winter has come and all of the “riff raff” is off of the ‘Horn, leaving behind mostly out of state guides and of course, Californians. So why not venture out and enjoy a day of winter fishing on a truly unique and special river.

A prime example of a quality winter fish. This fish, in particular, was caught under and indicator on a small midge pattern.

1)      DO Enjoy “fresh tracks” at nearly any access on the river. There is no better feeling than cresting the hill out side Fort Smith and seeing a beautiful vail of snow covering the boat ramp.  Typically, this sight is accompanied with a “game on” feeling.

2)      DONT Get stuck when trying to take out at the end of the day.  I have seen it all too often, especially at the Bighorn access or 13 mile. You've just had a great day pulling bugs and your tires don’t seem to purchase the slick ramp.  I think chains are a little extreme but are an effective tool nonetheless. Personally, I keep a section of rope with a carabineer for such situations and use Rainier fueled strength and pull the boat out, with the help of others. 

3)      DO Enjoy some of the most gentle sippers on the river, especially early and late winter.  Water temperatures reach optimal levels for midge emergences and the fish don’t stray away from eating these bugs.  I recommend fishing a buzz ball, one of the easier midges to see, and a smoke jumper.  A dry dropper rig is also effective.  I can't tell you how many times I have regretted leaving a dry rod in the truck.

4)      DONT worry about anything but fishing to these rivers, you’re here and they are here so why not make the most of it?

5)      DO Learn to swing flies.  I know you enjoy your singled handed rod or you are primarily a nymph fisher.  GIVE UP THE BABY BLANKET LIONESS! It’s a relatively affordable set up and it is extremely effective especially for the trout we have on the ‘Horn.  This is also nice when the temperatures cool below freezing and ice forms in the guides.  The running line will still shoot effectively and often clear the ice. Keeping your hands dry.

6)      DONT bring one pair of gloves when fishing.  I will bring two to three pairs, depending on how long I plan to be on the water.  I highly recommend the Simms extreme gloves.  They come in a variety of styles and a wide size range.  They are expensive because they are a quality glove that will insulate even when wet.  That’s important when you are surrounded by… water.

A nice brown caught on a tight line swing at dusk.

7)      DO Enjoy whatever style of fishing you prefer, if that is chucking meat, go for it! if it’s fishing an indicator set up, you bet! If its swinging flies, of course! It all works this time of year and that is pretty neat.

8)      DONT Belittle others because they don’t want to throw a chunk of rabbit all day.  Fishing is fishing and if you think that you’re above the guy methodically working a run with an indicator you’re just kidding yourself.  Plus, it takes some pretty big man or lady balls to venture out into the arctic conditions to fish, both anglers are equally hard core.

9)      DO Walk in and fish the water at 3 mile.  A drift boat is a nice tool on the ‘Horn, however, it is not necessary to catch fish.  Some of my best days in the winter have happened on walk wade days. 

10)   DONT Forget hot coffee and beer. This magical combination seems to keep winter anglers more than happy throughout the day.

11)   DO Take a moment to look around.  I hope you get the chills and realize how lucky you are to be on open water in December.  Moreover, you are likely catching fish and having a great time.  That’s pretty special and not a lot of people get to experience that.

12)   DONT Forget a wading jacket.  Not only will this piece of clothing keep you warm and out of the wind, but it could save your life.  The primary design of the jacket is to keep water out.  This means if the draw cord and cuffs are tight and you fall in it will act almost as a life jacket.  Pretty cool huh? Bonus, you’ll probably be dry after the ordeal and continue to hammer fish on your method of choice.

13)   DO Bring your camera.  Inevitably you will find yourself with a big fish in your hands and your buddies won't believe it unless you’ve got the evidence! I like to keep fish in the net for these winter time photos.  I’m sure you can find some cool ideas for “glamor shots” of your trophy on any of the social media sights.

14)   DONT Drop fish, not only is this bad for the fish but it’s bad for you.  If you subscribe to the idea that fish karma is real, and I assure you it is, you won't drop fish if you plan on catching any more that day.

15)   DO Spend time with your closest buddies in the winter season.  Some of my most fond memories of fishing are in the winter with my dad.  I know that many other anglers have similar memories that they too cherish. 

16)   DONT Fish to spawning fish. I understand that they are right there and you can see them, but do not fish them.  If fish are in 6 inches of water the are probably spawning meaning they are vulnerable.  Do not be that guy who preys on an easy target, it is not becoming of a sports man.  So if I see your claim that you caught a hundred fish and they are all browns and your boots aren't wet, I’m going to call you out because fishing spawners is horse shit.  You’re better than that. Move on. And if you can’t catch anything but fish of redds, maybe you should find an easier hobby like tenkara or lawn darts.



Angler Russel Ness sharing a victory drink shortly after landing a large 'bow caught on a home tied streamer pattern. Beer is also considered another layer.

Angler Russel Ness sharing a victory drink shortly after landing a large 'bow caught on a home tied streamer pattern. Beer is also considered another layer.

Winter is truly an amazing time to experience the Bighorn or any river for that matter.  I highly recommend getting out and experiencing it if you haven’t, and if you have, maybe you can try something new. Tight Lines, stay off the redds ~ Pierce Oja

About the author:

Pierce is an up and coming guide and a former employee of East Rosebud, He enjoys fishing and long walks on the beach, he is also a Taurus.   

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  • Pierce Oja
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