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Winter fly-fishing secrets, with Noelle Coley

Description: This week my guest is Noelle Coley [41:25] of Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Montana. Noelle is a serious winter fly fisher, with experience both in Colorado and Montana. She gives us great tips on flies, techniques, and of course dressing to keep warm. WE can all benefit from her experience and have more fun—and stay more comfortable—while fishing in the depths of winter.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and my guest this week is Noelle Coley from Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Montana. Noelle is a very experienced winter fly fisher. Noelle has spent time both in Colorado and in Montana, does a lot of winter fishing, and has some great tips on, you know, what flies to use, what time of day to go, how to do it, how to dress, and all those things that make winter fly fishing a little bit more fun and a little bit easier. So, I hope you enjoy that.

But first, we're gonna do the Fly Box. The Fly Box is where you ask me questions, and I try to answer them, or you give me tips. Sometimes I get some really good tips from podcast listeners, and I really appreciate that. This is your podcast. This is your chance to contribute and to ask questions, and I couldn't do it without you, that's for sure. So, anyway, let's start it out with email from Mike in Western Massachusetts, "Hello, Tom. My question has to do with photos on social media of fish being caught and released. I've seen numerous photos on various websites of photos fishers have posted of their catch. No matter what the site, there's always someone that comments about the way the photo was taken in regards to the trout not being handled in a proper manner, criticizing the angler. I refer to them as the keep them wet police. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in prop, I believe in and practice proper fish handling, but I do not think commenting on social media about a photo is the proper way to educate certain anglers. I would like to hear your opinion on the subject. I fly fish in the fly fishing only section of the Swift River in Western Massachusetts. My question is about ethics and how far one should go. I've been in this section when another angler shows up and starts fishing with spinning tackle. The section is clearly marked fly fishing only. I have witnessed other fly fishers, notice did not say, fly fishermen, say something and almost start a physical altercation. My question is, what is the correct way to handle this? On other websites about the Swift, it was said that the game wardens were called but never showed up in time. What do you suggest is the proper procedure in this situation in this dangerous day and age? Love all you do for the sport. Thanks, Tom."

All right. Mike, so you asked for my opinion. These are only my opinions. I don't believe that anyone should be criticized on social media for anything at all. It's why I don't spend an awful lot of time on social media. I don't wanna hear everybody's comments on my photographs. I don't believe that's the right thing to do. I think it's in poor taste. You know, I think the proper thing to do is for people like Orvis and other people in the industry to show rather than preach.

So, we have a policy that we don't abuse any pictures of fish not being handled properly, and hopefully by seeing that people get the point. We don't wanna preach to people, and preaching in social media is one of the worst ways to go about this. I think we have to lead by example, and hopefully, people will get the message.

Regarding that issue on the Swift River, it's not our job to police the regulations. I don't believe it's our responsibility, our job to police regulations that have been instituted by the state. It's only gonna result in an ugly situation. It's not your job. You're out there to have fun, you're out there to relax. And if you're gonna get upset about somebody using the wrong kind of gear on the river, then it's gonna ruin your day.

So, my suggestion in a case like that would be to approach a person in a friendly tone, say, "Hey, did you know this is fly fishing only?" And that's it. If they say, "No, I didn't." Then you can say, "Yeah, it's marked fly fishing only," and then walk away. If they start to give you grief, then walk away, don't argue with them. Call a game warden. You know, hopefully, the game wardens will show up in time, but it's really their responsibility. If you see someone speeding down the street, it's not your responsibility to pull them over, and I believe it's the same thing when someone is using gear that is not legal.

Here's an email from Gavin, "Tom, I'm going to the Florida Keys in March. I wanna try my hand at bonefish for the first time. Don't worry, I'm not gonna ask where to go or when. I have a tackle question. I recently bought a Helios 3D 9-foot, 6-weight rod, which is incomparably the best fly rod I've ever cast. And I was wondering if you think a 6-weight is enough rod or if I should take my Recon 9-foot, 8-weight. I know I can cast much more accurately and much farther with the H3, which I'm told is very important in bonefishing. I only asked because I'm flying to Florida from Tennessee with carry-on only and really only have room to bring one rod. Also, if you have any recommendations for fly pattern or two to tie for the trip, it would be greatly appreciated. I've done some internet research, and it seems like the crazy Charlie would be a good choice, but having no experience, I would defer to your opinion in the matter. Thank you for reading. Hope you and all those at Orvis have come through the past couple years on top. Keep at it, yours is the best podcast I've ever found."

Well, thank you, Gavin. And I'm going to tell you that a 6-weight is not enough rod to take for bonefishing, particularly in the Florida Keys. You're gonna use bigger flies in the Florida Keys than in most places for bonefish fours or even twos. The fish are generally bigger, they eat bigger prey. You know, you might get some wind, and to throw that bigger fly with a 6-weight rod is going to be a little bit of a struggle. And also, 6-weight's a little light to handle a really large bonefish, and the Florida Keys have the largest bonefish in the world. So, I would take that Recon 9-foot, 8-weight. The Recon is a dead accurate rod as well, and I think you're gonna be much happier taking an 8-weight.

Regarding fly patterns, I would check with some of the fly shops down in the area and find out what's popular these days. I mean, my go-to fly anywhere for bonefishing is in Enrico Puglisi's Spawning Shrimp. You know, bonefish are not that super selective, it's more a question of how you present the fly, and the weight of the fly, and how you move it. And, you know, whatever pattern you take, make sure that you have ones with plastic eyes or no eyes at all, some with bead chain eyes and some with solid metal eyes because sink rate is so important with bonefish. You know, they'll eat just about anything that moves, they are not that selective, but presentation is what it's all about. And make sure you have bigger flies. You can get away with a 6-weight rod in places like Mexico and Belize, but you're throwing smaller flies there, you're throwing 6s and 8s and even 10s, and the bonefish are smaller in those places. I would never take a rod that light for any kind of bonefish, even those smaller bonefish in Mexico or Belize because you never know when you're gonna see a bigger bonefish, or you're gonna see a permit go by, or you may wanna throw to a barracuda, 6-weight is not really enough rod for that. So, I would take that 8-weight, take some bigger flies, and make sure you have three different sink rates and whatever fly patterns you take.

Quentin: Hey, Tom. This is Quentin calling from Oregon. I had a question about traveling with gear. I'm thinking about making a trip this summer out to the East Coast where I'm originally from out to New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine. Yeah, I wanted to get your thoughts or tips and tricks on basically like checking bags, checking rod tubes, how do you pack your gear, boots, and all that stuff. It's gonna be a first time for me. So, I just wanted to get your thoughts or any pro-tips you may have. Yeah. Again, thanks a lot, and look forward to maybe hearing my question on the air and look forward to many future episodes. Bye.

Tom: So, Quentin, there's all kinds of opinions on traveling with fly gear. Some people carry everything on with them. If you can sacrifice not carrying other things and stuff, all your fishing gear into a carry-on bag, you know, more power to you. Personally, I don't...I check everything. I check my rods, I check my flies, I check my waders, I check all that stuff. I've never had anything damaged, and it's seldom that I've not had stuff arrive. You're at the mercy of the airlines.

Another option that you know you have this stuff is to ship your gear ahead of time, ship it out to wherever you're going. It sounds like you're gonna be visiting family or something, so you know it's gonna be safe. Sometimes shipping your gear out, it's a little bit more expensive, but, you know, it's not that much more expensive than the extra bag cost. And then, you know, carrying on gear 4-piece rods, you can put in the overhead, make sure you have them in something that's gonna protect them because things get banged around there. You can carry your flies in your carry-on bag.

There are always horror stories about people who have been...had their fly reels taken away from them because, you know, security thought that a fly line could be used to strangle someone. And hooks are sharp, so if you carry your flies, you know, it's up to the discretion of the TSA people and the flight crew. I've never heard of anyone taking a 4-piece rod on and having a problem with that. But the other stuff, you have to be careful.

I haven't heard of any serious incidents of people having their stuff taken away domestically in the United States, but internationally, you never know. There are some international airlines where they will not let you carry hooks on the plane. So, you need to be careful, you need to check ahead of time, and to be on the safe side, I'd ship everything, see how that works out for you.

Here's an email from Brian from Maryland, "I am a relatively new fly angler living in Maryland. Your podcast and guide to fly fishing videos have been invaluable for me as I continue to learn about the techniques of fly fishing. Since getting into fly fishing, I've tried primarily dry fly fishing and nymphing, both with an indicator and tight lining. But I recently listened to your podcast with Davy Wotton about wet fly fishing. What type of rod would you suggest I use for fishing wet flies? I currently use a 10-foot, 3-weight nymphing rod, and a 9-foot, 5-weight rod for more general fishing. I also occasionally use my young son's 8-foot, 4-weight rod when I take my sons out to look for panfish. I'm hoping you can help point me in the right direction as I get started in fishing wet flies. Thank you once again for being so helpful and instrumental in getting me interested in fly fishing, although my wife might disagree. She was already exasperated at my addiction to playing golf."

Well, Brian, you know, with wet fly fishing, probably the most important thing is being able to mend line at a fairly long distance so that you get a proper swing on your wet flying. I know Davy prefers a longer rod, a 10 or even a 10.5-foot rod. I definitely threw out that 8-foot, 4-weight. That's not gonna work very well for wet flies. You know, if you're fishing smaller water, and you can mend all the way out to your fly with the 9-foot, 5-weight, that might be okay. The 10-footer is going to give you a little bit more reach. Actually, you know, the extra foot is going to give you a lot more ability to mend, but that 3-weight might be a little light if you're casting long distance or you're using fairly large flies. If you're using smaller size 14, 16, 18 wet flies, you know, a couple of them, that 10-foot, 3-weight might work well for you.

You didn't say what brand it is. If it's a Euro nymphing rod, it will cast a standard 3-weight floating line. It's gonna be a slower action, which is not necessarily bad for wet fly fishing. would probably lean toward that 10-foot, 3-weight unless you're fishing really big flies or you're casting a really long distance. Probably the ideal rod would be a 10-foot, 5-weight for swinging wet flies. I don't wanna try to talk you into buying a new rod of the rods you have may work fine for now. And then, you know, if you find that you're struggling with one of those, then you might think about getting a 10-foot, 5-weight.

There's an email from Shane from outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "Long-time Orvis fan and more recent Orvis podcast fan. On a recent episode, you mentioned your initial unease with deer hair, however, you said it always goes on trips with you. As someone who's been tying and fly fishing for 25 years, I still can't get my comparadon flies to lie appropriately. Are there any tips or tricks you could share since it seems like at the same point, you were in the same shoes I'm in. We as a collective group of outdoor enthusiasts appreciate you and the knowledge you share."

Well, I wasn't quite sure what Shane was asking about here. I sent Shane an email to kind of clarify the problems he's been having, and here's what he said, "I'm having difficulty getting the hair stacked and transferred to the hook without falling apart. My end result usually looks something like deer hair on top with multiple legs, for lack of better words, underneath. I can tie most other flies with whatever material, but this one perplexes me. Am I using too much, too little thread size? Any help is appreciated."

Shane, the first thing that I would do is I would go to the Orvis Learning Center, and Tim Flagler has some videos on there. I know there's a video on tying comparadons. I would check that first, or if it's not in the Orvis Learning Center, you can check Tim's YouTube channel because I'm sure he's got at least one comparadon tying videos there.

Other tips is you don't want to use too light of a thread because you have to put some pressure on the deer hair. So, you know, I would use...on smaller flies, I'd use 8-0, and on larger flies, say a 12 or a 14, I would go with 6-0 thread. And, you know, stack it well and then just be very careful when you transfer it to the hook. You wanna try to keep the hair on top of the hook. So, when you tie that deer hair in, make sure that you use a pinch wrap and pinch the sides of the hook as you pull straight down with the thread to make sure the hair stays on top of the hook. And then obviously, trim the butt section, those multiple legs you talked about.

Now, one of the trickiest things about tying comparadons is getting the right hair. And when I tie comparadons, depending on the size, I'll pull out three or four or even five pieces of deer hair, and I'll try one with each piece of deer hair. You know, as you go to different sizes, it's going to be a different piece of deer hair, different texture, different length. And so, you know, I hate to tell you this, but the trick to tying comparadons is buying a lot of deer hair. You know, it's not that expensive, when you see a piece of deer hair that looks like it would be good for comparadons, I would buy it. And there's lots of information on the web about tying, about what kind of hair to select, but you generally want hair that's relatively fine and has relatively even tips and does not have long black tips. If you look at a piece of deer hair, they always have little tiny black tips, and you want those to be as short as possible to get a decent wing. So, hopefully, those tips will help. I would watch some of Tim Flagler's videos. I think that's gonna be your best bet.

Here's an email from Steve in Northern Indiana, "Love the podcast. I am a reformed equipment nerd, was recently cured, not by any newfound wisdom, but by the financial realities of early retirement. One of the vestiges of my former ways is a stack of fly rods that no longer get used. These are 10 to 30-year-old graphite rides, high quality when new, 2-weight to 6-weight. The question is what to do with them. On one hand, even the low-end rods sold today are probably better casting instruments than a rod that was state of the art years ago. This makes me lean towards just putting them in the trash. On the other hand, there may be people new to the sport who would benefit from finding a cheap rod on eBay, or perhaps they could be donated to a club auction. My wife says it's time to start the big basement cleanup project. So I would like to hear your thoughts on this."

Well, first of all, Steve, don't throw them in the trash, that would be a terrible waste. We don't want to put those rods in the waste stream because somebody can put them to good use, certainly. Here are some of my suggestions. One would be to find a local boy scout or girl scout organization if they're still around, not sure about the boy scouts these days. But I would find a local kids' club one way or the other. Sometimes high schools have fly fishing clubs, sometimes colleges do, and if you can find one of those places, just donate them because, you know, kids have trouble affording rods. Ten to 30-year-old graphite rods are still going to be great fishing tools. So, I would, first of all, find a worthy cause locally if you can. I'm sure that you can probably find someplace that has a kids' organization that works with fly rods.

The other thing is Trout Unlimited has kids camps for fly fishing that they run for kids. I forgot what they call them, but you may want to contact National Trout Unlimited. You can find their contact information on the web and see if you can donate them. And then probably your third option would be to...what I would do is I'd sell them on eBay, although selling on eBay is a pain. But sell them on eBay and then perhaps donate the proceeds to Trout Unlimited or another worthy organization. And then finally, you might donate them to a fishing club auction, a Trout Unlimited chapter, but generally, the chapter isn't gonna make much money on those older rods. And you know, those are generally adults that can afford a new rod. So I think the best bet is to try to get them into the hands of some kids.

Here's an email from Josh, "I started fly fishing about two years ago and totally love it. Listening to the podcast has given me much food for thought. I live in Northwest PA and can be an excellent fishing for both Lake Erie steelhead and native brook trout in an hour or less. Native brook trout are definitely my favorite fish to catch so far. I have a question regarding an experience I had last summer in Montana. I was fishing Rock Creek a bit East of Missoula on a warm July day and nothing much was happening as far as hatches were concerned. For a while, I was fishing a larger dry with a dropper connected to a smaller dry and had lots of what appeared to be eats on the larger dry. However, I could not seem to hook any fish until I removed the smaller dropper fly, and then I almost instantly hooked fish on the larger dry. Maybe this was a coincidence, but it seemed to make a difference. Anyway, I was wondering if you'd have any thoughts on what might have been happening. Could the dropper fly have been changing the hook angle to where the hook wasn't connecting when I set the hook? Could the smaller dropper fly have been creating resistance to the point that the fish felt it and spit the fly before my hook set? I did not have the dropper tied...I did have the dropper tied to the bend of the hook. Any thoughts from the expert would be appreciated. Thanks."

Well, Josh, it's really difficult to answer that question. Generally, when fishing with a dropper, whether you tie it on the bend, or whether you tie it to a separate piece of tippet, it doesn't seem to hinder the hooking abilities much, you catch as many fish on the upper fly as you do on the lower fly depending on the circumstances.

What I think might have happened here, and this is only a guess, is that the second dry fly that you had was causing drag on that larger fly, and the fish were coming to the larger fly, but at the last minute, they were seeing it dragging and they were refusing it, so they were splashing at the fly but not connecting. You know, often if there are tricky drag situations, it's best to use a single dry fly. It's great to use a smaller dry for a dropper but it does increase the possibility of drag because you got an extra fly hanging on there. I think might have been drag. The way you describe it sounds like that extra piece of tippet and that smaller dry was causing the bigger dry to behave unnaturally.

Here's an email from Sam, "Hey, Tom. I'm really enjoying the podcast. I'm fairly new to fly fishing as this is gonna be my fourth year in the sport. My question for you is why do fly fishermen use super light leader tippet material for trout, but conventional gear guys don't when fishing the same species? Thanks for your input and encouragement." So, Sam, you know, fly fishers don't always use lighter tippet for fishing. When you're fishing with an ultralight spinning outfit, you have to have a really fine line because, throwing a very light lure, you need light line because otherwise there's too much resistance and it won't get out there.

And if you're fishing something like a streamer where you're moving the fly, you can actually get away with a lot heavier tippet material than a conventional angler can because you're pulling on that thing, and you don't have to worry about drag or a natural drift because you're yanking that thing through the water. So, we don't always need to have lighter tippet.

When we do need lighter tippet than the conventional anglers is when we're trying to get a natural drift. You're throwing your fly out there, and you're trying to get this tiny fly to behave naturally in the water. And the lighter your tippet, generally, the more natural that fly is going to drift. And on the other hand, again, when you're fishing a streamer, something that you're moving through the water, you can get away with a much heavier tippet. It's not always the case, and thanks for your question.

Here's an email from Sean from Colorado, "Thanks for the podcast. It's a great resource. I'm reaching out with a question and an idea for a podcast or discussion. My question is, what natural materials would you recommend for trailing shuck? I've used marabou and CDC, but I'm not as confident as them. I had a long conversation with a guy at the fly shop, and we couldn't hammer down a great example outside of antron. Any ideas would be helpful. Idea for a podcast or discussion is to compare the differences between hatches of similar bugs in different places like a Venn diagram between sulfurs in the East versus PMDs in the West, Western green drakes versus drakes on Penn's Creek Pennsylvania, etc. I thought it'd be interesting to compare and contrast some of these events in different places. You could call it a showdown or something, just a thought. Thanks again for the help."

Sean, I'm gonna answer your request first. It sounds like that's something that might be interesting but might also be a little bit geeky for some people. I know I enjoy it, but I'm not so sure the rest of podcast listeners would. So, if that idea interests you, let me know. I'm sure we can do something about it.

PMDs and sulfurs are fairly similar in their behavior. There's a big difference between Western green drakes versus Eastern green drakes because they're not related species. They're totally different behavior and the nymphs are different, whereas the sulfurs are quite similar in their behavior. So, the comparison might be interesting, but I'm not so sure I'm gonna go down that road.

Regarding your natural shuck, there's a number of things you could try. One is a reversed feather, in other words, tying in a feather and pulling it backwards...pulling the fibers of a feather back toward the butt section and then tying that down and snipping off the tip. It will give you a very realistic imitation of a shuck.

The old reverse tied mayfly was tied with a mallard feather like this where the fibers were pulled down toward the butt. It was tied to the end of the hook bend, and then the tip of the feather, the center of it was snipped, leaving a couple fibers on each side to look like the tails of the mayfly. That might make a pretty decent shuck. I have used just a hunk of a rabbit fur from a zonker strip for shucks before. That makes fairly realistic shucks. There are alternatives to antron. Although, honestly, I use antron or xelon for my shucks. I find that it works really well, it's very easy to handle, and it's very durable. So, you know, if you wanna go to a natural material, try a reverse tied feather or just a little hunk of rabbit fur or muskrat for something else that's kind of translucent.

Here's an email from Jewel from Ohio, "Hello, Tom. Thanks to you and Orvis for making the world of fly fishing a better place. Your holistic and common sense approach to fly fishing resonates with me and my fly fishing experience. Keep up the good work." Well, thank you, Jewel. "I fish at Mad River here in southwest Ohio. We're very fortunate as it's a year-round brown trout fishery. It's frequently stocked and has a good number of holdovers. I've caught my share of 18 to 20-inch fish plus, 18 to 20-inch plus browns. The river is spring-fed and was channelized in the '30s, and thus, in general, the trout hold in small pockets and short runs 3 to 5-feet deep. The health of the river is good as it maintains all the insects and bait fish from small stoneflies, to mayflies, to caddis, to midges, scuds, sculpins, and so forth. I fish nymphs 85% of the time. Good streamer and dry fly action are limited at least for me. I always start by seining the river to see what bug activity is prevalent and set up my rig accordingly. The lead pattern is usually something on the meaty side, worm, big caddis, Pat's Rubber Legs, next, a prevalent nymph pattern, and third, a soft tackle or a merger pattern. Fishing the swing is extremely important on the mat. Here's my question. If the first selection isn't working, what's a good strategy for selecting the next fly patterns? Thanks again for all your help. Oh, by the way, I don't tie flies, and most of the patterns I own come from Orvis. Your fly selection is top-notch and effective."

Well, Jewel, my first reaction to your strategy is that it sounds like you're fishing three great patterns, and you're using a wide variety of flies. And my first suggestion would not be to change flies but would be to change the way you're fishing the flies. You know, flies are not the magic bullet. There's no magic fly pattern that's gonna work at any given time. There are always lots of different patterns that will work at any given time. I would spend a lot of time on changing the speed of your swing or how deep your flies are swinging or moving to another spot first before you switch flies.

you know, pragmatically, I would switch out your lower fly first only because that's gonna be the easiest thing to switch out. I honestly don't know what to try next. It sounds like you're using good judgment in picking those flies, you're seining, you're looking for what's in the water, and, you know, sounds like you're fishing them effectively. Often when switching flies, if you use stuff that's logical, and that's not working, then try something illogical, just pull a fly out of your fly box that speaks to you, and try that. I don't have a better idea. A lot of fly selection is just trial and error. And sounds like you know better than me what would work there. I don't have a good suggestion for what flies to try next, just experiment.

Here's an email from David in Seattle, "First-time caller here. It's February and I would like to make myself feel better by buying some fly fishing gear. On my wish list is a slow reaction glass rod for the smaller trout common in western Washington's creeks in Mountain Lakes. To keep the cost down, I would like to use a 4-weight reel in line I own but am not currently using. Ideal, I would be casting dry flies to rising trout. On sunny days, I will have a few beers in my backpack. I'm considering two setups, overlining a 7-foot, 3-weight or getting a 7.5-foot, 4-weight. Some people on the internet recommend overlining for small streams, while others caution against using a heavier line with slow reaction glass rods, not to discount lip ripper 420 or Montana Trout Slayer's opinions. What do you recommend?"

David, it probably depends on which graphite rod you get, what brand, and what the action is, or sorry, fiberglass rod. I said graphite rod. You're talking about fiberglass rods. In general, people choose fiberglass rods because they're really good at casting short distances, they're slower, they have more mass. The line speed is generally slower with a fiberglass rod.

So, for your short casts, if you want to use a 4-weight line, I would tend toward just getting a rod that calls for a 4-weight. I think you're gonna be happy with those short casts with a fiberglass rod. With a graphite rod, yeah, you might want to overline it because graphite rods tend to be stiffer and tend to not cast quite as well at real short distances. I'm talking like 10 to 20 feet unless you overline them. With a fiberglass rod, I think you're gonna be okay. Again, depending on the brand, there's different actions in glass rods, and you didn't say which one it was. I would start with a 7.5-foot, 4-weight for that 4-weight line, and I think you're gonna be happy with that.

"Hey, Tom. My name is Joseph. I'm from Provo, Utah, and got a question for you, big fan of the podcast. This was my first year really fly fishing, and I was really, really into it. I was out maybe three, sometimes even four, five times a week, and luckily, have the river about 5, 10 minutes from my house. Right now I have the Orvis Encounter rod, it's a 9-foot, 5-weight, pretty basic rod. It's really great, I love, it's getting the job done. But as I get better, I'd like to say, I want to know when I will know to upgrade from that rod. I see rods that are really expensive, reels that are really expensive, and want to know if upgrading to one of those would make a difference at all for me in my fishing. I just do a lot of dry fly fishing in the summer. I've been Euro nymphing with another rod a lot during the winter time, that's been good, but really wanna know when making the jump up to a pricier rod like that, maybe better quality. I don't know if the rod would really make a difference for me, if I would notice that now. That's kind of what I wanna know. How will I know when I'm ready for that? Love the podcast, love hearing from everyone, and appreciate all you do. Thank you so much."

Joseph, I'm glad you like that Encounter 905, and my advice is to upgrade it when you feel like you're missing something. That's a great rod, and it's gonna do anything you wanted to do. What are you gonna get by upgrading? Will it make a difference? You're probably going to get a little bit more accuracy. Now, you're probably gonna be able to get a little bit more distance when you need it. You're gonna get a nicer-looking rod with nicer components. If it matters to you, and it does to some people, your Encounter 905 is made overseas, and if you step it up to recon or Helios 3, you're gonna be getting a rod that's handmade in the Orvis rod shop in Vermont from start to finish. All the components are made in Vermont, the real seats made in New Hampshire. It's a completely U.S.-made rod, and it's made with a lot of care and made by craftspeople. So, if that makes a difference to you, just knowing that you're using, you know, a handmade piece of gear that was made in Vermont.

As far as the difference in the fishing performance, yeah, the more expensive rods are gonna be a little bit better. And, you know, I would just say when you feel like you're not quite making that cast and you're satisfied that your casting form is good, you know, what I would do, actually, is I would go and try some other rods. And take your Encounter 905 to a fly shop. Try some other rods and go outside with a piece of yarn hopefully on water, if not, you don't have to be, and make some casts with your 905 at, you know, 30 or 40 feet, your average fishing distance, see if you can hit a particular spot on the lawn or on the water. And then try the more expensive rod and see if you get an increase in performance. That's the best I can tell you. All right. That's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Noelle about the pleasures of winter fishing.

So, my guest today is Noelle Coley. Noelle works for Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Montana, and one of my favorite fly shops. If you're in Missoula and you're looking for gear or advice or a guided trip, I think that's the place to go. I'm very fond of this operation. I've had a lot of good times with them. So, Noelle, tell people exactly what you do for Blackfoot River Outfitters.

Noelle: Yeah. So, I'm currently the manager there. I kind of handle the bookings, the ordering, things like that, but primarily just our customer interactions. That is definitely my favorite part of the job is talking about fishing every day.

Tom: You're managing both stores?

Noelle: I don't manage both stores. No, I just manage the shop in Missoula. That would be crazy. That'd be a lot to take on because we are busy, which is good. So, yes, just the shop in Missoula right now.

Tom: Okay. We're gonna talk about winter fishing today, and you have experienced winter fishing both in Colorado and in Montana, right?

Noelle: Yes. So I moved to Montana about three years ago. I learned to fly fish in Colorado, so that's where I moved from. So, the majority of actually my winter fishing in tailwater fishing was in Colorado. But, of course, I still fish all year here in Montana as well. So, yeah.

Tom: So you have a good balanced view of winter fishing in that part of the world, which is a much better place to do winter fishing than the Eastern United States, I can tell you that.

Noelle: Yes, absolutely. I'm very lucky to have been in, you know, Colorado, Montana, I mean, it's some of the best trout fishing in both of those state.

Tom: So Let's kind of talk about the basics of winter fishing know, if somebody's never done it, it's a little intimidating, you know, it's not always comfortable, fly fishing is difficult in cold weather because you need dexterity, and you don't always have that, your hands are cold, your feet are cold, the wind's blowing. Tell me about, in your opinion, the best opportunities for winter fishing. Well, let's start with, what's the best time to go?

Noelle: So, winter, it depends on what state you're in, of course, when winter technically starts. So, you know, winter fishing, I would say the best time and when winter really starts is, you know, a lot of people wanna take advantage of the fall, right? It depends. But I would say for your tailwaters, a lot of those will start to fish really good. I mean, they fish well all year round, but you'll see your winter fishermen kind of leaving some of the freestones and targeting more of these tailwaters. Due to the water temperatures, a lot of those fish will migrate up towards the dam, not all of the fish, of course, but the fishing below the dam or closer to the dam can be much better. That's why you see people target these tailwaters, and where they can find warmer water. Usually, where you can find warmer water, there's gonna be more fish. So, I would say, you know, that's kind of what most people are targeting during those winter months are gonna be where they can find the warmer water, which is tailwaters.

Tom: Tell people why closer to the dam means warmer water.

Noelle: Yeah. The water is coming over the dam, it's coming out of the lake, not only do you have the warmer water, but you have all that bug life coming over the dam as well, which is, that's huge for those fish, they definitely key in on that.

Tom: Do you look for a particular weather pattern when you're winter fishing?

Noelle: When the sun is out, you know, and it's warmer, you can definitely see the fish, they're more active. But really, I think the water temperature stays fairly... You know, if you're talking about below the dam, the water temperature is gonna be really consistent, which the fish like. If it's consistent, they feel comfortable there, especially with having a food source available. So, you know, their metabolism slows down in the winter, and they don't need to eat as much to survive, but they still gotta eat, right?

Tom: Yeah.

Noelle: So, definitely a better food source below the dams as well. I talk a lot about tailwaters even, you know, here in Montana, but you don't have to be limited to that. I fish freestones in the winter here as well, and it's just gonna be a little bit of a different approach. So, I would say for your freestones, you're fishing different bugs, you're, you know, most likely fishing the deep holes. You approach your freestones in your tailwaters differently in the winter, but you can absolutely fish both.

Tom: Okay. Is there a particular time of day either in tailwaters or freestones that is better in the wintertime?

Noelle: Yeah. We usually recommend... You know, mornings can be tough, right? So, even in the spring, you know, the water temperatures are so cold, but sometimes you gotta give those fish a bit to try to wake up and kind of...a term I like to use, we want them to kind of wake up a bit, get a little active because, even like I said, even into the spring, I mean, when the squall is hatched know, outside of Missoula on our rivers here, I don't even fish till probably 9 or 10, even in the spring. So, in the winter, kind of approaching it the same way, not saying that the fish aren't gonna eat at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., but your chances are much better later in the day because, excuse me, it gives the water temperatures time to warm up a bit and those fish to get a little bit more active. So, absolutely, the mornings are probably my least favorite time to fish, not just because I'm not a morning person, but also because these fish do need a bit of time to kind of get active in the mornings.

Tom: Is that more so the case in freestones because they're not...their temperature isn't moderated by a dam? Is it even more important than a freestone?

Noelle: Absolutely. That's a great question. Yes, 100%. I would say the dam, you know, is less important. The time of day is less important, but your freestone is huge. Also, another thing to mention, the time of day, you know, you can... just the other day on...I was fishing the Blackfoot, which is a freestone, and I saw midges hatching midday, which is flat rare for our rivers here. But it's nice when it gets sunny and those midges start to hatch. The water temperatures need to be at certain temperature for those midges to hatch. So, that's another thing.

A lot of people would target on the bitter [SP] or the Blackfoot especially here in the winter, and I highly recommend it to people. You know, if we get a really warm sunny day in the 40s, I'm telling people you need to look out for a rising fish. And there's some, you know, opportunity for some dry fly in the winter, which a lot of people don't really think is an option. I mean, like I said, there was...I saw probably 20 fish rising on the Blackfoot just the other day. Time of day does matter in that case, for sure.

Tom: Okay. Do you look for a weather pattern for a few days before you go fishing? Is there anything that seems to hint at a little bit better fishing?

Noelle: Yeah, it does. I think it kind of goes in the same lines with the water temperatures on the river. If you get, you know, two to three 40 degree days in the winter, that's pretty good. So, fish will be more active if you have, you know, a couple warmer days in a row, definitely.

Tom: So if you have a really cold night or a really cold couple days and then it warms up to 40, the first day of that warming trend is probably not gonna be as good as a little bit later in the warming trend if it lasts that long?

Noelle: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's usually a matter of how long is it actually gonna last. You know, Colorado and Montana, their weather patterns are know, they're kind of all over the place. So, you know, like I said, if you get a warm day, take advantage of it, absolutely. But, yes, I would say definitely matters for your freestones, I think, whenever it starts to warm up.

You know, actually, just the other day, which is really rare here in Montana, and we wanna keep our snowpack, but it got so warm here for a few days that our rivers actually bumped. So, the know, that first day wasn't very good. The first day that it bumped, we had all that cold snow melting into the rivers, so the water temperature is getting colder. So that first day that it bumped, the fishing wasn't great at all, and the days after that, so two, three days after that, it was really good. So, kind of took a couple days. That hit of that cold water, it definitely, you know, made the fishing tough on those fish.

You know, really, erratic changes in weather or water temperatures, the fish don't...they don't really like that, right? They like consistent weather. They like consistent water temperatures. And anytime you have a drastic change, the fishing kind of goes off. You know, even in the spring or the fall, that's the case too, especially in winter.

Tom: Okay. In other times of the year in summer and spring, we often look for cloudy weather, a little precipitation, you know, drizzly rain, or a little snow, to make the fishing better. What's it like when you do get, you know, not a really cold snow, but kind of a dull, gray, snowy day, how is the fishing then?

Noelle: You know, for your winter fishing, I would say the water temperatures matter more than the air temperature. You have to think how is the air temperature affecting the water temperature, but I think for the most part, you know, the air temperature outside, I think matters a little bit less in that case. But, you know, for a cloudy, snowy day, I mean, I've had some great days fishing when it's, you know, almost blizzard conditions. So, fish definitely still eat when it's snowing. Like I said, I think they are less concerned with the weather outside and more concerned with the water temperatures, right?

Tom: Mm-hmm.

Noelle: I actually fished in Washington, and we asked a guy at a fly shop, "It's rain, but it hasn't blown out, you know, how does that affect the fishing?" And the guy said, "Well, you know, it's raining. The fish are already wet, they don't care." That made sense to me though in other aspects, right? So I was like, "Well, that's a great point, right? These fish don't care if it's raining as long as it's not blown out and affecting the water below the surface, they don't care." So, I think the same thing kind of applies. Even if it's snowing outside, those fish aren't necessarily gonna turn off because it's snowing. I mean, if it's fishing outside and you want to get out there...I'm sorry, if it's snowing outside and you wanna get out there, there's a good chance, you know, if you're in the right spot, you got the right flies, you're gonna have a great day.

Tom: So bright sun typically in the summertime...bright sun generally doesn't indicate good fishing, you know, good hatches and stuff, but in the wintertime, you think that bright sun actually helps?

Noelle: I do think the bright sun helps. I think it helps...for instance, you know, fishing the canyon, you know, if you're in a canyon, the fishing...and I found this on multiple different rivers and in different settings, but canyon fishing in the winter is not gonna be nearly as good as somewhere that's gonna be warmer...I'm sorry, that's gonna, you know, be warmer because it gets more sun. So it has direct sun. You know, a lot of these rivers that are in these canyons, for instance, the Blackfoot, the Blackfoot is very, very's very difficult to fish in the winter. You have kind of your hot spots in select areas that fish better than others, but just talking in a general sense, the Blackfoot, it's probably... I'm trying to figure out the best way to word this, but that is probably our toughest river to fish in the winter because it's in that canyon, it does not get very much sun at all. So it's have a lot of ice shelves, a lot of ice flowing down the river, it takes a lot longer for that ice to clear up floating down the river. So, anywhere where you're in a canyon setting, the fishing's definitely gonna be tougher.

Now, on the Blackfoot the majority...well, I shouldn't say the majority, but a big chunk of that river is in the canyon. So, usually, whenever I fish the Blackfoot in the wintertime, I'm fishing more of an open section that gets more sun, and those fish tend tends to get fish better in those areas. And that you can apply that anywhere. So, you know, anywhere where summer's not gonna get very much sun, for instance, Rock Creek here in Montana, you have a canyon section that does not fish as good. It fish is great, right? Like it's still a great fishery, you can still go there, catch fish, but the upper section of Rock Creek is much better. So, we have these warm springs that come in on the upper section. So, I'm always telling people, you know, that upper section is gonna fish much better in the winter. I used to live on Rock Creek on that upper section in the winter actually, and I did great up there. And it's because, like I said, the spring's coming in and it gets way more sun. So, you can apply that I think to most indie setting. So if you have a river you wanna fish in the wintertime and there's a canyon section and kind of a more open section that you may wanna target, that section of that river that's gonna get more sun.

Tom: Great point. That's a great tip. Totally off-the-cuff question. For those dry midges, what's your favorite pattern when you see midges in the wintertime?

Noelle: You know, with midges, I know, I'm pretty basic. So when it comes to midges, I think a lot of what I use is just a small parachute hi-vis midge. That is...for me, I really do like the high-vis option for a lot of these smaller dry flies, especially for your beginner anglers, but I think just a parachute midge. Kelly Galloup ties a few really good midge patterns dry fly patterns. I would probably say that just a parachute hi-vis is probably my favorite pattern just because I can see that thing. Believe it or not, that's my preferred fly for your winter midges for dry flies.

Tom: Okay. And then while we're talking about flies, how about some favorite nymph patterns both for tailwaters and for the freestone rivers?

Noelle: Oh, yeah, that opens up a can of worms there. So, all fisheries are gonna fish different, right? But I would say your top pattern for most...any river in the winter is gonna be a midge. Size matters in that case. I would say range from... the biggest I would fish, and this might be even too big is, 16 all the way down to a 24, which is extremely small. But, you know, a size 24 midge was hands down my best pattern whenever I was fishing in Colorado. So, midges are gonna be great almost anywhere you go in the winter, your freestones, your tailwaters, that is just a go-to for winter fishing.

You know, for midges, it kind of depends too. I think different rivers...I prefer different colors. So, a lot of my Colorado fisheries, I really liked red. However, here in Montana, I do well with black, you know, black zebra midge. I tied a lot of red midges with the red bead just kind of like a...kind of like a blood image kind of. But really, you can use green. Cream midge also works really well. I do really good on a cream midge, but your black zebra midge, purple, red, all those colors you can get away with on most of your rivers. I think they just, you know, fish differently on different rivers, different colors.

But I would say, you know, if we're kind of talking about your Colorado fisheries, it's kind of interesting how, you know, different a tailwater can fish from one to another. But your overall, you know, tailwater or even freestone patterns, I would say a're Rainbow Warriors, JuJu Baetis, I'm a big fan of those, RS2s, those are all great patterns, a Black Beauty. Your Top Secret Midge, those are tagged by your...a lot of Colorado tyers. Now, when I moved to Montana, it was kind of a different world in that sense. So, you know, in Colorado, I would say a lot of my tow waters that I fished, I would fish, you know, your mighty shrimp, really, really small using 6X. Here in Montana, it's a bit of a different approach. So you kind of figure out what works where. For our tailwaters here in Montana, you're looking more for your sowbugs, which is, you know, a fresh water, it's pretty much a scud...a sowbug is. I would say an actual scud pattern does not work nearly as well as a sow bug pattern does. So, a green machine, your rainbow Czech nymphs, those have been great lightning bugs, all great patterns for your winter fishing. So those are kind of tailwater patterns.

You know, I use less of your JuJu Baetis stuff and, you know, your green machines and the sowbugs. I use less of those bugs on our freestones here. Whenever I'm fishing freestones, even in Colorado, you're still scaling down your size. So we're still kind know, if you're fishing a stonefly, instead of fishing, you know, a size 8, you might fish a size 12. So you kind of want to scale down for your winter bugs, but, yeah, lightning bugs, Perdigon especially, small stoneflies, smaller streamers. So, if you wanna fish streamers, you know, I don't really recommend it normally. Some people are committed, they say, "I wanna do it anyways." So, usually, what I would recommend is also scaling that down. So these fish don't wanna exert a ton of energy. If they're gonna be eating streamers, you gotta get it right in their face a lot of the time. So they're not as aggressive. And like I said, they don't really wanna exert a ton of energy to chase a huge streamer like they might in the fall or the spring. So, scaling that down, you know, acrylics or sparkle minnow, I like flashy streamers, maybe a size 8 instead of a size 6 or a size 4. So, definitely, scaling that down for most...all bugs on your freestone rivers.

Tom: Okay. Good. Now, when you're fishing a size 22 mid-nymph, how do you get it down there? What's your favorite technique because that's a little fly and it's not gonna sink very fast? How do you get it down?

Noelle: So, first off, I use fluorocarbon. So that's going to cut through water much quicker and it's gonna be a lot more transparent. So, fluorocarbon will help you get those flies down. Like I said, it just cuts through that water a lot better. So, definitely use fluorocarbon. That's one tip. It kind of depends too because a lot of those fish are gonna be fairly deep in some of those holes. It definitely depends on the setting, but those fish in the wintertime, know, you definitely gotta get down into some of those deeper holes where those fish are gonna be holding. Believe it or not, I do use quite a bit of weight in some deeper holes. Honestly, with the small flies, you just have to use weight and fluorocarbon would be my top two crucial things that I would say, especially if you don't have fluorocarbon, that's one thing that can make a big difference for the winter the water is much lower in the winter too. But even though you wanna be fishing in some of these deeper holes, not all the fish are gonna be in those areas too. So, when the water is really low, the fluorocarbon helps in that sense too because those fish, even if they're not holding in that really deep water, fluorocarbon helps with the transparency in more shallow water.

Tom: When you fit you're fishing weight...I assume split shot on your tippet above the mid-nymph for two.

Noelle: Yeah. I usually tie a blood knot above my first fly probably depends, but I would say probably 8 to 12 inches above my first fly. And that blood knot allows for your weight to not be sliding down. So even in any setting, winter, or summer, whenever, I always have that knot tied so my weight isn't slipping and fraying my line. I use split shot. I like the reusable ones, your Gremlins actually, that's my preferred weight because I can reuse them. So, yeah, I would say that's probably, you know, your bet. I would say, yeah, the Gremlin, the weight getting it down there.

Tom: Are you indicator fishing or are you tight line your own nymphing when you fish these tiny nymphs?

Noelle: Yeah. I am nymphing fishing, definitely fishing indicators. I have done a little bit of the Euro nymphing. I do like it. It's very productive. We have a ton of people that do it here in Montana. I was like, "Okay, I gotta figure this out. I gotta know what I'm talking about here." I did a bit of Euro nymphing. I borrowed a rod and took it out for a couple weeks, and it is very productive. As silly as that sounds, I think I'm kind of stuck in my ways of doing things. That's where I'm most comfortable, but I will say it is...

I mean, I've met people that are like, "That's all I wanna do anymore." And that's kind of what they've moved to, you know, in the winter or, you know, all year round even. Yeah, I've done some of it. Like I said, I think I'm kind of stuck in my ways in that way where I prefer to fish under an indicator if I'm nymphing.

Tom: Do you have a favorite indicator that you like in the wintertime?

Noelle: You know, those Airlocks are good. The Airlocks are good. A lot of the rivers are low in the winter. So. I tend to go a little bit more subtle in the winter, and I like a clear... It doesn't really matter, you know, necessarily a brand per se, but I really do prefer clear in the winter in low water. It looks like a bubble on the water rather than white or... I also think those Airlocks, the newer ones that are kind of foam rather than the plastic hollow, those can be...if you're fishing in really low water, those could be kind of, a term I like to use, sloppy. So, if I'm fishing not super deep area and it's not moving super-fast, and I don't really wanna spook those fish, I'll put on a really lightweight clear almost like a Thingamabobber, and that way it doesn't get kind of sloppy on the water, I'm not spooking those fish when I'm casting to them. You could even go all the way to like a white pulse if you really wanted to in some set or like maybe do like three white pulses. I floated the Missouri with a buddy a couple weeks ago, and he had on like four pulses. And I was like, "Oh, my gosh," but it was working. So, you know, even if you do just a couple of them, white ones, it's just know, even when you go to set, or maybe you didn't even have a fish but you hit, you know, your kind of ticking bottom, you go to set, and it's gonna have less pull on that water. So, you're not going to be disturbing the water as much with a lighter indicator. So that's in your lower settings. Now, if I'm fishing a really deep spot, I really like those Airlocks.

Tom: You don't use yarn during the winter at all?

Noelle: I don't. I kind of go more towards that really lightweight clear one, but we have a lot of people that do use New Zealand indicators yarn. We do sell quite a bit of that at the shop, for sure. Yeah.

Tom: Okay. Dow do you deal with slush ice. If you see a lot of slush ice in the river, do you just quit fishing? Is there a way to deal with it?

Noella: Yeah. So that's where kind of time of day comes back into play, right? So, usually, depending on the weather, I would say by 11 a.m. noon, you're usually in the clear if it's gonna warm up. Now, there's some days where that's not warming up, right? At no point is it gonna get above 8 degrees during the day. This is just an example. So, let's say, you know, it's gonna get up to maybe 30 degrees. Well, I might say, you know, I would highly recommend not going out until like 11 because before then, you're gonna just have ice chunks flowing down the river, makes it very difficult for fishing. And like I said, you know, ice on your guides is one thing, but whenever you're catching ice chunks on your fly, it becomes a struggle, for sure. So, I would say usually time of day, I try to...that kind of comes into play with letting those fish warm up a bit, also letting the river warm up a bit. So, letting those ice chunks kind of, you know, flow out and kind of dissolve into the river. Like I said, there are days...plenty of days here in Montana where the ice chunks there, it's never-ending. So, you may struggle in some areas in that case. So, yeah.

Tom: Do you have a clever way of keeping ice out of your guides?

Noelle: I would say that Stanley's Ice Off Paste that Loon has is great. I really do like that stuff. We sell a ton of it in the winter. But if you're in a pinch, you know, good old chapstick will get the job done.

Tom: Chapstick on the guides. Okay.

Noelle: Yep. Vaseline, whatever, really anything like that will work. Stanley's Ice Off Paste is, you know, a little bigger than a quarter, and, you know, a thing of Vaseline is much bigger. So, I would say that Ice Off Paste works better, but like I said, a stick of chapstick, you know, works just fine too.

Tom: Okay. The all-important question, how do you keep your hands and feet warm?

Noelle: Well, that is a tricky one. So, this is where gear plays a huge role in your comfortability in fishing. So, whenever I first started winter fishing, I didn't really know... I fished a few years, and I was kind of a fair-weather fisherman. And then I really kind of decided that this was what I wanted to spend my time doing all of my time off, I wanted to spend it, you know, fishing. So, I realized fairly quickly that I need to get...I need to have better gear if I wanna be comfortable and if I wanna be out there for a good chunk of the day. So, keeping your hands and feet cold, you know, you definitely need to invest in a good pair of gloves. It is huge. I always have hand warmers. I use toe warmers even the ones that kind of stick on top of your sock, those make a big difference. Those were a game-changer for me. But a really good warm sock.

So, for this, and not everybody can do this, but I one point, I decided to have a winter boot and a summer boot because, for me to put the four warmers and my socks and everything, I couldn't get in my summer boot with all of that bunched up. So I have a winter boot and a summer boot. Like I said, that's not realistic for everybody, but I highly recommend it if you can just because it really helps you actually keep your toes warm. So, I find that your toes and your feet are absolutely the first two to go, right? So, those are the first that you're just like, "I can't take it anymore." But usually, you know, hand warmers.

And the other thing is gloves. A wet glove is worse than anything. So once that glove gets wet, it's over. So usually, if you don't have a glove that's gonna be gortaxler [SP] that helps with water, having a backup glove is another thing I started doing, or even more importantly is like a little hand towel like a washcloth. Roll it up, keep it in your bag, that way when you're releasing fish, you can wipe off your hands really quick with that little towel, and then you can put your dry hands back in your glove.

Tom: Yeah. So having an extra pair of gloves and a hand towel is probably key, right?

Noelle: Yeah. Is it necessary? Absolutely not, but it definitely makes a big difference. So, yeah, I would say in kind of rolling back into to, you know, having the gear to be comfortable in the wintertime, you know, layering have to be kind of strategic with your layering to stay warm too, just like any sport. You know, [inaudible 01:16:26] outside sports for wintertime, whether you're skiing, snowboarding, whatever, the only difference is you're know, when you're skiing, you're moving. You know, [inaudible 01:16:36], fishing, we're just standing there. It's a different thing. I would say a base layer for your...pant and a shirt base layer. I like Merino wool base layer, makes a huge difference. So, rather than, you know, just a long sleeve shirt, you know, investing in a really good base layer is gonna make a difference in your day. It's gonna make you a lot more comfortable, and you'll be able to last a lot longer out there.

Tom: Yeah, I'm with you, there's nothing better than Merino wool or a base layer, absolutely.

Noelle: Oh, yeah.

Tom: I've heard of people that put hand warmers on their wrist because it warms the blood that's going to your fingers. Have you ever tried that?

Noelle: I actually haven't tried that. I've heard that as well.

Tom: Yeah, I haven't either, but I think it's worth playing around with.

Noelle: I think you would have to get the ones maybe the toe warmers that stick.

Tom: Yeah, I think you're right.

Noelle: Right?

Tom: Yeah.

Noelle: And then you stick it maybe to don't wanna stick those directly to your skin though, I'll tell you that.

Tom: Okay.

Noelle: I made that mistake.

Tom: A little too hot.

Noelle: I've burned my skin.

Tom: So you wanna stick it to your base layer...on the outside of your base...

Noelle: Yeah, You probably wanna put on... Yeah. I might give that a go though.

Tom: I think it's worth trying. I've heard of people that have done it. I haven't. I hate fishing with gloves though, so I wanna try to do anything I can to prevent having to wear gloves at least when I'm fishing. So we covered hands and feet. And then the rest of our body, obviously, you wanna wear a warm hat to keep your head warm.

Noelle: Yes, absolutely.

Tom: That applies to anything you're doing outside, right, in the cold weather. You need to layer and you need to wear a warm hat.

Noelle: Even a neck covering. So, a lot of that cold air if it's windy, that cold air comes through your shirt. So, I even wear a neck covering. I have kind of like a fleece-lined neck cover that I wear, and I am a huge fan of that.

Tom: Yeah. I've seen like neck gators or even buffs that have fleece neck piece that you can wear.

Noelle: Yep, the fleece line buff style neck coverings are definitely crucial for winter. I would say that was my...I didn't really invest in that or, you know, figure that one out till years later of doing a lot of winter fishing. That was a game-changer for me is having that neck cover because I always had so much of that cold air coming through. That was a good find for me. So, highly recommend a neck cover.

Tom: Yeah. A hat that I've fallen in love with is there's a new Orvis, I think, it's in the pro-line or a pro-hat, but it's a like a baseball style. It has a brim on it, but it's fleece lined and has ear muffs. It looks dorky is all hell. My wife hates it. Oftentimes you're fishing and it's pretty sunny, it's pretty bright, right, and you want a brim on your hat, but you also wanna wear a fleece hat, and so this combines the two, gives you the fleece lining with a brim so that you don't have to wear a toque. I'm trying to think of another word for it, but anyway, a stocking cap with a baseball hat. And you see a lot of people doing that, but it's tough and this combines the two. So...

Noelle: Nice.

Tom:'s pretty handy. And it's windproof so it does help you there.

Noelle: Oh, that's a huge help, for sure, any kind of windproof layer when it's super cold out. You know, even in my winter fishing, I'll wear...I've been so cold, I put my rain jacket on to help, you know, so that I'm not getting...that wind's not cutting through my jacket even.

Tom: Yeah. That's a good point. So often, putting a rain jacket over the top of everything else really helps keep you warm.

Noelle: Oh, yeah.

Tom: All right. Well, we've covered a lot of good stuff here for winter fishing. Any parting thoughts on philosophies or techniques on winter fishing, Noelle?

Noelle: You know, I think really just kind of going back to how to approach it. So, if you want to go fish somewhere, you know, say you wanna go fish in the winter, do some research obviously, but really kind of focus on either your tailwaters up closer to the dam. You know, those fish are gonna migrate up closer to the dam where the water is warmer. And if you wanna, you know, fish in freestones in the winter, you know, somewhere that's gonna get some sun, so somewhere that's not gonna be, you know, in those canyon sections, that's gonna make it really tough, so somewhere, you know, on the freestones that gets more sun. Fishing, you know, low and slow, so get down deep into some of those deeper holes. You know, you definitely have to fish a lot deeper than you would expect in the winter in some areas. So, even if that means lengthening your leader a little bit and pushing that indicator up so you're fishing a little bit deeper. Add some weight on. Kind of changing all those variables up in the wintertime to kind of see where those fish are at. You know, the fish in the winter are gonna pool up. Wherever you find one, you're probably gonna find another.

Tom: Yeah. That's a really good point.

Noelle: Don't leave fish to find fish.

Tom: Yeah. That's a great point.

Noelle: So, that term definitely stuck with me.

Tom: Yeah. And probably one of the best pieces of advice that neither of us have mentioned, we should have, was to talk to your local fly shop because they're gonna know not only what flies but what time of day is going to be best on a particular river and what stretches are gonna be better.

Noelle: Oh, absolutely. You know, people come in and I immediately look at the weather, you know, and I'm like, "What's it doing today? Okay. I would go here or..." You know, when people come in in the winter, usually, you know, either I've already talked to people that say, "Oh, well, I had a tough time over here or I did really well over here." But usually, we're sitting down, we look at weather, we look at what might be the best option, and then we're going off of a lot of like what... You know, we all fish in the winter at the shop. So we have, you know, kind of our hands-on experience, but then also we talk to a lot of people. People are coming in and sharing their stories. So, yeah, absolutely, using your local fly shop to help and use as a resource any time of year.

Tom: Do you guys do a lot of winter fly fishing trips at Blackfoot River Outfitters?

Noelle: Midwinter, not as many, not because we don't want to. I think it's just not...we don't have a huge demand for it. We do some though, absolutely. We kind of do some kind of into October is usually into November, December. I mean, it's hard to even get some of those boat ramps. You know, you can't even access some of that stuff when there's that much snow.

But I would say our spring fishing, you know, which could be questionable, spring, winter, March in Montana, you don't know if it's spring, you don't know if it's winter, it's very unpredictable. But come March, we are fishing big time. Everyone's starting to get excited about summer. And we're pretty lucky because we have a phenomenal squall hatch here outside of Missoula. Even though March...a lot of people think of March as winter, you know, we kind of see it as the start of spring. So, that's really when things start to pick up here.

Tom: Yeah. I have had some awesome fishing with Blackfoot River Outfitters in March and April.

Noelle: Oh, man, it's some of my favorite time to fish.

Tom: One fun experience watching John and Kurt Herzer slide rafts down a snowbank into the river.

Noelle: Oh, my, that does not surprise me. That's great. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's great. I mean, honestly, April can be some of my favorite time to fish. That's kind of when our dry flies start to get good too.

Tom: All right. Noelle, well, those have been some great tips, really appreciate you taking the time to come out of the podcast today.

Noelle: Thank you for having me.

Tom: Yeah. We've been talking to Noelle Coley of Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula, Montana. Thanks, Noelle.

Noelle: Thank you.

Tom: Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or comment? Send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips at