It’s the official opening day for fishing in Montana this weekend, and that means one thing for most Missoula locals – creek time. The feeder creeks in western Montana are known for their great holds of native cutthroat trout, and with the runoff still in play heading to Fish Creek, the Skalkaho, or the North Fork of the Blackfoot would be a good play for those of you who want to tuck some tight casts to willing trout. Keep in mind that there will be lots of action in these spots and others, and that finding solitude won’t be easy but that doesn’t make it impossible. Opening weekend is a great time to explore new waters or just head where the crowd ain’t. If you’re headed to the creeks, remember that during runoff the bobber and nymph rigs are still your best bet, and to look for good pools for fish to hold in as well. Get there early and wait it out, or move around and target the fish you find. One of the best parts of creek fishing is that none of these waters are in ugly places, so enjoy yourself and take a break every once in a while to seek out the “trout of the woods”: the Morel mushroom.
The main rivers all bumped a bit with the rain we have been getting, but they all are settling in nicely in this slow runoff season we’re having. The one true exception is the Blackfoot, which is the kind of green that dreams are made of, and that big fish move in. If you’re a streamer slinger, you know where you’re headed. Yellow and white combos seem to fare well in this kind of water, but the trick with streamer fishing is to keep loose and change it up when it isn’t working. Stop in to a local shop and ask them what they’re tossing, but don’t get too hung up on having the “perfect” streamer. Switch often if it isn’t eating. Nymph rigs with big old stoneflies and the dirty worm are always an option of the streamer bite isn’t there. Play close to the willows, and bring enough to lose a few. Treat your snags like fish, because the big bulls sometimes just lay on it. You’d be surprised how many “snags”suddenly roll and move on the Blackfoot these days.
The Bitterroot and Rock Creek are also in play, as well as the upper and lower Clark Fork, though each of these waters will require a little recon before you head out the door. Watch the flows and take a look at the water, each has been up and down quite a bit and there’s a lot of dirty stuff in the mix. And yes, yes…The upper Clark Fork and the mouth of Rock Creek have been seeing some salmonflies hatching, and lots of nymphs staging as well. What does this mean so early in the season? You can toss some dries if conditions are right, but with the cooler weather and rain the big bet is to run that stonefly nymph rig as close to the edges as you can muster. The dry fly bite has been really good on the upper Clark Fork, and the hatches of mayflies (Drakes, BWOs, March Browns) has been sizable, so you might want to stick with targeting the fish in the softer edges with dries instead. This season is giving it up good, but spring is always a time when tactics and approaches have to be tinkered with until you find the sweet spot.
Wherever you are headed this weekend, pack the nymph box with some solid stonefly choices, and pick up a couple of big attractors as well. As the skwalas come to an end the fish are more likely to be keyed in on the mayflies, so big parachute adams and some purple haze varieties will fill in the gaps- but be ready with a big attractor pattern if you see that perfect spot for a chunk of protein to float because the fish will take it. Have a great opening weekend, wherever you head.