Weekend Warrior: Salmonfly Saturday

This week has been good to the rivers in western Montana, with a smattering of rain and some dry days and nights that have not only helped the rivers drop into shape but have spurred on the hatches of the headliner bug of early summer: Pteronarcys Californica. Salmonflies. It’s been the buzz all week, though the hatch is just starting to pop in earnest. The big news this week is the big bugs have made their way up the first few miles of Rock Creek and are headed to a fish face near you as we speak. This is a hatch that moves up the river fairly quickly, so getting just ahead of the bugs is a great way to make sure you’re into fish. Get there while you can, because the crowds will surely be there as well, based on the empty bins of popular patterns at local fly shops. There is plenty of room on the creek, and plenty of fish willing to take a bite. Local fly shops are prepared with some awesome new patterns and the old standards as well, so show them some love and get a couple dozen before you head out. Grab a variety of salmonfly patterns and some big stonefly nymphs and find a good spot and the fish will be there. Still, ask some anglers what fly works best during the salmonfly hatch and they’ll tell you: the san juan worm. Sure, fish are gorging on the nymphs in the morning and the adults get munched in the afternoon, but a san juan dropper tied close to your dry fly will find a lot of willing fish in those tight bank spaces. The salmonflies love the overrun grassy banks and willow stems, and the fish key in on these spots so fish as tight to these structures as you can and hold on. Tight to banks, and make sure you bring enough flies to lose a few and keep rolling. If you’re headed to Rock Creek, remember that the lower river will see more traffic, but getting up ahead of the bugs on some of the middle and upper stretches can separate you from the herd and provide some great fishing. Don’t get stuck in the crowdthink and if you find yourself surrounded by enthusiastic anglers, keep a smile on your face and be like Elsa in Frozen and “Let It Go.”

Get a room, weirdos. Salmonflies mating on the willows of Rock Creek mean trout looking up and a fevered frenzy in the fly shops. Support your local shops and try out the new patterns, the trout will thank you.
If elbowing in on Rock Creek isn’t your thing, there are still some great alternatives this weekend for fishing away from the crowds of people and into the crowds of fish. With creeks open, now is still the time to find some new water and willing trout. If this is your game, the standard flies will work: parachute adams, some big stoneflies, and don’t forget the caddis. The fish on the smaller creeks aren’t picky, but they sure are fun to catch. If you’re floating, the Blackfoot has remained a great option this week and the weather on the upper river looks like it will stay stable and the river will continue to shape up nicely. Streamers and nymphs in the morning and dry flies in the afternoon has found fish up here. The Bitterroot has been dropping and settling, but it still remains tricky and high, so it might be time to give it a rest over there for a bit. The Clark Fork might not be great either, but the upper river always has some strong streamer fishing this time of year. Check the flows and give it a look before you leap. Have a good weekend out there, and find some fish!
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