Weekend Warriors: Bump and Grind

The weekend is upon us, the rivers are chugging, and there are a whole lot of experienced anglers hitting the rivers of western Montana with the Orvis Guide Rendezvous in town. What does that mean for your fishing? Time to put those skills you honed all winter to work. The spring up/down cycle is here until the rivers really get that blow out push and you should be adjusting your tactics and where you are fishing accordingly. These cycles can be tough, but add fifty boats from out of town to the mix and things get really fun. The great thing about the OGR weekend is what an awesome community of anglers come together in Missoula for the event- the bad thing is it adds a new factor to your morning equation. Welcome the weirdness and get into it, I say.

Plenty of laughs, fun and free beer at the Orvis Down the Hatch Festival. Get there.

What will your weekend move be? Will it be high up in the drainages, where you might get behind the next push off water or will it be down low to get in front of it? Your choice. The upper Clark Fork has stabilized, and a dropper rig or dead-drifted streamer can be a winning ticket up there in the spring. The Bitterroot is way up, but stable and clear. An iffy river to float if you’re not familiar with it, but by all means a great choice for the weekend. Blackfoot? Tough out there but maybe your boat will be the exception. Here is the real trick on these funky days: Local knowledge. Hit up the fly shop, talk to the shuttle guy, and you’ll work out a plan of attack. A $30 shuttle comes with free day to day knowledge of where the guide traffic is, and what the word is out there. Well worth the price and you can leave the headache “who drives what-where” stuff at home and concentrate on the fishing. Need the shuttle number? Here you go, Tommy will set you up on the Blackfoot and Clark Fork: (406) 370-5845 and Pat will set you up on the Bitterroot: (406)370-2949.

Wherever you go, take local outfitter extraordinaire John Herzer’s famous words to heart and “embrace the worm”. That’s right, get down and dirty with the worm and a stonefly nymph anywhere you go. Fish it tight to banks on rising waters where big browns are lurking, and drop it into deep plunge pools as well. I like a dead-drifted streamer when things are funky, but the worm is king when the rivers are up and down and all over.

Hatches? The skwalas are on right now. But any time someone says skwalas are “on” you should take it with a grain of salt. This isn’t the kind of blanket hatch you see during salmonfly time. Skwalas are slow-bleed kind of deal, and seeing a lot of bugs all at once generally doesn’t occur with much frequency. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be throwing it, and a dry/dropper combination is usually a fairly good move when rivers are off color. Look to put your bug where the other bugs ain’t, because fish have seen a lot of “local flavor” by now. As in, every damn local angler tossing their skwala home-tied garbage at them. The time for the secret fly you worked on in the dungeon all winter with the skwala blinders on is long past, my friend. Time for slim and low riding flies with less bling and more one-hell-of-a-cast behind them.
BWOs? Yep, we got them. With the bright sun we might not see as many, but inside bends and behind riffles if you’re desperate for one to come up and eat (even if it is just James T. Dink, captain of the Dinkship Enterprise) the BWOs are out there and working. At the end of a float recently I pulled four fish out of one tiny seam with a single dry while we waited for a late shuttle. None broke any records, but late in the day the mayflies are working just fine.
Keep a few march browns and grey drakes in the box, just in case.
But the real focus this weekend is going to be on pinching those droppers close to the structure and finding fish where the other boat missed ’em. You got it in you, so get out there and get it done.

With less than ideal conditions, the one thing you really don’t want to miss this weekend is the Orvis Down the Hatch Fishing Festival, which is always a blast. This year there will be tons of fishy vendors, lots of plaid and khaki, and a whole lot of awesome with an afterparty thrown by Costa at the Top Hat after the films. Technically, this event goes from 3pm to 9pm, but you can carry on until morning if you’re a die hard. I am not a die hard. I will be leaving in a timely and orderly fashion. (No promises.) Plenty of fish films and free beer at Caras Park, its the thing to do if the rivers aren’t cooperating, and the place to go to tell all those fish stories you made up on the ride back into town. I’ll see you there.

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