Spring is going along like gangbusters, and despite high flows in our rivers the fishing has been as good as you make it. Meaning, if you’re willing to work for it and get that great drift you’re likely to find some great fish. Its been a spring of big fish for a lot of locals, and the tricky part is keeping your fly where you want it in these fast waters. Row well, cast well, and make it happen. The fish are in funky spots and nowhere near as predictable as we’d like, but if you keep working for them it’s been a heck of an April. Get out there this weekend and see what happens.
Hoping to do a little fishing this weekend in western Montana? Might want to tie some flies instead. A blast of the kind of arctic cold that could freeze a polar bears nuts off is on it’s way, and after a nice week of snow and cold, these rivers are going to be mostly locked up for the time being. Holes that were open last weekend will surely be smaller, if not iced over completely, and the fish are going to be down deep in those warm holes where even ticking bottom and putting it right in their face might not move them an inch. With the weather coming this way, the best idea is to grab some new materials at your local fly shop and get to spinning up some bugs. If you do head to the river, be extra sure you’ve got a good exit plan because newly formed ice shelves and well below temperatures are a good way to get yourself killed if you’re not planning ahead. Wade safely, don’t head too far from the truck, and keep a pair of warm and dry clothes and an emergency blanket in the cab. Bring a thermos of something hot and delicious, and look for slow moving, deep pools that might still have some open water to cast to. This is the kind of weather that ices your guides instantly. WD-40 or Pam will clear that up, if you don’t mind a greasy fly rod. What I’m saying is sometimes things are worth the extra effort. The trout this weekend might not be. But hey, there are plenty of bugs to be tied!
Down in the Bitterroot, water levels are high and the temps are dropping. The dry fly bite is a goner, but the nymphing can still get it done – as long as you’re getting it down. We’re back to the winter techniques here in Missoula, and now is the time to work those spots with a few dozen extra drifts because the fish aren’t going to make it easy. Get that food in front of their faces, and make them eat. Streamers and swingers should get some looks, and if things aren’t working its time to change up the size, change the color, and slow down that retrieve. Dead drifting a Slump Buster or Wooly Bugger into a plunge pool can get it done. Drag a worm, rubberlegs, egg pattern or something irresistible through those holes, and double rigs are the only thing I’ll be rocking all weekend. Hows about keeping warm? Probably a good idea to wait until the rivers are nice and sunny and pack yourself a thermos of coffee and a couple of those turkey sandwiches for when it’s slow. Which is basically all the time this time of year. But man, is it nice out there if you’re layered up right. Don’t give up hope! Winter fishing is the time when the rivers are left to the die-hards, and the fish aren’t going anywhere soon.
Last weekend big fish moved on big meat in a big way. They might do the same this weekend if you’re in the right spot. Where is that right spot? Loose lips sink ships, they say… But look for warm water- spots where the fish can hang and find bugs or just a nice place to lurk. This is the time of year when wade fishing can be more productive than boat fishing, if you work it right. But floating from spot to spot is a heck of a way to get it done. Streamer fishing and nymphing are your best shots at finding fish, and luckily the winter weather keeps getting pushed back if you listen to the forecasts, so you might find some great fish still willing to eat. The bugs still around here and there are all down to the BWOs and midges, which mean small and smaller, and the dry fly bite might never happen. Choose your water wisely, and your focus spots as well. Get out there and get those last fall fish before the only technique is the pink worm and bugger setup. Don’t forget the smaller nymphs on a short leash- there are plenty of fish filling up on midges and blue wings, and you’re gonna get ’em. Where should you go? The lower Clark Fork is big right now. Like, bigger than you want to successfully catch fish. The upper might be great, but I haven’t heard anything from anyone headed that way. Rock Creek is fishing like it does this time of year, which means if you like nymhping you’ll find some small fish fast. The Blackfoot? Hmm… Cold. Too cold. Bitterroot? Now that’s more like it. The ‘root is the late fall river of choice, and there are going to be fish in the sneaky spots. Bring the meat and get them to move on the slow retrieve. I talk a lot about “summer water”. Don’t fish it. Look to the water you wouldn’t figure holds fish. It does. If you’re headed out this weekend, fish will be the icing on the cake. The real prize is seeing these rivers without another angler in sight.
While I haven’t had the chance to hit the water much this week, I plan on getting out this weekend for what could be one of the last bits of the fall fishing we’ve got. It’s been cold, and colder most nights which has all but shut down the bugs for the year though there could be some BWOs hanging about in places. But bright sun usually means no bugs hanging about, and this late in the fall our dry fly fishing might be a goner for the season. But that doesn’t mean the fishing is all done! On my most recent trips to the river, the nymphing still caught fish where they should be, and there are plenty of spots to hang out and find some real solitude this time of year on the river.
If you’re wanting to scratch that fishing itch, wade fishing is a great option for the weekend. There is little to no boat traffic and lots of water where you can pick apart seams and riffles with a shallow nymph rig without another angler in sight. Try a light setup with some smaller may fly profile nymphs to find trout willing to grab on. This time of year I like two nymph rigs that aren’t run deep. Fly combos like a san juan worm and a pheasant tail, a smaller rubberlegs and a hotspot nymph, and other combos will move fish in slow pools and let you concentrate on why you’re out there in the first place. I know it isn’t a popular way to fish these days with the bobber being a go-to, but fall also is a time when I like to run a single nymph through runs on a tight line, just to feel the tug on the line of a little guy in a soft water pocket. Late fall is a great time to slow it down and enjoy the scenery as much as it is catching fish. Streamers? I always rip one through the water I’ve just nymphed just for fun. If I’m fishing from a boat this time of year the streamer game is the only one I want to play. Some chases, mostly blanks, and I don’t care. However you plan on fishing this weekend, make the most of it. Get out this weekend with the right expectations and you’ll enjoy yourself. Not much season left before the winter rigs come out.
The times they are a changing, and if you wrote that line they’ll give you the Nobel Peace Prize. But it definitely applies to these crazy pre-presidential election weeks when the best thing you can do is send in your absentee ballot and hit the river. Seriously, do that. Thankfully there is not one bit of election news out on the river, unless you count the fish not eating as being part of a global conspiracy against you. (Which they are. Tinfoil hats are the new waders. Drones are watching to steal your fly patterns. You’ve been warned.)
Got out this week for the annual Grizzly Hackle One Fly competition, and the flows are incredible for this time of year. Had too much fun with the one and only “Wildcat”, who can fish and guide like hell and might have even won the big fish portion of the contest if his first fish of the day hadn’t come off as fast as he’d gotten on. Fish are happy and you should be too. This weekend there are plenty of fish that are going to be mad as hell and ready to whack a streamer, and there are still great hatches of mahoganies and BWOs making them look up in the slow stuff. The spawning fish are starting to move into that kind of water, and the mouths of all of the sloughs and back eddies are ripe for finding the fish you’ve been looking for all season long. No need to get dirty and seek them out in the spawning grounds, you’ll find them staging behind riffles and in a lot more likely spots ready to rip.
|This day started with rain and clouds, and broke into one of those beautiful fall days they make postcards out of. This weekend might be filled with rain, but in between the fishing is going to be excellent.|
Where should you go? Well, there are some sneaky spots that might be on fire right now if you’re willing to make a bit of a drive, but the truth is all of your favorite water is probably fishing well. Watch the flows and for my money, I’d stay away from the Blackfoot unless you’re wanting to watch bull trout eat every fish you catch off the line. That can be fun, but its about time to leave that one alone for a bit and seek out some streamer eating browns. There’s not much better for getting a feel for how all of the river systems are doing than a guide competition, and there were a lot of smiles at the awards ceremony from those who hit the Bitterroot, and the lower Clark Fork. I think the upper Clark Fork is worth checking out, and if I had the time this weekend to make a drive that might be where you’d find me. But then again, when the Bitterroot fish are chasing streamers its hard not to be there. With hunting season underway, you’re going to be greeted with near empty rivers all across the map.
Remember that warmup a few weeks back? That ain’t it. It’s cold and rainy and dropping snow in the hills around Missoula. With temps hitting the upper 30s at night, and the browns about to spawn, the streamer game has been the go-to this week. But will that hold for the weekend? It just might, but a little relief from the chilly rain is also predicted, and temps are supposed to hit that wonderful 70 degree mark by Sunday before another wet weather pattern slides in next week. What does that mean for your fishing? Well, it’s a crapshoot kind of weekend. Rivers have been bumping from the rain all week, and streamers cast high and tight to that structure is always a great play in times like these. Stout tippet, short leader and good knots are necessary, and always bring a few more than you’re willing to lose when you’re going for those risky casts. When flows are high look for fish where the water isn’t pushing quite so much, and be changing the retrieve constantly until you find some takers. Dead drift! For whatever reason, jigged and dead drifted streamers seem to stir up fish when the rivers are up.
|Time for your favorite streamer to shine. You could hook into your best fish of the season this weekend.|
Dry fly opportunities might present themselves a little more readily this weekend, if the clouds hold and the temps rise a bit. Look for mahoganies and BWOs in the afternoons, and don’t be afraid to throw on a bigger parachute-style fly and search out some willing takers if you’re feeling it. Nymphing is always a great option to find fish when the rivers are up, and if you’re still happy to watch a bobber you’ll find them on whatever setup you’ve been going to all season. Add an egg pattern to a bugger and you might be surprised, as fish begin to see that protein source more often. In all, this weekend could be a great one to get out and get some fishing in between storms. I wouldn’t go anywhere without a streamer rig, but fall fishing is all about getting out for those last casts and enjoying the time you’ve got, so do it your way!