As the seasons change from Fall to Winter, I have recently had some days off and have spent these chilly afternoons watching new documentaries about a few famous 70’s rock bands: “The History of The Eagles” & “Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave here Tomorrow.” Since then I have been driving my wife crazy by constantly playing, and singing along to, both of these bands greatest hits. As I sit here now singing along to my current favorite song, “Gimme Me Back My Bullets,” I have started to reflect on what has been a great fishing season.
The lyrics of Ronnie Van Zant ring in my head; “I keep on working, like a working man do.” Thinking about my hours sitting in the rowers seat and my hands sore with calluses, but it also reminds me of the hard work put in by my clients through the summer. Similarly to the stories of these great bands, some days of fly fishing are marked by struggle, frustration and hard times. Fishing can be slow, conditions may be hard to deal with, and there are times where nothing seems to go right. Just like Skynyrd and The Eagles got their big breaks and hit records, the same can happen on the river. I have seen clients throughout the summer work through tough times, continue to practice casting techniques and presentation and finally get rewarded by the fishing gods.
Here are some of the “greatest hits” from this season. I hope to see you on the water in 2019!
Labor Day is just around the corner and the “dog days” of summer are in the rear view. Hard to believe that the season has gone by so quickly, but there is still plenty of great fishing ahead through September and October. This summer has been filled with long beautiful days, great clients and some cooperative big fish.
June included big water and big browns on the prowl. Most rivers were swollen with run-off from our above average snowpack, but Rock Creek and the Big Hole River still produced through the big water. There was solid action dead drifting streamers and worms; plus some fish looking up for Salmon Flies and Golden Stones.
July brought dropping flows on our rivers and some epic days of dry fly fishing. The Big Hole saw fish looking up for hatches of Green Drakes, Yellow Sallies and PMD’s. The Yellowstone River finally dropped to fishable levels as terrestrials began to crawl around the banks. Meanwhile, the Madison River produced some quality fish on nymph rigs.
Throughout August the skies have been filled with smoke from forest fires from around the state. Despite the warm temperatures, and lack of rain, fishing has remained consistent. Terrestrial fishing with Moths, Ants and hoppers and some thick Trico hatches have kept our trout interested. With a few extra days off through the month I have had the chance to enjoy the Montana summer for myself. I played a tourist by visiting Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks with with my wife and friends; and did some fishing on my own, hiking into the North Fork of the Blackfoot River with my dog Gabe.
Fall fishing should be great as our water temperatures drop, nights get a little longer and the big trout begin to stock up on calories preparing for winter. I still have some availability in October; check out this special offer to come chase some big fish this fall.
This spring has been all about exploring. Discovering new stretches of river, new side channels, new honey holes, new dirt roads and hiking new trails.
I have spent most of my free time in the Big Hole Valley. Floating and exploring new sections of the river and discovering new areas in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness area. The Big Hole is a classic western river. Flowing through a big scenic valley, fed by cold and clean snow melt, lots of bug life, full of beautiful wild trout and epic views.
Scouting missions are always rewarding! Some days you figure out the super secret fly pattern, others you find the right line to navigate the rapids or other days you spend quality time with the dog.
For a few months I have been day dreaming about a week long float on the Smith River this spring. We successfully drew a permit for the float, my wife and I both got time off work and the I had planted the seed about the adventure with my best friends in Colorado months ago. Everything was falling into place…
As our launch date approached the weather forecast turned south, friends had a change of plans and just like that my dreams of a week on the river crumbled.
Fortunately, I live in Montana and there is an abundance of vacation options just outside my backdoor. To salvage our days off we took a “staycation” by spending a couple of days on Rock Creek about a half hour from our house.
Rock Creek can sometimes be overlooked with all the other fishing and camping options around the state, but this recent trip reminded me of why I fell in love with this gem on my first trip to Montana years ago. Rock Creek is a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream with a healthy population of willing Cutthroat, Rainbow and Brown Trout. Being a small steam, it is only float and fishing option during the spring and early summer. Float trips during this time of year can be unforgettable experience; great scenery, awesome fishing and all while having the river to yourself.
Rock Creek is not only a great fishery, but it offers dozens of great camp sites and a handful of Forest Service Cabins available for rent. On this springtime trip we chose to stay at one of our favorite cabins. The four or five cabins along Rock Creek vary in size and accommodations and can be perfect for any getaway. The Stony Creek Cabin has a convenient location, great outdoor fire pit and is the perfect size for us and our dog.
As we were headed home we both remarked about how we both take the beauty of Rock Creek for granted since it is so close to Philipsburg. Sometimes the best vacation is close to home.
“It’s NOT just like riding a bike, John!” My buddy Josh yelled from across the river as I lost another fish. This type of banter is very common when on the water with good friends, but it also made me realize that practice is an important part of fly-fishing.
A brutally cold winter, working with a new puppy (not exactly a fishing dog yet) and my winter job forced me into a two month break from the river. During the time away I was able to restock and organize my fly boxes, but my hook set was a little rusty. Actually, everything felt a little clumsy; sloppy casts, poor line control, delayed reactions, etc. In that first day back I hooked about 10 fish, but was only able to land two of them. At the end of the day I realized that all the time spent on the river is valuable. Each time out you are learning, improving and practicing.
Spring is the time to practice and start getting ready for the summer season. Get your fishing gear out of the closet, or shed, and get organized. Practice your cast in the back yard or the park. Head to you local river or stream to knock off the rust. Anytime spent practicing now pays off once you are in the midst of your favorite summer hatch.
There is nothing better than waking up to the sounds of a flowing river, brewing fresh coffee next to a camp fire, planning out the float for the day and rigging up the flies to start the morning. Hard to beat life on the river!
Since becoming an outfitter a few years ago I have had the goal of sharing this experience with my friends, and clients, by offering overnight trips on the river. You can truly get on the “Montana pace” by immersing yourself in one of these adventures. This summer I will be running two 4-day packages that will be unique Montana experiences. Dry Flies & Camp Fires is scheduled for July 17-20 and the Fall Big Fish package will be offered from October 1-4, checkout all the details here.
The Dry Flies & Camp Fires package will include camping on the banks of Yellowstone River, fishing big dry flies, a visit to a local hot springs and much more. The Fall Big Fish package can give you the chance at catching “the big one” and gives you the chance to explore the mighty Missouri River.
Near the end of January a phenomenon hits many Montana residents known as “Cabin Fever.” Google defines cabin fever as: irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter. These symptoms began to settle in last week following recent weeks of sub-zero temperatures. Thankfully we had a break in the brutal cold and I took advantage by seeking out open water on Rock Creek and booking a Forest Service Cabin getaway for my wife and I.
As I headed towards Rock Creek last Wednesday, conditions seemed to be perfect for a productive afternoon on the water. Temperatures were hovering in the mid 40’s, the sun was trying to peak through the partly cloudy skies and I had a new supply of hand tied flies to demo. As I reached the creek I was discouraged to see that most of the ice from our sub-zero cold snap still choked the banks of the river. After driving downstream and discovering that the ice situation just got worse, I settled on the most open water that I could find and began stomping through the snow towards the partially open water. With water temperatures hovering around freezing, the fish weren’t exactly in a feeding frenzy. After dodging a few glaciers coming down stream, I did find a hole with a few cutthroat that sampled my homemade San Juan Worm.
On Thursday afternoon we packed up the truck, loaded up the dog, and headed to the Moose Lake cabin just a few minutes outside of Philipsburg. Forest Service Cabins have become one of our favorite winter getaways because of their wood burning stoves, peaceful settings and lack of cell phone coverage. When we reached the Moose Lake cabin I was determined to rally the truck down the quarter-mile snow packed road to get to the cabin. With the warm temperatures, my hefty Toyota Tundra quickly sunk into the slushy snowpack and we were stuck. Given the consistency of the snow, my tires were unable to gain traction. Using some “redneck” ingenuity, I shoved my floor mats under the front tires and eventually got the truck back on solid ground. Following the embarrassment and excitement of getting stuck, we finally packed all of our gear into the cozy cabin and we settled in with hot toddy’s and good books. Our relaxing evening was highlighted by a hearty dinner cooked over the wood stove, a good bottle of wine and schooling my wife in Texas Hold’em.
With this vacation from cabin fever, I can now return to the fly tying vise and patiently await the coming spring , or better yet, the next winter adventure.