Sun Setting on a Great Season

 

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!

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Summer Highlights

 

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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.

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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.

Exploring the Big Hole Valley

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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.

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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.

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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.

Montana Stay-cation

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gabe knows a good Margarita when he sees one
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.

Cures for Cabin Fever

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.

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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.

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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.

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Guides Day Off

“Make hay while the sun shines!”

This is the old saying for farmers, ranchers and fly-fishing guides around the west.  During primetime guide season days off are few and far between.  Near the end of August I ended up with few unexpected free days in a row.  Instead of using the days to refuel and relax on the couch; I decided to take the opportunity to explore the backcountry and Glacier National Park.

First, I made the expedition to a beautiful alpine lake in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area.

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After a long hike, approaching the base of Warren Peak, I found the lake with lots of big Cutthroat cruising, rising and searching for food.  I quickly got geared up and tied on a size 10, Olive Woolly Bugger.  On the first retrieve I watched a healthy 18 inch cutthroat follow my streamer all the way up to the bank.  With the crystal clear water, I watched the fish take my bugger about 2 feet away from my feet.

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After releasing that first fish I decided to tie on my favorite ant pattern to see if these beautiful cutties would eat a dry fly.  After landing a few more big fish the echo of my childish giggles rang throughout the basin.

Once I got back to the truck at the end of the day I was extremely exhausted.  Thankfully, I had my first trip to Glacier National Park upcoming the next day to keep me motivated.  Gwyneth and I had an amazing trip exploring Glacier, Polebridge and the surrounding areas.

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She is not only beautiful, but is a much better writer!  Checkout her full description of the journey:  One long drive for a bear claw.

Fish On!

I try not to go overboard with gratuitous grip n’ grin pictures, but I couldn’t help myself….

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Over the last couple of weeks fishing all around Montana has been excellent.  Being centrally based in Philipsburg, Montana I get the rare opportunity to explore & fish on a diverse selection of waters.  In the last month I have been lucky to guide on Rock Creek, Georgetown Lake, the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers.  Here are some of the highlights!

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Upper Madison Rainbow
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Big Browns Love Big Dry Flies
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Nothing Wrong with a Whitefish
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7 Year Old Fooling a Cuttie with a Dry Fly
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Brown Town on a Size #18 Dry Fly

Salmonfly Frenzy

Set, set!  There it is!  Fish on!  Bam!  Oh yeah!  Fish off!  Son of a #&*$@!

These are the echoes that fill the air through the canyons of Rock Creek as the annual emergence of the famous Salmonflies cause both trout and anglers alike to go into a frenzy.

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The trout have endured the long winter and the spring run-off, and they are now feeding on the buffet of stoneflies that have just started to hatch.  Just imagine someone tempting you with a t-bone steak or large pizza after you have gone hungry for weeks.  It is really hard for trout to resist the well placed dry fly during this hatch.

For anglers, this mythical hatch is really the first time all season when you can fish big dry flies.  We have survived months of watching the bobber, or twitching the streamer, and the thought of drifting a fluffy foam bug raises the blood pressure and the adrenaline gets pumping.

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This combination of ferocious takes and excited anglers can make for some of the most memorable and thrilling fishing of the summer.  You can have the opportunity to land dozens of fish, but in my experience, you typically miss more than you get to the net.  I have the bad habit of seeing the fish coming for the fly, getting anxious, setting the hook early, and pulling the fly out of their mouth before they eat.  Sometimes the fish aren’t really eating your bug.  Either they are slapping at it, rolling over it, or just trying to stun the bug as it floats by.  Other fish you set the hook and connect with, but because of the timing of the hook set, it comes un-buttoned.  Regardless of getting the fish to the net or not, it is hard to beat being able to see hungry Brown and Cutthroat Trout chasing down a big dry fly.

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Even though this hatch can be epic, you still need to be aware of some other factors that can effect your success in a stonefly hatch.

High Water

Receding river flows and water temperatures increasing trigger these big bugs into hatching.  The water levels may be dropping, but the flows are still very high and fast.  The high water makes wade fishing very difficult and non-advisable in some areas.  Fish are typically held really close to the banks hanging out under bushes and trees and these spots can sometimes be impossible to fish by foot.  Even if you are floating, you still need to be cautious of the swift flows and downed trees that have accumulated through the run-off.  Either way, being safe on the river is more important than catching fish.

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Crowds

Rumors of salmonflies travel very quickly.  Especially, in this day of social media the word of stoneflies crawling around can attract anglers from hundreds of miles away.  For some, this can detract from the serenity and peace of the outdoors, but there is plenty of river for everyone to enjoy.  We are all out there to have fun and it can be enjoyable as long as we are all courteous.  Share the river, share the road, and share the boat ramps.

Finally, the window for this hatch can be very limited.  Depending on the season, the salmonfly hatch can last anywhere from a couple of days up to a week or two.  This is when the phrase “should have been here yesterday,” can definitely ring true.

This is the time, get to the creek now before the salmonfly frenzy is over!

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Cleaning Up the Clark Fork

As an avid outdoorsman, and Outfitter, I believe it is important to take care of the resources that we enjoy everyday.  Last week I was lucky to be a volunteer in the 2nd annual Clark Fork River Clean Up sponsored by The Ranch at Rock Creek, the Clark Fork Coalition and Trout Unlimited.

The participation and turnout was great to see.  There were over 10 boats and 25 volunteers that helped with the event.

 

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Shoreline lunch to help refuel from the hard work

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We floated, and cleaned, an 11 mile stretch of the upper Clark Fork downstream from Drummond.  The health of this section of water has steadily been on the rebound since the removal of the Milltown dam in 2008.  Even though the upper Clark Fork does not see as much recreation as the lower river through Missoula, it is still important habitat for fish and wildlife.

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Between stops to pick up trash and debris, I managed to find a little time to fish.  This beautiful brown trout served as a reminder of why we need to work to protect and clean our rivers.

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Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch

Some days the fishing guides smile on you & some days they don’t cooperate.

About a week ago I spent 5 days floating the Smith River and due to water conditions I only landed 1 fish.

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Being slightly frustrated, my next outing brought me to the Roaring Fork River on a recent road trip to Colorado.  As I walked down the banks towards the river I noticed the water levels and visibility looked good, some clouds gathered and created some overcast, and I saw dozens of Mother’s Day caddis bouncing around the trees and bushes.  It turned into one of those memorable afternoons when everything seems to come together.  Bugs were dancing around the surface of the water and lots of healthy fish were feeding off the top.

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I headed back to the truck very satisfied that afternoon after getting redemption from the Smith and a renewed faith in the fishing gods!

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