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.
“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.
I try not to go overboard with gratuitous grip n’ grin pictures, but I couldn’t help myself….
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!
I was 12 years old and had been fly-fishing with my Dad for about a year. Until that point I had hooked plenty of trees, bushes and rocks but had yet to hook my first fish on a fly. I was beginning to get really frustrated with this new fishing technique and was on the verge of switching back to the reliables of worms, powerbait or the Panther Martin. One afternoon my Dad and I walked down to one of his favorite spots along the banks of the Colorado River. Given my frustration, I was pretty much going through the motions thinking I was going to have another fish-less outing. I will always remember the moment that day when my Dad hollered “set the hook” and I actually felt a fish on the end of my line. Being in complete shock, I am pretty sure I lost that first one, but just a few casts later I landed my first fish on a fly rod. Over 20 years later I am still “hooked” on the sport that I almost abandoned. To this day I am passionate about the sport because, regardless of your age or level of experience, fly-fishing is filled with those memorable “first time” experiences. Whether it is your first time, first fish, first time on a new river, or first fish landed on a dry fly of the season, fly-fishing is full of new experiences.
Experiencing these first times also fulfills the urge to explore and discover new places. We are very fortunate to have hundreds of miles of river, hundreds of lakes, and miles of backcountry to explore nearby. It is nice to have the “honey hole” that can always be relied on for a fish or two, but I really enjoy pushing myself to try new spots, new waters, or simply float a different stretch of river. These new experiences can be challenging but are typically extremely rewarding. Exploring these new locations will sharpen your ability to read water and identify holding water for fish, can broaden your knowledge of entomology and bug life, challenge your rowing skills, and can provide the opportunity to catch new species of fish.
As I have had the chance to introduce others to the sport, I have enjoyed getting to experience those fly-fishing first times, second-hand. Recently I have enjoyed teaching my fiancée how to fly-fish. I have been there for her first catch, for the landing of her first BIG fish and watched her fool her first fish with a dry fly just a few weeks ago. I think she has enjoyed these experiences since she keep going on outings with me, but my excitement on these days has been through the roof! Two weeks ago on the Bitterroot I could not help but to holler and yell when a nice cutt-bow inhaled her skwala dry fly. I am not sure if she was more surprised by the fish taking the fly from the surface, or by my childish reaction. Either way, she is definitely prepared for my response to her next fly-fishing first; hopefully landing a Brown Trout that eclipses the 20 inch mark or catching her first colorful Brook Trout.
Now I find myself making lists of what my next new experience with a fly rod might be. It could be landing my first Steelhead, could be casting to exotic species of fish on a saltwater flat, or traveling to far away countries with my fly rod. Thanks to my Dad’s introduction to fly-fishing I will continue to pursue all of those first time memories.
Wikipedia defines Research and Development, or R & D, as: “A general term for activities in connection with corporate or governmental innovation. R & D is a component of innovation and is situated at the front end of the innovation lifecycle.”
I have termed this spring my Research & Development period for McKinnie Fly Fishing Outfitters. This means learning new waters, floating new stretches of river, discovering new “honey holes” and figuring out the key to matching the hatch.
Over the last couple of weeks I have spent time on the Madison River, Missouri River, Rock Creek, Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers. Over the coming weeks I look forward to exploring the Smith River and Georgetown Lake…
For me, fishing has always been associated with family.
My dad tells me that I was two months old on my first fishing trip and we continue that tradition to this day. Some of my fondest memories include my dad, sister, and occasionally my mom, enjoying the great outdoors on a beautiful river or lake.
Since becoming a fishing guide I have preached the joys of spending time with family and friends while on the water. Regardless of how good the fishing is, quality time on the water with loved ones is hard to beat.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to spend quality time on the river with my dad and have had the chance to introduce my girlfriend’s family to the sport of fly-fishing. Each experience was extremely rewarding in their own respects.
I have been lucky to show the Hyndmans – Ken, Judy, Gwyneth and Sean – the beautiful rivers that I call home. Ken and Gwyneth are now fly-fishing veterans after hitting the river a year ago, but Judy and Sean took their first casts just a few weeks ago. It is always rewarding seeing the face of a beginner when they hook into a trout, but seeing the joy and excitement on Judy’s face was something special. Judy lives with a disability and uses the support of crutches to walk most of the time. When she expressed interest in trying to fly-fish I was determined to give her the full experience. Instead of sitting on the bank, I made the decision to set up a chair in the river and to give her the chance to wade and cast from the water. With the help of the rest of the family we got Judy to the water and I began the casting lesson. Fortunately, the fishing gods where looking down on us and within a few casts we had a beautiful brown trout on the end of the line. The thrill and emotion shared between all of us was overwhelming as we put the trout into the net!
A week after helping Judy check off the bucket list fish that she didn’t even know about, my Dad made his annual fishing trip to Montana in search of his bucket list fish.
Over the last few years he has been extremely jealous of the big fish pictures that I send him. On this trip he had the goal to land the “big one” himself and he termed it his bucket list fish. Since the summer season had wrapped up I was able to spend plenty of time with him on this quest. Through his couple of weeks in Montana we had some great days on the Madison and Missouri Rivers. Introducing him to the feisty trout of the Missouri River was an amazing experience. The strength and size of these fish are enough to make any experienced angler chuckle and grin like a little kid on christmas morning. My Dad was no exception when his reel began to scream after hooking into a his first 20 inch Missouri River rainbow. After being schooled by a few hot fish he was finally able to get one into the net. This beauty taped around 22″, weighed 5-6 pounds and my Dad exclaimed that it was the biggest trout he has ever landed!
These experiences have reminded me of one of the biggest reasons that I love fishing; all of the lasting memories that are created with friends and family.
The Madison River inside Yellowstone National Park is a world famous fly fishing destination in the Fall! Large brown and rainbow trout make their annual migration from Hebgen Lake to take part in the fall spawn. This influx of big fish attracts anglers of all skill levels from hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away.