Why even try…..

….to look into the future?  Just go fishing.  That’s what I’d do.

What I mean by this, is can one really say what the summer angling season will actually look like?  Educated guesses are popping up all over the Web and some of them are quite good.  I pay attention to a couple of them, just to compare with my own thinking.  Even then, some of the best fishing is when one just heads out, with no expectations and fishes.  This could be in January or during the dead heat of late August.

Here are the facts:

1.  Run-off has started.  Yes, indeed it has.  We normally see some pushes of low level snow melt in mid May, but we are full on into run off and it’s two weeks early, maybe three.  The low level snow pack is gone.  The mid level snow pack is almost gone.

2.  Snow pack is light.  While it looked great a few weeks ago; the lack of rain combined with warm weather and wind evaporated the snow pack.  I have been up in the high country, hiking around to check it out.  What is left up there, will soak into the ground and may not hit the river like years past.

3.  Mud…..rivers around West Yellowstone are a bit off color, but from reports in Ennis, there is 12 inches of visibility down there.  Of course, there is always more mud to come out from the West Fork of the Madison, so this will change.  Cabin and Beaver Creeks are up and muddy, but I have yet to check out Quake Lake or the Slide – that will come later today.  It looks like the Dearborn River (Missouri tributary) has peaked so the lower reaches of the Mighty Mo’ should stay clear barring any freak snowstorms.

4.  Rain showers passed through SW Montana yesterday afternoon. Water fell from the clouds for most of last night, it poured from time to time, but the ground soaked most of it up and puddles are rare outside my door on Horse Butte.  More rain is forecasted for through Monday, so if you’re planning a trip to Madison for the Opener, bring a rain jacket – it’s gonna be a wet one.

5.  Snowfall is still a factor.  It’s only May 17th and I have seen 2.5 feet fall in the yard as late as June 23.  What I’m getting at is that the next six weeks can be VERY wet, and honestly, the tri-State area needs more moisture or it’s gonna be a smokey summer.

6.  The lakes have to fill before the rivers bump up.  There are a few exceptions; like the Big Hole and Yellowstone, but overall, the lake systems will fill up and then the water cometh.

7.  Early is a solid bet.  Anglers are shy about June because of the past several years of big water.  In 2012, the Madison was fishing really well by the 17th of June and not a soul was here. Hatches of insects will be early as well.  I remember guiding the Missouri in early June about 10 years ago and PMDs popped.  The river was empty for a few days and then the word go out.  2013 is reminiscent of the early 2000’s.   2013 Salmonflies?  Hmmmm……too early for a solid guess, I won’t even try.  They will be early.  Most years we see heavy hatches by the 4th of July, not the case this year.  As for the Missouri hatches?  Right now, there is very good dry fly fishing on some days.  Once the water bumps up past 6000 cfs, the dry fly bite will slide off, but don’t expect the Missouri to get really big this season.  We could see PMDS and Caddis by early/mid June around Craig and down to Cascade.

This is the deal:

There is not one angler, guide or fly shop owner who can predict the future.  Don’t expect us to even try….actually, we all like to try, but most of the time we’re wrong.  Mother Nature holds the cards and she knows what hands will be dealt.   If you live close to the Rocky Mountain West, it’s easier to get here when it’s good.  If you live further away, come out when you can, as there is bound to be some great angling throughout Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.   Right now, everything hinges on moisture.  Pay attention to the next four weeks, watch the weather, the river flows and check back here for more updates.

Back in SW MT

Two weeks on the Missouri will make one think about moving to Craig, Montana.  Back in the mid-Nineties, I did my time (3 seasons) on the Missouri, but back then, all the action was in Wolf Creek.   These days, Craig is the hotspot on the river.  Fly shops, bars, good food and more trout than you can shake a stick at.  Sure, we had some tough fishing when the flows were under 5000 cfs with the sun shining brightly, but when the flows bumped up a little and the water temps consistently hit 56 degrees, all hell broke loose.  Almost a week ago, the Missouri went from 4500 cfs to 9100 cfs in just a couple of days.  The river is now back down to 7600 cfs and the trout fishing will remain stellar.  For now, most of the angling will be sub surface with sow bugs, mayfly nymphs and caddis pupa/larva.  One can find risers, but things won’t get that consistent until the flows drop below 7000 cfs.

We fished with two groups of anglers over the past two weeks.  Above are the Chicken Boys and below are the Dairy Boys.   While this is the first trip for the Dairy Boys, the Chicken Boys have been coming out for almost a decade.   While these trips are large, with a diverse group of anglers, they always appreciate our hard work and attention to detail.   We could not sustain our life style with out folks like this.  Thanks fellas, you made our season!   I would also like to thank all the guides who helped Greg and I out the on the Missouri – you guys rock and are the reason we are successful.

The mountains around southwest Montana are once again full of snow.  Since I have been gone, two different springtime blizzards rolled through dropping some much needed moisture in the high country.   The Madison is stonefly green and fishing quite well – I stopped along the river yesterday and caught two trout in a soft seam along the bank in about 2 minutes.  No waders were needed as the flows are 2100 cfs out of Hebgen and 2500 cfs at Kirby Ranch.  Fishing is good to great on the Madison above Ennis, but be careful when wading the river – don’t get in unless you want to go for a swim.

When will things really get going around here?  My buddies in Livingston are saying that Yellowstone should be fishable by the end of the first week of July.  The Henry’s Fork is getting good….as it usually does this time of the year.  The Madison, hopefully, will be dropping by the last week of June, but as long as the Madison is greenish, it fishes like a champ.  I expect that the Madison will blow out once again.  When?  Shit, who knows.  At this point the weather man is calling for cool overnight temps for the next several days.  For the snow to getting melting, we need night time temps in the 50’s and daytime temps in the high 70s to low 80’s.  We are right on the cusp of world class angling in southwest Montana.  Are you ready?

It’s on like donkey kong

Big Brown Trout

The angling around SW Montana and Eastern Idaho is pretty damn good.   Things have been so busy lately with guiding, that I have needed to neglect almost everything else.   Tis’ the season, I guess, but it stills feels like we are a month behind with Mother Nature.  It’s just starting to feel like summer and my mind keeps telling me it’s more like early June than early July.  We had a 38 degree morning a few days ago. 

Fat and Healthy. Fooled by a dry fly.

After a day of guiding, a few of us drove back to the river for an evening float on the Henry’s Fork south of Ashton.  Trav (above) stuck this one on a Golden.  This river is so impresive right now.  Bugs, bugs and more bugs.  Fat trout too.   At this rate, the Fork around Ashton will continue to fish for awhile.  Harriman Ranch has been super good as well on Flavs, early and late are key for rising trout.  The Ranch is quite good these days and  I would have to say that the Henry’s Fork is fishing like it used to.  Hand’s down some of the best dry fly activity anywhere right now. 

This one at a Grey Drake Spinner.

Waiting for the hatch. H. Fork.

The Madison River has dropped significantly the past few days and is fishing really well sub surface.  It is not quite green enough for fish to rise, but that is coming soon enough.  There are lots of nice fish eating stoneflies, caddis, and may fly imitations.  Short rigs – 4 to 5 feet in total length – fished to the bank, out of the boat proved to be very deadly today for us.  We had four rubber legs for most of the day.  All those little trout from last summer have grown up and are fiesty.  There are salmonflies on the river, but the fish are not looking up that well at all.  I heard only one report of someone landing a few trout on the Big Bug and we tried it for awhile this afternoon from the Swallow’s Cliffs to Mac.  Only one smal trout took a look.  I saw decent number of salmonflies upstream of Ruby Creek, but not that many.  Any day now….maybe 5,  for dry fly angling.   Beaver Creek, Pappose Creek and Indian Creek are still blowing mud.  I have’t been below Mac yet……when the guides from Ennis are floating high, that means something. 

Floating the Madison. Hooked up.

 The Madison is still pretty big and floaters need to be aware of their skills before drifting this river.  Getting under the bridges is a piece of cake, but Wolf Creek Bridge is still a bit sketchy for novice oarsmen.  Letting go of the oars right now is not a good idea.  Dropping anchor in the middle of the river is ALWAYS a stupid idea.  Especially right now.  I am always amazed when I see boaters drop their hook in the middle of the Madison and bounce along trying to net a fish or re-rig.  Wake up people, sinking a boat sucks…

These are so nice. My favorite.

 Here at Big Sky Anglers we are super jazzed up about the season’s angling possibilities.  Dry fly fishing is just around the corner, with the exception of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, and we are very busy.  August is going to be fabulous on the Madison and the waters of YNP.    This is going to be one of those summers around SW Montana.  Are you coming?  You should.  I would.

Henry’s Fork on the 4th….of July

J. Kelly and a 22 incher. Well done.

During the season, it’s almost next to impossible to field phone calls from your guide buddies working on other rivers.  On the other hand, when photos like thses show up on your phone, a call back is mandatory.  Especially when it involves dry fly angling.  While on the Missouri last week,  Jonathon Heames (a Trouthunter Guide and fellow outfitter in Montana) and I traded river reports every few days.  The Missouri was stable at 21K and nymphing well and The Fork had been on the drop…… then the bugs exploded.  It has been as good as it gets down there, but things are gettting a little tricky.   There has been quite a bit of pressure on the Henry’s Fork but the fish are still eating.  Drag it once.  Done.  Change flies, try again.  Drag it again. Done.  Change flies, keep your cool and do it right this time.  If you do, fish like this will eat your flies. 


Jonathon holding one of Jim's big ones. 24 in.

 Happy Birthday America.  Thanks to all who keep us safe and sound in this great country.  

Back and Forth

Double. Lisa & Jerry on the Missouri.

I arrived home from the Missouri yesterday afternoon to excited dogs and a plethera of mosquitoes.  The warm temps have cranked up the biting flies and rivers have risen slightly as well.  The Missouri is stable at 21,800 out of Holter Dam.  Some folks think it will get even bigger.  HUGE is about the only word for it.  Notice the willows sticking out to the left of Jerry’s trout in the photo above.  That willow is normally about 8 feets tall.  The island it lives on is completely under water……but the trout don’t care.  On my last two days of guiding, we fished 10 ft and change to the split shot.  While casting this rig was difficult, it worked rather well.  The afternoon bite went to shit about 3 pm as the sunshine was pounding down on us.  We could have lengthened the leader and added one more BB split shot – to the 3 already on the rig- but that would have been extremely tough to cast let alone land a fish on.  The Missouri is fishing well – in spots – and not that well on the run.    Hooking fish with this rig is difficult to say the least.  “Was that bottom or did a fish eat my fly?” was a common question the past week on the Missouri.  My answer – ” hit’em all and hit’em hard…..strip line….get it tight….let’em run.”   At the Dam, I was fishing double sow bugs – 1 pink and 1 grey and doing pretty darn well.  Otherwise the worm and crayfish patterns were king throughout the entire river.  

Flooded....Craig Campground.

There are three closures on the Missouri as of yesterday.  Camping in Craig is now closed until the water recedes.  Prewett Creek Boat Ramp and Campground are closed as is Spite Hill Boat Ramp.   The river is dangerous in some sections and experience behind the oars is a necessity if venturing through Lone Pine Rapids – formally known as Half Breed Rapids.    Stay right above the Hwy Bridge and take the first right channel below Sheep Creek……a much safer bet.  The roller below the zig-zag is pretty big too, but not that scary.  Be careful, the Missouri at these flows is very powerful.

Windy Point Boat Ramp.

Upon crossing the river in Ennis, I witnessed the Madison completely blown out.  At Windy Point, river right is still fishable.  Guides are getting their boats under Shelton’s Bridge, but one needs to be very careful when doing this.  The wade stretch is greening up, but still off color.  Can you catch fish down there?  Of course, but it will be in just a few spots where the water is slow enough to hold a fish.  The West Fork is pumping mud and might be for awhile.  Cabin and Beaver Creeks are muddy and this recent warm weather has them ragging.  Quake Lake is going to get a little dirtier before it greens up and we all hope this happens in the next week.  There are a few big bugs below Beartrap Canyon, but the river down there is also flowing rather big.  Your guess is as good as mine for salmonflies above Ennis lake. We are alteast 10 days from seeing salmonflies above Ennis.  If they come off before, it will be in the mud.  Cross your fingers and your toes for big bugs and a green Madison……it could happen. 

Catching up with the boys. HCR Style.

West Yellowstone is busy with tourists and YNP visitors.  Lots of strollers and poor driving skills……..but it feels good to be back home as this season has me on the road more than usual.  Back to the Mo I go, in early July and then again in mid July. 


The Chubby Lady Big Bug

 One of the first salmonfly hatches we will see, is just about 10 days away…..maybe a bit later depending on the temperatures of the Henry’s Fork.  Life in the high country is behind every where else once again this spring.  Yesterday there was about 2.5 feet of visibility from Warm River to Ashton, today is probably a different story.  Pteronarys Californica stirs up the dryfly angler from within.  As a tyer, I love tying these big flies.  The Chubby Lady Big Bug  is just a variation on the Chubby Lady .  Adapting a pattern to fit another species, was simple – change the color of the thread, hackle,rubber legs, and foam and add an egg sack.   I have never fished this fly, but they’ll eat it, no doubt. 

The Chubby Lady Big Bug

 Big trout, 20 plus inchers, will move in to feeding positions that they normally might not sit in, just to eat salmonflies.  This kind of oppportuntiy is overwhelming for fly anglers.  Once the hatch begins, there are spots that I check regularly which have produced big fish over the years.  Slipping into these holes late in the day is much anticipated, even after rowing all day long.   Most of the local fishermen have their favorite patterns and won’t fish anything else.   Jacklins’s Gaint Salmon Fly is by far one of the deadliest  true local patterns and I never go to the river without them.  The Razorback is another solid pattern – casts well, floats all day.  In my opinoin, fishing these big bugs single, is the only way.  If you have traveled somewher to fish this hatch and your MO is catching trout on salmonflies, well then, fish it alone.  Over the years I have dropped off an X-Caddis or a nymph of some kind while experimenting.  Towards the end of the hatch, I will use the Big Bug for an indicator fly and then tie off a #16 Royal Wulff about 2 feet below, when fishing off the bank and in the trench.   Once the hatch is in full swing, I prefer to fish a single fly.  Especially from the boat.   Single flies drifted on a fast river will yield better results.  Picking up the big fly and putting it back in at the bank – with precision and accuracy- is just easier with one fly.  Poking those flies into tight spots is a must on certain stretches of the Madison.  With 2X Maxima on the end, one will rarely lose a fly when gettting “lose your fly” close to that willow lined bank where large browns live.   I have witnessed a trout taking a natural that was resting on the upstream side of  a willow branch.  That same fish ate  my fly about a minute later and was 22 inches, a brown.