pondering water

River Flows

Missouri River at Holter: 6090 cfs at 6pm…….three days ago it was 11,200 cfs.

Madison River below Hebgen: 1200 cfs…….five days ago it was 1850 cfs.

Madison River at Kirby: 1880 cfs…….fishing’s not too bad at all with nymphs in the wade stretch.

Madison River at Varney: 2980 cfs…….muddy, but you can catch a few if you try hard enough.

A week ago, most of us on the Missouri and Madison were preparing for a high water year.  Then, things started to drop and flow managers, it seems, began to panic about filling the lakes and the flows were pared back to say the least.   Some folks are saying that runoff has peaked……this being said, it’s only June 4th and there’s still boat loads of snow in the high country.   I believe that round two of runoff is not far behind.  More warm weather is in the forecast and I plan on taking a hike up into the high country next week to check a few spots and look at snow pack.  With any luck, Hebgen will fill by the end of the month and we wont’ have a situation like last season with low flows and dried up spawning beds.  Canyon Ferry is filling as this is being written, but there is concern that it too won’t fill to full capacity.

This water management concept seems to be hard to figure out……..snow falls and then it melts, at some point a lake or two needs to be filled.  While there are lots of variables in the equation and after this many years of managing water, one would think that the water managers would have a easier time with filling the lakes.

If Hebgen isn’t filled by the end of month, it will be disappointing to say the least – this was a banner year for snow pack and filling the lakes should’ve have been an easy task.   There is a flow meeting in West Yellowstone on June 12th held by PPL, should be an interesting time.

The Missouri has been, for the most part, pretty good fishing for the past month.   From 1-3 fishing’s been a little weird.   Some days the fish are grabby in some spots and other days they have moved out of the runs.   We’re not getting em’ everywhere and are having to work a little bit.  We’ve been mostly nymphing with sow bugs, worms, caddis pupa and bwo nymphs.   As the river began to drop a few days ago, the dry fly fishing reared it’s head.  A fish here and there were up eating spinners and we found a couple smallish pods that were easily put down after a fish was hooked and blew up jumping it’s way off the hook.

While there is NOT full blown dry fly fishing on the Missouri, we are getting closer each day.   If these Missouri flows stabilize and stop jumping around, the caddis should begin and we can stop staring at the bobber all day long.  PMD’s? They’ll come soon enough….and when they do the river will come alive.

At this point, my guess is that we’ll be fishing salmonflies on the Madison by the end June……..don’t hold me to this as my crystal ball broke about 38 years ago.

Late May in Montana

Snow is melting at rapid pace up high in the mountains all across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.  One glance at the flows online will show rivers on the rise, some of which are almost double for this time of the year.  The white stuff is still pretty deep in the high country, but the last week t o ten days worth of warm weather mixed with some rain has brought a big push water.   Wet wading has been standard protocol, but we aren’t wading much on the Missouri, just getting our feet wet from time to time.  Anglers should expect this to be the case for a while now, but it’s hard to say just how long run off will go this season.  It all depends on the weather. More sun and rain will push it out, cooler temps and no rain will slow it down.  Pay attention to the weather and you too can guess when the Salmon flies will hatch on the Madison.  I’m still not throwing a date out for this…….too hard to figure this early into run off.

I’ve been living on the Missouri for the past month, but have managed a handful of days back in West Yellowstone.  TAKF was held on May 20th and I got a couple days of fishing in around West Yellowstone and Idaho as well.   It’s been a very busy May for us and June is right around the corner.   The next few weeks will find us hanging out on the Missouri guiding anglers with a another visit home and then back to the Missouri for mid and late June.  With any luck, we’ll be fishing the Madison River a month from now.

Missouri River Fishing Report 05.07.2014

Flows on the Missouri below Holter Dam are holding at 8790 cfs and down below the Dearborn it hanging around 10,000 cfs.  This is quite a bit larger than a year ago right now, but it’s a welcome change of flows and this fine river will fish well into August in 2014.  It’s been cooler more often than not, with a prevailing north wind which has brought some moisture up high and down in the low country as well.  This afternoon, the sun poked out and life began to warm up a little bit – the goslings are appreciating every ray of sunshine they can get.

The BWO hatch that rolled down the river yesterday could have been considered, in some circles, a blanket hatch.  A few fish were up in a couple places, but most of these mayflies drifted down without a fear in the world.  I saw some March Browns in the canyon stretch today, but not much up on them at all, except for a few random blow up rises that may have been a skwala eat.

We fished streamers throughout the day, but only the morning bite produced interest for us.  For the most part, nymphing was king.

One of the best……

The guy in the blue shirt holding that 2 X 4 brown trout is Greg Falls.  The other guy, the one who caught that brown on his first cast with a size 20 trico, is one of most genuine clients we have ever guided.  Many of you know Greg from trips that we guide together on the Missouri River.  You’ve seen him grace the pages of this blog for the past nine years.  Some of you know Greg from the Yellowstone or Lower Madison.  I have known Greg since 1996 when I first showed up to Montana and worked on the Missouri River out of Wolf Creek, where we ran a fly shop together for a few summers.


This past winter I was talking with a soon to be fly shop owner from Cascade and we got to chatting about guides on the Missouri River.  The conversation lead to who the best guides were/are on the Missouri River.  My friend began the conversation with this gem,

“when the long time guides sit around and talk about who the best all around guides are on the river, Greg is in the top 5 for sure, maybe even the top 3.”

I have fished along side of Greg for nineteen years and I must say his skills with a fly and rod are hard to beat.  It’s not just the sheer fishyness that he has acquired after countless hours on the water, but it’s the way he handles every situation on a guide trip – from meeting clients at the shop in the morning to dropping them off at the end of the day.   Greg’s name alone is synonymous with the Missouri River below Holter Dam.  Another guide once said this about Greg, “Falls doesn’t even row, he just goes down the river netting trout”.

It’s not all about catching trout.

Greg has the patience to teach you everything you want to know about fly fishing.   He will turn over rocks and show the new angler what the trout are eating.  Greg will row you around, put a few in the net with the nymph rig to boost confidence and then find some risers to show the angler what fly fishing can become with the right skills.  You wanna learn the reach cast?  Done.  You wanna learn to stack mend? Done.  You wanna learn to wade fish a nymphing rig?  No problem.  You wanna catch 50 on the nymph and get that out of your system?  Done.

Greg Falls lives on the Missouri River from March till December.  Throughout the year, when I’m not on the Missouri River, Greg gives BSA weekly, sometimes daily, fishing reports from Craig, Montana.  If you are looking for one of the finest days of angling on the Missouri River, give us a call and book Greg Falls.  Greg’s schedule is booked far in advance as many of his loyal anglers book him for the next year before their trip is even over.   However, it’s always a good idea to call us cause you never know when his schedule might change.

Springtime on the Missouri is a great season to hire Greg and the angling can be some of the best for the entire year.

It’s late March….what are you doing?

You should be planning a trip to Montana, or better yet, you should be fishing.

About a week ago, Molly and I bought a house in West Yellowstone…..looks like we’ll be sticking around for awhile.   With a little help from some friends, we are remodeling the place with new paint, wood flooring, a little tile work and the demolition of a wall or two.  The old carpet and lament flooring are gone, the baseboards as well.  A giant hole in the ceiling is looming overhead and drywall dust has coated everything.

The bummer about buying a house in the spring, is that this is one of my favorite times of the year to get out on the river.  Any river will do, but during March and April I enjoy traveling around a little bit to visit places I don’t routinely fish.   Spring in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, while a little wintry from time to time, is so nice.  It’s still winter at 6667 feet, but if one gets off the volcano, there is green grass and dry fly fishing.

Oh well……we are stoked to have our very own place and this spring worked out for just that.  Plus, I enjoy construction when it’s not a full time job.

The Madison Betwix is, of course, fishing pretty well right now, as is the river around Ennis and down through Bear Trap Canyon.   River temps around around Ennis are fluctuating between 38-45 degrees, which is pretty warm compared to the prior several days.  These are temps that get fish moving around, on the bite and feeling frisky for a window of time each day.  Reports on the Missouri are coming in weekly and fishing up there around Craig has been very good and getting better as the river warms up.  Both the Madison and Missouri have solid flows and will continue to get better in the coming weeks.  Dry fly fishing has been decent from time to time, but nymphing is king.  Twitching a sculpin pattern in between swigs of a Bud will produce a trout or two as well.  This is best done while sitting down in the bow of the boat with your feet on gunwale. Twitch….strip in slack…..take a swig……..pause…..repeat.  If they don’t eat it, change colors and try again.


For the Dogs

Upon leaving Craig, Montana two weeks ago, the self professed “Trout Capital of the World”, I was beat down tired from a long season behind the oars.   This was truly the finest season I’ve had since going out on my own nine years ago.  All said and done, BSA racked up almost 200 days in the books.  Paperwork is piled a mile high in our living room, but I will ignore that hay stack for a few more weeks.

Why ruin a lovely Fall with paperwork?  That would be a terrible idea.

Snowfall has come early in southwest Montana and most of the areas are reporting 150% or better for this time of the year.  Keep up the snow dances as they are working.  As for next summer, are you coming out?  You should and if you are remotely planning a trip west, then get in touch with us ASAP as 2014’s booking are coming in almost daily.

Our time in eastern Montana was a shorter hunt this year – all told we were only gone for seven days.  Five days of hunting and two travel days, which, I believe, is the perfect length for any upland hunt.  One can buy a weeks worth of food and beer and not really run the risk of rationing these items.   One can run the dog everyday and not worry too much about burn out or injury.   Most nights I crashed out early, wandering to my tent pitched between two Airstream trailers with a bird dog in tow.  The weather was perfect for camping, but waking up to coffee and breakfast inside the Airstream was pleasant indeed.

While I didn’t shoot as many birds this time around, I for sure walked further than any other bird hunting trips to date.   My new hunting boots, a pair of Schnee’s Beartooths, are fully broke in and for the life of me I can’t imagine wearing any other boots.   I like them so much, that I bought a second pair of insulated ones for late Fall hunting. With any luck, these boots will get me through my winter season of guiding in YNP for Yellowstone Alpen Guides.

Stella is just a few days shy of her third birthday and is as driven as any dog I’ve ever been around.  Right now she is looking at me from the across the room, hunkered down by the hot wood stove, with anticipation of leaving again, tomorrow or the next day, for another week long romp in the field.   She watches as the guns are oiled up.  She walks to the rig every time I pack another item.  Sometimes she just sits in the rig, waiting for it to leave.

This time we really don’t have a plan.  We might head up to the High Line, maybe hunt north of Bozeman some where……who knows.   What I do know, is that she is yearning for more time in the field and has shown more than a few moments of greatness on the last hunt.   I’m a terrible writer, so expressing what it’s like to watch the light bulb shine brightly with a young dog is in-explainable for me.  This is what these dogs are born to do.  This is why they are here.  It should be against the law not to hunt a bird dog.  I will forever incorporate bird dogs into my life, as hunting without one is pointless.