As snow piles up here at Big Sky Anglers World Headquarters in West Yellowstone, MT (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) our sights are locked on to the 2018 fishing season. Guide Trip reservations are pouring in, and we’re busy planning fishing adventures throughout Yellowstone Country and beyond. We’ve fielded a lot of questions over the last few weeks about times to take a guide trip. So, we decided to share some of our recommendations for a few overlooked options.
#1 – Springtime (April – May)
When most anglers think of Springtime in the Rockies they conjure up images of our big, Western rivers running wild with brown water flooding the banks and stream-side vegetation. In much of the region, that’s an accurate description. But, on two of our favorite rivers, the Henry’s Fork and the Missouri you can find a much different experience in the early-season months of April and May. You see, both of these rivers are tail-waters with strategic dam releases, and are situated at relatively low elevations compared to other big rivers like the Madison or Yellowstone. Warm weather comes much earlier to places like Ashton, ID and Cascade, MT then it does to West Yellowstone. With warm temps comes the onslaught of Spring hatches like Mother’s Day Caddis, Baetis, and Stoneflies. While no river in our region is completely immune to Spring run-off, the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers generally have sections that continue to fish well through the “mud-season” because of the clean releases coming from dams on both systems. April and May weather in the Rockies can range from 70 degrees and sunny to 30 degrees and snowing, and anglers need to be prepared for any combination of weather conditions. It’s always an adventure in the Spring as our best fishing occasionally occurs when the weather is at its worst! So, if you want to experience some of our area’s best fishing at an adventurous time of year when few other anglers are thinking about trout fishing out West, consider April and May on the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers.
#2 – August
The “Dog Days of Summer” can be a bear on many fisheries. That hot August sun dries out the countryside, and heats up water temps. “Hoot Owl” closures (angling restrictions placed on bodies of water when water temps are too high and flows fall below critical levels) plague many Montana rivers like the Big Hole and Jefferson. This might be the time when many anglers would consider taking a break until the Fall, or dusting off the old golf clubs. But, in fact this is prime time for one of the angling world’s premiere destinations – Yellowstone’s Backcountry. The high alpine environment in YNP has a much different seasonal calendar than the surrounding region. Lush, green, hillsides covered in wild-flowers, and snow-capped peaks are common sight in Yellowstone’s high country well into August. Daytime temps are generally in the high 70’s to low 80’s and nighttime lows will routinely drop below freezing. This is the perfect recipe for cold, clean water. By August the backcountry has dried out, and most of the biting flies are done for the season making it the most comfortable time of year to hit the trail and explore some of the best kept secrets in our area. Our veteran guides have decades of experience wandering through the backcountry of Yellowstone in search of trout. They have more overlooked and under-fished spots in their quiver than you could fish in a lifetime. If the backcountry isn’t your thing or you’re looking for a little diversity, August is also the best time for Gulpers on Hebgen lake, and some of the most consistent dry fly fishing on the Railroad Ranch at the Henry’s Fork. Combining the backcountry of Yellowstone with some time on Hebgen, and a visit to the Ranch is a program that’s hard to beat any time of the season!
#3 – Anytime you can get here!
In this day and age, time is the one thing no one has enough of. Everyone struggles to maximize their time, especially when it comes to vacations. Visiting anglers are always in search of the “perfect time” to plan their fishing trip. The truth is, there is no perfect time. From our location in West Yellowstone (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) we are blessed with arguably the greatest diversity of fishing locations and authentic angling situations found anywhere. Now, Mother Nature is a fickle temptress, and often she reminds us that planning can be an exercise in futility. But, on most years with somewhat “normal” conditions we can find awesome fishing somewhere in our area every day of the season. If you have your heart set on experiencing a specific hatch on a specific fishery, say the Green Drakes on the Henry’s Fork, then, you better get here in mid-June. But, if you’re less focused, or just have an opening in your schedule, get here whenever you can! We’ll find you some awesome fishing!
The fish gods must be looking out for me, as I have managed to convince another group of anglers to travel down to the Argentina for a visit with the good folks at Pesca Patagonia. Some of you know my buddy Justin Spence from his famed fly shop here in West Yellowstone – The West Yellowstone Fly Shop and some of you know Justin from our trips together here in Montana. He also operates a top shelf outfitting company in and around Junin de los Andes. Justin, his wife Rachel and their lovely little girls spend the entire winter and spring in Junin. Half of the year in Montana and half of the year in Patagonia, what an amazing life!
In early April, five of us will make the big trip from North America to South America. We’ll all meet up in BA, take a ride across the city and jump a airplane to Bariloche. From there we’ll meet up with Justin and head towards San Martin. We’ll fish the Malleo, possibly the Chimehuin or Alumine, the Collen Cura for a couple and then who knows where we’ll end up for last couple of days.
Some folks give me a hard time about traveling that far for trout, especially when it’s a solid time frame for chasing salt water species, but Argentina gets in one’s blood and its hard to shake. Their rivers are like our rivers, only different. There are moments when when I wake up from day dreaming of fight with a big brown trout that had just tossed the hooked. Those are memories from my time down south in 2013 and some of those fish were true giants. But it’s not just the quality angling that makes me want to return; the fishing culture is more laid back, it’s the “let it happen” attitude when you’re submersed in fishing and everything is right in the world. Getting after it and putting in day after day on the water is like Spring Training in the MLB. Everyday spent on the river gets you prepped for the next day, if you’ve got the time, stay as long as possible. And then there’s the locality of where you are fishing. Argentine Patagonia is remote and not populous at all. Some folks like to compare it to stepping back in time, to the old days of fishing out West when hardly a soul actually could point out the Missouri and it’s tributaries on a map of the United States.
Right now, I’ve got a busy couple of months ahead. There will be late nights at the tying bench, picking over lines for the trip and the lovely little process of laying out all your gear as you prep for a world class fishing trip. I’m excited about heading back down to Argentina.
Driving down to the Madison Valley, yesterday afternoon, was a great decision. I almost didn’t go, cause construction, moving to our new place and the guide season starting in late April has consumed me; I wasn’t sure if I could even enjoy fishing with all that lies head. However, as one who has blown off many a’ job to go fishing, this was a much needed day on the water and I am better for it.
Driving past Hebgen Dam and towards Cabin Creek, I counted 11…yes….11 rigs and twice as many anglers. I was told that 14 rigs where there on Saturday. While this stretch is completely legal to fish, it was borderline gross to see all the anglers packed into such a small stretch of river. I too have fished this stretch, countless hours during the Springtime over the past sixteen years, but I just can’t bring myself to fish so darn close to other anglers and stomp redds in the process when there are miles and miles of water below McAtee to access. Biologists will tell you that stepping on redds really doesn’t hurt the fishery, but somehow I’m not sure that I agree, especially when FWP closes the river from Quake’s outlet to McAtee Bridge in order to “protect spawning habitat”. I’m starting to think, as are other anglers, that closing Betwix the Lakes in March, April and early May is a good idea. Maybe Palisades down to McAtee could be opened up to give anglers more water to fish.
Note: Please remember that Quake to Mac is closed……I saw anglers at Pine Butte yesterday. This happens every single season and if they didn’t read the regulations, how would they know that the river is closed? There are no signs ANYWHERE telling anglers otherwise.
Midges were thick when I showed up to the river and shortly after, BWOs started hatching in decent numbers. There were a few fish looking up, but I did best underneath with a rubber legs and small PT. It was a gorgeous day in the Madison Valley and while the fishing was solid, I could’ve cared less cause it was just nice to be on the water.
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.
The stats are true: there are lots of fish in the Missouri River. I don’t pay huge attention to MT FWP’s numbers, because honestly, we are gonna fish anyway. A high percentage of these trout are spawning in the river, and it seems to me that over the past few years, there are more and more redds in the river. Why? Hmmmm……probably because there are so damn many rainbows. Fish have always spawned in the river, but from my memory and from conversations had back in the 90’s, a majority of the rainbows spawned in the Prickly Pear and the Dearborn. While trout still use the tribs, they are definitely using the Missouri. This also just might have something to do with all that high water a few years in a row, which cleaned up the river’s gravel and flushed the silt.
The Missouri is busier, earlier in the season, each year. It seems as if everyone has cabin fever and they are on the Mo’. Or, they all read fishing blogs and the word is getting out. A dozen years ago, we were fishing skwalas in the canyon and those who knew, never talked about it. I’m guilty of writing about the Missouri, so are others. Is this a bad thing? I don’t believe so, as long as folks are respectful to each other and the fish, things will move along with ease. July might be another story. My guess, is that the Missouri will become the most fished river in the state as the season is stretching out to almost year around. Will this pressure change the fishery in the long run? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
While nymphing was king, we did manage to find a few trout willing to rise and eat a dry fly. The wind was prevalent for most of the week and at one point it was down right Western out there. BWOs and March Browns were hatching, the latter in smaller numbers. Without too much difficulty, one could catch fish on dries. We witnessed a blanket BWO hatch from bridge to bridge and hardly a fish rose. Their brains, while small, are still thinking about procreation. Would you rise up to eat a BWO dun or eat protein rich eggs that are drifting by your nose?
This is gonna be another banner year on the big river below Holter Dam. We will be guiding the Missouri all season long and if you’d like a change of pace from the Madison, Henry’s Fork or YNP waters, give us a shout.
….can’t you smell that smell? That new boat smell…
Picked up my new drift boat this afternoon in Bozeman after a few errands and a quick stop by Brick Breeden Field House for Ice Out. While I didn’t stick around long, I was able to pick up a few much needed items from Montana Fly Company and say hello to some good friends whom I don’t get to see that often anymore. Really looking forward to getting this new craft on the Missouri for the next week.
Speaking of the Missouri…..
I will be fishing up around Craig for the next two months, dependent upon run-off, and still have a few openings for May and June. July is getting tough to book, but there are a few slots left. Once again, for the 18th season, Greg Falls will be spending the summer on the Missouri River. While his schedule is tough to crack, feel free to give us a shout and we’ll hook you up with one of the finest guides on the Missouri River. There are some who are as good, but very few are better.