I haven’t wet a line since late February and most of my thoughts throughout the day take me back to Argentina. A few days ago, a buddy who works for Blue Ribbon was pre-fishing, prior to his clients arrival, around Livingston. This jackass sent me a photo of bare ground and sunshine with the text that went something like “just had a good baetis session on such and such river, note the green grass!”. Then, to add insult, he called while drinking an IPA on his tailgate to tell me how good the fishing was and how he thought I should be there. I had a few choice words for him to chew on, but soon apologized for my ranting. I closed the computer, cracked a beer and sat down next to the large pile of receipts in our living room while he gave the play by play of his afternoon of dry fly angling.
Don’t get me wrong, Molly and I are fortunate to have purchased a house here in the Holy Land of fly fishing, but the remodel, house packing (and taxes) is really cutting into my fishing time. There is light at the end of the tunnel as our wood floor is half in, leaving baseboards and the moving trucks left on the list to accomplish. With a little luck and some elbow grease, we’ll be moved living in our new place in ten days time. At that point, a trip to a lower elevation is in order. Winter in Montana is long, and while all of us who live at high elevations know what we are in for, by mid-April, one is ready for Old Man Winter to get his is arse out of Dodge.
Where will I go you ask? The list of possible rivers is too long, but let’s just say that Idaho is on the short list.
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.
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.
Today finds me a little bummed out to say the least.
The unfortunate news of the death of fly tying legend and Helena resident Bob Lay was passed around yesterday by friends and anglers alike who frequent the Missouri River. While I live in West Yellowstone, I split my time between the Madison and Missouri Rivers and got to know Bob quite well over the past 15 years. Bob was a kind man with a huge heart who never forgot your name and was so damn happy to sit down and visit about life in general. Most conversations centered around trout fishing, but we always managed to chat about this or that and one could tell that Bob truly cared about how you were doing. Many a night was spent eating dinner at the bar in Izaaks, sitting next to Bob and bullshiting – I will miss those times for sure. His voice was as distinguishable as spots on a brown trout, most specifically on the river when one could not tell who was anchored up on that pod of rising trout from a distance. He would sit in the rower’s cockpit and fish, casting a tight loop and reaching upstream with ease. There were times on the river, when I would ask my angler in the boat to sit down and watch Bob fish. His skills with a fly rod were keen, as thousands of trout fell prey to Bob’s drift and flies. Bob’s presence at the Federation of Fly Fishers Conclave year in and year out showed his dedication to teaching others the art of fly tying. He was one of the FFF’s old cronies and the stories I’ve heard from Maggie Merriman about the good ole’ days are endless. We are all blessed to have known Bob Lay.
Thanks for the memories Bob….
Next week, there will be a VERY interesting lecture in Bozeman given by the Super himself, Dan Wenk. Native Fish Conservation has been a hot topic the past few years with ongoing discussions on Yellowstone Cutthroats, Grayling and the other non-native species of trout….AKA….lake trout, rainbows, browns and brookies. I find it interesting as to why there isn’t talk what so ever about Mountain White Fish. They are native as well, but not one word on this species and how it’s faring in Yellowstone’s waters.
The Native Fish Plan has been taking some heat over the past year and just recently, an article has been penned by Jess McGlothlin, a friend of BSA, in American Angler’s March/April issue. Everyone should read this article, so head out to your local flyshop, buy the shop rats a sixer and read it in the shop.
While this lecture is probably a little too late, one should commend the National Park Service for taking some heat and then responding with some much needed education on the topic. It will be interesting to see if Superintendent Wenk takes questions about the Native Fish Plan as I believe this lecture is more on the history of native fish conservation in YNP than that of the current Native Fish Conservation Plan, however, there is some overlap here, so I would think this will come up anyway.
I personally want to see native fish thrive in YNP, but I am not sold on the way this particular plan was rolled out to the general public. The lack of education by YNP and the NPS has resulted in rumors flying and facts which have been hard to find. I will not write about the rumors I’ve heard as they are alarming to say the least. Why wasn’t there a well thought out plan laid out to inform the public about the Native Fish Plan? Catch & Release has been pushed hard by many different conservation organizations, did YNP expect folks to just go along with the process of killing trout?
If you live in SW Montana or close by and have the time, this would be a good lecture to attend.
You can find YNP‘s Native Fish Plan here. Oh ya, today is YNP’s 142 birthday.
After a quick run to the dump and to town for some gas, the dogs and I ran down to the Madison Valley. It was 14 degrees when we departed and slightly blowing. Rounding Hebgen I was looking forward to spending a couple of hours on the river as it has been over a month since I stepped foot down in the valley. Upon hitting Quake Lake the wind picked up and was blowing hard…..the kind of wind that makes you want to turn around, head for the couch and watch some English Premier League. Luckily, I kept driving and once in the Madison Valley, the wind vanished and the temps warmed up a bit to the mid-twenties. Midges were already rolling down the river at noon and a thin veil of clouds was keeping the sun at bay. For a Saturday, I was surprised to only see two other anglers. After fishing the bridge pool, I looked up to see my buddy Neil atop of Reynolds Pass Bridge. We caught up for a few minutes and decided to walk downstream and work back up. Over four hours later Neil and I had made our way back to the bridge and went trout for trout the entire time. Both of us never changed flies, fishing a single midge pattern all afternoon.
Today was one of those days………
The past month has been a blur. Without a doubt, this season has been as busy as I want to be while snow coaching in Yellowstone and trying to run a fishing business as well. The past three months in YNP are comparable to May, June, July, August, Sept and October, except that it’s much colder. This cold, snowy, windy weather takes it’s toll a little quicker than summer’s warm days and driving these Bombs 150 miles or more each day will wear, even the seasoned guide, to the bone. There are only three weeks left and yes, I will miss this job when it finishes up on March 15th. Where did the winter go?
While these photos show us deep into Winter, angling is not far away. Each day continues to get longer and this will lead to spring. Some folks around here think it’s here, but if you asked a Bison, they would say otherwise. April will be here soon enough and that’s when fishing starts to get really good. We have quite a few spring trips booked this season and if you haven’t experienced Montana’s other fishing season, maybe it’s time.
Montana Snow Pack
It’s been dumping here in West Yellowstone and throughout Yellowstone National Park for the past ten days or so. Not everyday has been a blizzard, but consistent snow has fallen from the skies. Most of this snow has been laden with water and making a snowball straight from the ground has been possible from time to time. Prior to this, the mountains were slim, but now we are back above 100% and headed into the wettest part of winter. March, April and May is when things really get loaded up in the high country. The past several years have a seen a mid-March warm spell, so it will be interesting to see if this occurs once again.
Jefferson River Drainage – 128%
Madison River Drainage – 111%
Gallatin River Drainage – 119%
Missouri Headwaters – 120%
The slower pace of the winter season allows one to truly take it all in, even from behind the wheel of a B12 Bomb. For me, rubber necking and driving go hand in hand as maneuvering the Bomb really isn’t as hard as some think. I love the winter and the solitude it provides in a place often considered over-run with visitors. Winter in Yellowstone is not busy, which is a good thing but also slightly elitist in the fact that YNP’s Interior is not a cheap place to visit in the Winter.
On Monday, I start a seven day run with photographers. We will be staying at the Snow Lodge each night, up before dawn and out till dark. As one of my favorite British YNP photographers says, “lets trundle along and see what we see”.
Over the past month, many a mile has been passed by behind the wheel of Bombardier B12. Visiting Yellowstone during the winter months is by far a highlight of my year, honestly, I don’t feel that there is finer job out there in West Yellowstone. While traveling the upper reaches of watersheds such as the Yellowstone, Snake, Gallatin and Madison it’s possible to ascertain the area’s snow fall. While I don’t feel like I’m an expert on snow pack, it’s handy to compare what the NRCS SNOTEL Site reports with how things actually look around here.
This fall started out as a wet one and overall coverage by the end of rifle season was solid throughout the most of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Rendezvous Ski Trails had fantastic condition for annual Fall Camp held every year here in town. When we entered the Park in early to mid December, the roads were in the best shape we’d seen in a long time, baring the Winter of 2010-2011 of course. At this point, snow pack percentages where doing fine, but I really wasn’t paying that much attention to them cause the white stuff was a plenty, and nobody really gives thought to snow pack in December cause it’s just too early to think about it. Certain areas were being hit harder than others and I can remember a storm or two than dropped hardly a skiff at our place on the Butte, but dumped in town, on upstream past Madison Junction in YNP and Betwix the Lakes. The most recent storms dropped quite a bit of Wet & Heavy on the ground and right now we are sitting pretty. Locally, the snow pack south and west of Town is slightly below average, but maybe the wind blew some of it away. When reviewing the percentages, it normally takes quite a bit more snow to get these types of moisture content scenarios. Basically, there is a ton of water in what we actually have on the ground and that seems to be the case all over the State of Montana and parts of Wyoming.
What does all this really mean? At this point, we have solid snow in the high country…..just where it’s supposed to be. If you haven’t heard, the avalanche advisory has been HIGH. Four days ago I saw photos from a slide on Lionhead that showed a 6 foot crown and it slid top to bottom – that’s scary shit. Also to note is that fishing has been really good when the wind isn’t blowing. Thus far, January has been quite warm compared to most and the Madison River down in the valley has been topping out at 38-39 degrees each day – that’s pretty darn good for January.
Stay tuned for more updates on snow pack….it’s always changing.
Madison – 107%
Jefferson – 117%
Gallatin – 120%
Several days ago, this photo showed up on my phone. Pictured above is Jonathan Heames (left) and his son Finn with a 8 lb rainbow trout caught in Chilean Patagonia. Throughout October and November, Finn was learning to cast a fly rod in their garage, just down the street from our place on Horse Butte. On Finn’s first day out fly fishing, he’s only 3 1/2 years old, and with in ten minutes, he managed to hook and land this rainbow on a dry fly. This kid is ruined for the rest of his life.