Yesterday, Garrett and I attended the annual meeting of the Upper Missouri Water Advisory Group. It’s essentially a gathering of all the bean counters that work in the watershed of the upper Mo, everyone from fishery biologists to the Bureau of Reclamation and Northwestern Energy attends. As guides and outfitters there is a lot of information in an afternoon long meeting that is irrelevant to our fishing season. However, the two most important topics we want to share with our anglers are predicted streamflows for the Mo and the latest fish counts. Here is the short version.
Beware the Ides of March in Montana, when your fishing guide's English degree collides with his passion for trout.
In related news, winter has returned after a brief but glorious taste of spring.
With our first guide trip of the season under the belt it's time to give a report on the status of our favorite tailwater fishery, the Missouri River. Usually by the second week of March the Missouri is open for business, albeit early season business. On Friday I found four inches of slush blanketing the Craig boat ramp parking lot, about half of the boat launches unusable due to snow and ice, and a day that started sunny and warm but brought us a couple of snow squalls that produced some heavy snow and wind. This pretty much sums up our winter in Montana - serious and unrelenting.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky, than good. We’ve all heard this old adage before and when it comes to fishing there are certainly times it holds true. I was reminded of this fact a few weeks ago when a good friend of mine came to visit for a day on the water and then a day of skiing. Which all sounds great, until you consider the fact that these two activities require the exact opposite weather conditions for pure joy.
One of my early fishing guide mentors had a favorite saying, usually issued while witnessing the belabored acts of an obvious nitwit. "Amateurs teaching amateurs to be amateurs", Johnny would say, with a slight head shake. It was always good for a laugh and made of distinct point of whatever knuckleheaded thing they happened to be doing; jack-knifing trailers down the boat ramp, high centering a loaded raft on the only exposed rock in the river, flailing away with a bird's nest tangle in their flyline. It was always amateurs teaching amateurs to be amateurs.
I'm always looking for new ways to get the word out about our business. We rely on repeat and direct referral clients to provide the bulk of our angler base, and the magic of the internet connects us with most of the rest, but I am always searching for new ways to connect.
One drove up to my house this fall. It was an open bed pick-up truck with a few empty beer kegs rolling around. Our friend Dash from MAP Brewing had stopped by after one of the many, many beer festivals these micro-brew types like to attend. So I slapped a sticker on a keg or two and off they went back to Bozeman.
This time of year the daily morning coffee routine requires a quick examination into the Internet side of the fly fishing world. Blogs, social media outlets, the weather forecast, and most importantly snow pack all have special tabs for quick access on the browser during the winter season. In reality, checking the snow pack on a daily basis isn’t something that demands our attentive observation every morning, but the desire for a great water year is enticing enough and it keeps our anticipation levels high for the season to come.
As I write this short fishing report, snow is falling outside and the feeling of winter is definitely still here. However, this past week some tolerable weather was enticing enough for my semi-hearty soul to make a trek out to the Missouri, paying a visit to several trout I haven’t seen since October. Even though surrendering to the overwhelming call of a warm couch and binging another season of Stranger Things on Netflix is tempting, the feeling of a bent rod seemingly made sense in the face of cabin fever.
In reflecting on last year's fishing season, there was one particular window of time on the Missouri River that stood out for me. It was special. It was magical. It wasn't supposed to be happening but it was anyway, and the folks who were in the right place at the right time got to see some absolutely troutstanding fishing. I have been telling tales about it most days since.
I can hardly believe that last year marked my 4th season as a guide in Montana. Yesterday seems like it was my first guide trip and I had to get creative when answering the question, “So, how long have you been doing this?” by anglers in my boat.
I read an article recently that used an acronym I had not seen before; T.O.W. Time On the Water. It immediately resonated with me. In a life of fishing and guiding, your time spent on the water is the defining characteristic of your existence. In other spheres they call it field time, and at NASA I imagine they call it space time. It's about immersion to the point of heightened observation. Maybe pure observation.
As some of you may or may not know, I spent the last month of 2017 deeply entangled in one of the seven natural wonders of the world-The Grand Canyon. At times it's hard to describe this river trip with words, so here are a dozen of my favorite photos that might help paint a picture of what 25 days of adventure in the wilderness is like.
It’s that time of the year when we are thinking about skiing trips, Belizean flats, and summer time risers in the southern hemisphere. However, don’t let that mind wander too far from planning this summer’s fishing trip to Montana. That will be here before we know it and while it might seem far away, this is the time to secure a prime date on your favorite stream. Since part of a fishing trip goes beyond the river, here are my favorite fishy spots around Montana to hang out after a great day on the water.
The majority of what we do as a fishing guide service is connecting anglers with great fishing guides, usually here in Montanaland, but sometimes in other fishy places as well. Like New Zealand. On the south island. In Nelson, our favorite Kiwi fishing town.
When my cousin Drew contacted me last week asking about the fishing opportunities near Nelson, since he just happened to be there for a week, my response was clear and concise; it's awesome and there's only one guy you need to talk to about it. Tony Entwistle.
When you are a hunter in Montana and your phone rings during the fall moths, and your friend who is calling starts with these words - "Whatcha doin' right now?" - 99 out of 100 times it means one thing; he or she has a big dead animal on their hands and needs help. It is a call I look forward to and try to build my schedule loosely so I can usually answer, "Waitin' for you to call so I can help get yer elk out."
This is the weather forecast that Montanans have been dreaming about for the last 2 months, which is about how long it has been since it last rained here. As you may have heard among reports on hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the rocky mountain west has been having some natural disaster issues of our own, namely severe drought and major wildfires in Montana and across areas of the pacific northwest. Somehow we went from a big snowpack year with a nice wet spring to one of the driest and warmest runs of weather we have ever seen before, and it has led to a summer of way to many hot and smoky afternoons in Montana.
We are exactly one month away from the Autumnal Equinox, but in Montana the 1st of September usually announces the end of summer and the start to our favorite season, the Fall. Archery hunters are already afield chasing pronghorn antelope, upland bird hunting opens next week, elk will be in full rut within a month, and some of our best fishing of the season is still to come.
Summer roared in like a blast furnace bringing a string of days with highs in the 90s to most of Montana. It has been H-O-T Hot. Too hot. Melt in your driftboat about about 3PM hot. Can't drink enough ice water hot. It has not been awesome. You know what has been awesome though? The morning and evening trout bite, that's what. It's our saving grace in the short sweaty season in Big Sky Country.
Here's the secret short list to get through the next 6 weeks of the fishing season:
Make no mistake about it, the future of fishing lies in the hands of impressionable youngsters like these two hardcore fish-heads, and our mentorship of them. There may be no greater way to teach trout and river life skills than a 60 mile float down Montana's fabled Smith River. It is a full immersion experience in a fully captivating environment - Montana's Disney World.
If you are the kind of angler who tracks snowpack and streamflow reporting, then you know the scoop; it was a big snow year in Montana, with dumps of low elevation snow falling as recently as last week, and we've had plenty of spring rain along with a couple short periods of warmth and sun. What has that all added up to currently? Lots of blue-ribbon rivers in some state of run-off and most are unfishable.