We have finally reached the time of year when the majority of yak amongst fishing guides revolves around uncertain predictions on the future state of our water supply in Montana. As we ponder the ambiguous outlook of our season, it’s both exciting and worrying looking at what lies ahead. Will we have good hatches? Will the timing of run-off match the fishing we promised our anglers in June? Early season dry flies or hoot-owl restrictions in August? The answer to all these questions is actually quite simple: we don’t exactly know. We can only predict what might happen in the fishing season that lies ahead.
I am drawn to fly fishing for many reasons, but the thing that keeps my passion level perked is this; you never peak and every day on the water offers new lessons to be learned. The education spectrum continues with endless rungs on the ladder of knowledge when it comes to things like fish and insect behavior, casting, presentation, knots and rigging, fly patterns, and learning the rhythm of the water you are fishing. As soon as you think you have something figured out, you will be reminded soon enough that you know nothing. Being humbled and learning from that experience is part of the growth process of an accomplished angler.
A freshly minted copper penny, that’s what a red drum from the marshes of Louisiana reminds me of. The metallic colors and unique spots on these fish are truly amazing.
Being outside in the middle of January without gloves on is a bonus, floating the Missouri River holding a fly rod in a gloveless hand almost feels like cheating. In a way, it probably is; but it’s hard to pass up a few nice days on the river. Especially with last year’s epically long and brisk winter season.
As we near the end of August there is still some summer left in our season, but fall is definitely creeping into the picture. The days are shorter, the mornings are chilly, and some wet weather patterns are starting to appear (high of 52 degrees and 90% chance of precip on Monday, snow accumulation above 7,500 feet, for example). But with afternoon highs in the 70s and 80s most days, it is still flip-flop and sunscreen season in Montana, and we will soak it in as long as it lasts.
Most days the fishing is as good as you are, especially when you're throwing small dryflies at rising fish on our home water, the Missouri River. But wherever you go in Montana nowadays, you are likely fishing to fish that have seen a fly or two already this season, so you need to be better than the last person who tried to fool that trout. As a general rule of thumb, it is not the fly, or the rod, or the sun, or the wind, or the leader, or the arrow that catches the trout. It's you, the angler, the Indian. Shoot your arrows straight at the target and you'll definitely catch more trout.
When your Smith River crew consists of seven adults and six kids between the ages of 5 and 9, but you already have over 100 trips down the canyon combined, you know you are ready for an exciting adventure. The match of youthful exuberance and experienced moderation finds it's sweet spot on a 60 mile river float.
Our weather and water conditions continue to be pretty interesting this year in Montanaland, and the big news is that run-off is tapering down more quickly than expected on many of our blue-ribbon rivers are they are coming into excellent shape for some of our most exciting hatch cycles of the season. This is great news for all our anglers who will be arriving in the next few weeks to fish in the Helena, Missoula and Bozeman areas.
Here's a quick breakdown of what we're seeing and hope to expect for the rest of June in Troutopia:
It has been an epic start to our early season and the front end of our annual run-off here in troutopia. Some rivers have already seen near record-breaking flows, while the high water destiny of other watersheds remain unknown. One river in particular, the Blackfoot, already topped out at 19,000cfs; which nearly missed the historical record set in 1964. At this time, we are currently looking forward to the dropping flows and the fantastic fishing ahead. Eventually the bobbers will come off and we will be spending the majority of our time fastening dry flies to the end of our line.
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.