A Montana Angler’s Spring Fling

Montana Fly Fishing Tripschoose All Inclusive Inset

This article appeared in The Bozeman Magpie on March 24, 2011.

It’s officially spring here in Montana, which means warm and sunny weather today, whiteout blizzard tomorrow. While anglers are obviously excited about hitting the first good fishing of the season, there’s also a sense of urgency, as the impending seasonal run-off starts on most rivers statewide in mid-May. Few devoted anglers can deny dreaming about an extended road trip with no set destination, just the promise of good fishing ahead. The warming days of spring only seem to agitate these desires. Fortunately in Montana, there’s no need for extended trips, since a wealth of great locations lie within a few hours drive.

Those looking for a little help selecting their destinations should consider the following recommendations before the dirty water hits.

While January and February in Montana can bring some great midge fishing, the nice weather days are too few to consider this timeframe among the best fishing of the season. However, as the days of March slowly warm, the rivers literally spring to life. One of the earliest major hatches is the Skwala in western Montana. These beefy stoneflies are easily imitated with Stimulators, Sofa Pillows, Mystery Meats and the like in sizes 6 to 10. After a long winter of minimal activity, the trout prove eager for such a dining opportunity. This feasting exhibition has anglers rushing to the Bitterroot, Clark Fork and Rock Creek, looking for that first tight line of the season.

This hatch⎯like many stonefly hatches⎯can be spotty, but there is hardly a better way to ring in the fishing season than with the possibility of trout eating large dry flies. Seems both anglers and trout are ready to break free of winters cold embrace with this great fishing opportunity.

April brings consistently warmer days, and the options seem limited only by your gasoline budget or level of angling wanderlust. The tailwaters, spring creeks and freestones throughout the state will start to witness plenty of spring baetis. On the more technical water, these small mayflies, also known as Blue-winged Olive, are best imitated with any number of Rene Harrop CDC flies, and subsurface with brown/olives and pheasant tails in sizes 14-18. On the larger freestone rivers, more traditional flies like Parachute Adams, Wulffs, and bead-headed CDC Pheasant Tails will do the trick.

The more noteworthy rivers at this time include the Missouri River, Armstrong Spring Creek, Bighorn River and the Upper Yellowstone River. As the warmth of April increases, an explosion of insects begins with the fabled Mother’s Day Caddis, March Brown’s and continued baetis. The caddis get all the press, but the baetis and March Brown mayflies occur just before and throughout the Mother’s Day Caddis (shown below), ending only when the rivers finally swell with a full-swing run-off. While anglers still have to deal with the occasional bout of snow or cold weather the trout seem to be happy to cooperate with the smorgasbord of eatables spring brings with her.

Spring run-off sullies rivers throughout the state during May and June, meaning a little concentration should be applied on where to head next. As there are limited options, a good choice is to head back to the Big Hole River where the caddis are often just beginning. This river does experience run-off, but its tannic-looking waters rarely yield to that unfishable muddy color for long. By late May, the caddis are popping, but those looking for truly big fish will be throwing a streamer, particularly in brown/yellow. The J.J. Special is certainly a crowd favorite. If the Big Hole does get dirty for a couple days, another short drive will have you fishing the tailwaters of the Beaverhead or the Missouri.

With so many options and all that wonderful activity, the month of May quickly turns into June. From there, the summer season is just a few short weeks in the offing. Tailwaters throughout the state are starting to fish particularly well, but certainly the Bighorn and the Missouri should be vying for the top of the Montana angler’s list. These two rivers tend to fish exceptionally well with nymphs, including Rainbow Czech Nymphs, Scuds, Lightning Bugs, San Juan Worms, Tung Darts, and a variety of others.

Those anglers who prefer to fish dry flies will have limited opportunities in June, however the Paradise Valley spring creeks of Armstrong, DePuy and Nelsonoffer dry fly fishing that is second to none. The Pale Morning Dun (shown right) is a common summer mayfly that typically appears in mid-June on these particular spring creeks. The Big Hole is another river to keep an eye on as the elusive Salmonfly can make its emergence anytime in June depending on the weather and water conditions, but it usually coincides with the onset of the summer season.

Spring awakens dormant life great and small with the receding snow, while the bounty awaiting trout and anglers alike excites the spirit. The aforementioned are just a few of the highlights for the upcoming spring season. But they do introduce good opportunities for many of you to experience exceptional fishing before the onset of summer. In the pursuit, you’re sure to discover unique wonders of your own. Here’s to the start of a great fishing season!


– Eric Adams

Montana Fly Fishing and Winter – Part II

This article was written, by Eric Adams and edited by Blake Maxwell, for The Bozeman Magie Dec 23, 2010 | Vol: 1 and can be viewed in it’s entirety here.

Montana presents a number of great locations to test your adventurous spirit and bask in the warmth of knowledge. Many of Montana’s Rivers are open to fishing year round, but make sure to check the official State of Montana Fishing Regulations as some streams and major rivers have seasonal closures.

Remember a trout’s metabolism in near-freezing water doesn’t allow for aggressive feeding. So the initial step is finding the most obvious places where a trout can feed, but not have to exert unneeded energy. These areas tend to be the opposite of a trout’s typical summer habitat. Look for warmer water temperatures or slower moving water. Finding a location combining these characteristics will stack the odds in your favor.

Southwest Montana boasts some of the richest spring-fed trout streams in the world. These springs flow directly out of the ground and typically maintain a water temperature of about 52 degrees, often a full 18 degrees warmer than non-spring fed rivers. While most of these creeks are located on private land, the landowners of Armstrong’s, DePuy’s and Nelson’s spring creeks do offer access for a small wintertime fee.

For larger waterways in our backyard around Bozeman/Livingston, the mighty Yellowstone River and the Madison River have numerous warm springs that flow into the main channels. Concentrate your fishing on these junctions and be patient. Look for small surface disturbances that might reveal a subtle rise to a dry or the tip of a nymphing fish’s tail. One good location is on the Yellowstone River near Corwin Springs where warmer springs seep into the main river. Another hotspot on the Upper Madison River, the stretch from Quake Lake to Lyon’s Bridge can produce large browns and rainbows on the right day (see trip photo 3, below). Again be sure to check the regulations, as this area is only open from the third Saturday in May until the end of February.

Along with the numerous spring creeks and freestone rivers, tailwaters such as those on the Bighorn, Missouri (below Holter Dam) and the Beaverhead (below Pipe Organ Bridge) offer many miles of good wintertime water. Many of the larger tailwaters, like Missouri, provides, have long sections of slower water. Concentrate on the slowest water you can find and be patient. One particular location on Missouri is just up from the Craig Bridge on river left. It has some ideal slow water, and it’s only a few hundred yards from Joe’s Bar in case a little liquid back-up is in order.

The best advice we have is this: next time you’re looking to satisfy that wintertime fishing itch, get out there. Be adventurous and fish wisely. Go explore. What else are you going to do on a beautiful winter day, sit inside and tie flies? Well, sometimes we do that too.

If you missed Part I of our Montana Fly Fishing in Winter article check it out.
Or you can view the article in its entirety at The Bozeman Magpie.

Montana Fly Fishing and Winter – Part I

Montana Fly Fishing and Winter – Part I

This article was written, by Eric Adams and edited by Blake Maxwell, for The Bozeman Magie Dec 23, 2010 | Vol: 1 and can be viewed in it’s entirety here.

Montana fly fishing and winter? Seems to be a verbal paradox, but good opportunities are out there for the patient and adventurous angler. Most believe fly fishing possibilities hibernate through winter, but for many anglers, the season signifies quality, un-crowded fishing. So we thought in celebration of winter’s official onset it was time to discuss some winter fishing. First, we’d like to convey an experienced approach to winter fishing and describe the ideal scenarios yielding the best results. Second, we’ll review several safety recommendations that you’ll want to consider. Finally, we’ll reveal some of the best places in our part of Montana to fly fish in the winter months. Regarding why someone would voluntarily fish Montana during winter – if you’ve taken the time to read past the title, you are either morbidly curious or you already belong in the category of ‘adventurous.’ With that in mind, let’s discuss the best ways to scratch that fishing itch with the cold and snow.

Again, patience is key, and that means waiting for the right kind of winter weather. Many people picture Montana winters as arctic landscapes with piles of snow and even igloos for shelter. Those of you who haven’t visited here during the winter might be surprised; most of the weather is relatively mild. While arctic cold fronts can and do inundate us with sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions, the Livingston area average daytime highs hover around 40 degrees. That may not strike you as overly warm, but with low winds, sunshine and (normally) low humidity, the days can be surprisingly pleasant. As we’ve always said, “We’ll take 20 degrees in Montana over 35 degrees in the cold and humid upper Midwest any day.” If you have the patience to wait out the weather and time to pick your days, Mother Nature shouldn’t be a limiting factor.

Not only should you wait for conducive weather, but the time of day is also important to your fishing goals. Daylight in Montana is limited during the winter to about eight hours between sunrise and sunset – a dream for those “sophisticated” anglers who prefer to savor their morning coffee. The hours between noon and 3 pm are typically the warmest part of the winter days. This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, trout are cold-blooded animals, which generically means that their environment directly affects their metabolism. By fishing during the warmest part of the day, you’ll increase your exposure to active fish. Second, the majority of southwest Montana’s wintertime hatches occur during the warmest part of the day. These hatches are predominantly midges along with the occasional Baetis or Psuedocleon mayflies. For those not up on your entomology, we encourage the use of a good selection of flies such as Buzz Balls, Griffith’s Gnats, small parachutes in darker colors, Brassie’s, Miracle Midges, Zebra Midges and the like in sizes 16 through 24.

WInter Rainbow
A bend in the rod sure warms the soul

The second key to fly fishing Montana in the winter is an adventurous spirit sufficient to brave the elements. Gear helps; the advances in breathable waders, layering, portable heaters, hand warmers, and weatherproof materials have opened up the whole calendar to the diehard angler. There’s no reason to be cold, wet and miserable ever again. Sure it costs a bit, but adding another five months of fishing certainly offsets a few bucks for those of us with angling fever. And don’t forget the old saying, “A bend in the rod always warms the soul.”

Many of the prime locations for winter fishing are close to civilization, but we would strongly caution even the most adventurous winter anglers to keep safety in mind and have a plan if you misstep and fill your waders. It happens, and hypothermia is a serious result. One of the best recommendations we can make is to fish with a partner. Pairing up is often more fun and certainly a lot safer if someone does need assistance.

One particular danger of winter fishing is shelf ice. Many of the streams will develop a shelf of ice on the banks; these can be quite unstable and may stand well above the water level. Take it from my own personal experience, it’s best to avoid and enter the stream from drier ground. One weak spot in the ice can have your dangling in a hole up to your elbows.

We suggest two invaluable pieces of equipment; a pair of the newer rubber-soled wading boots and a wading staff. Snow and water collect on felt-soled wading shoes and freezes. They end up acting more like ice skates than boots. The wading staff will also help with stability on snow and in the river – it might just save you from taking a very cold bath. Lastly, stow a full change of clothes in your vehicle just in case your luck turns bad.

Read Part II of our Montana Fly Fishing in Winter article where we will discuss the best locations to begin your winter angling…

Or you can view the article in its entirety at The Bozeman Magpie.

Casting Accuracy Part II – Common Mistakes & Solutions

Casting Accuracy Part II – Common Mistakes & Solutions

This is part of a series about Improving your Casting Accuracy – Part I can be found here.

In this post on casting accuracy, we want to eliminate some obvious errors in technique that we see on a daily basis.  If you can fix any of these issues your casting will improve in a single day!

Problem #1 – Breaking your wrist
This is a loop and distance killer.  Remember casting the fly line is all about controlling the line in the air.  So having good loop control starts with not bending/braking your wrist – especially on the back cast.
Solution – if you just can’t seem to fix this is to stick the butt of your rod in your long sleeved shirt.  Try it and you’ll be amazed!

Problem #2 – Bringing the rod back too far on your back cast
Again that’s another loop killer.  Many of our fishing guests come from parts of the country where a windy day is 15 mph.  Well, welcome to the West where that’s pretty much our normal breeze.  Hence the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock technique taught by many does not work in a stiff wind.  I tell all my beginner anglers that if you can’t see your rod hand in your peripheral vision you are going too far back.  If you must think of it as a clock face then 9:30 to 12:30 would be a better example.
Solution – have someone stand behind you for a few minutes and physically stop your hand if it goes too far back. You can also watch your cast, stopping your hand before it goes too far back.

Problem #3 – Trying to cast too far
This is where all anglers eventually breakdown.  Fortunately, this is easily solved.  It’s as simple as moving closer.  If you can move closer to a trout do it.  Casting 35+ feet for a trout is only for specific scenarios, the closer you can get (without spooking the trout) the better your accuracy will be.  To get distance and accuracy is all about having good technique and practicing at it.
Easy Solutionstop casting too far and move closer!  Remember a 30 foot cast is only about three times as long as your nine foot rod.

Problem #4 – Not practicing or practicing incorrectly
Solution – As we’ll continue to harp on, practice in your yard, driveway or local park after walking the dog.
Better Solution – Move to Montana where you can fish about 9 months a year.  We promise you’ll be an expert caster in just one year.

Problem #5 – arises from the aforementioned ‘solution’ – you get fired from your job, have no money, your girlfriend/wife dumps you, you end up working in a fly shop for pennies and have no time to go fishing.
Solution – just come fishing with us for a few more days a year.