The Missoula Fishing Report hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past week. High streamflows this spring have remained the biggest challenge to consistent fishing in the Missoula area. It has been best when flows have been level for a couple days or dropping. When the rivers bump it is time to check out other options and in the past week we’ve fished everywhere from Missoula rivers, the Missouri, a spring creek, and even a lake. With one notable exception it was a great week on the water. Most visiting anglers want a sure thing, they want reliable fishing, stable water, and nice weather. Guides want that too, and I could crank out a season under those exact conditions happily. But I would miss all those big fish, especially those big brown trout. While big water often provides unpredictable fishing conditions, it also produces the largest trout of the year. Those alpha fish don’t have anywhere to hide when the water is high. They are pushed to the banks, the side channels and the soft water. You won’t necessarily rack up huge numbers of fish in these conditions, but you may end up with the trout photo that sits on your desk for years to come.
The Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Clark Fork have all given up some extra large trout in spots over the past week. It hasn’t been easy fishing. A sharp eye on streamflows and weather along with experience and a willingness to gamble have been required for success. This week in high water conditions we put more 20+” fish in the boat than the rest of the season so far. Our water levels look to remain above average until run-off sets in for real. We will continue to walk the tight rope until then, and the fish that hit the net will be well worth the effort.
The Missoula fishing report hasn’t changed much in the past week. The Skwala hatch is still sputtering along. If you are in the right place at the right time you could see a good push of bugs, but overall through the system they are still just trickling off. The added challenge this week is the increased boat traffic. Fishing pressure always spikes at the end of March and beginning of April and we’ve been seeing that this week. A little creativity goes a long way in getting away from the pressure, and at this point in the hatch it can pay big dividends. The fishing has been solid with the dropper game carrying the lions’ share of the workload. The dry fly fishing is decent and can be good with the absolute right drift in the exact right spot. The fish have seen enough big bugs that they will eat them in the soft water, but they aren’t blasting them in the random spots when the hatch is full force. Right now the fishing is decent most days and skilled anglers are rewarded with a solid dry fly bite. A little drag on the drift or a fly 6″ out of place go untouched. Things are progessing though, I saw the most bugs of the season so far today, and if our water holds the coming week could be when the fly fishing busts wide open. Time will only tell, but I for one am looking forward to getting back out there in hopes of bugs rolling and fish gobbling.
The 2014 fishing season has started and it’s about to get busy here in Missoula. While I still have the time I thought I would share some of our winter time activites when we can’t be out on the water. My good friend, Karl Jones, is one of the best wooden boat builders in the west. Production at Bitterroot Boatworks is limited because Karl is a full time guide, but every off-season he usually refinished a couple guide set-ups and finds a little time for some Missoula boat building. I kept tabs on him this winter and produced a short video that’s worth a look.
I wish I could report the Skwala hatch was in full swing on the Bitterroot. It’s not. Conditions are trending in the right direction with dropping streamflows, warm days, and a mild forecast, but the bugs aren’t out quite yet. I stopped several times on the water yesterday and looked in vain for an adult skwalas. While I didn’t find any bugs crawling around on the banks, there was no shortage of nymphs in shallows. Most of the skwala nymphs were 18″ to two feet from dry land and with the dropping flows there could be adults on the prowl by this weekend.
Our fishing on the Bitterroot was solid considering the conditions. All the fish we caught were on nymphs, and skwala nymph patterns proved to be most effective. The most active part of the day was from 2 o’clock on which is typical for this time of year. Fish can’t be found river wide yet and we had to focus on the slower insides and riffle edges to get eats.
Anglers who are used to fishing the Skwala hatch this time of year are in for some big surprises. Normally flows on the Bitterroot river are low and clear through most of March which is great for wade fisherman. This season the river is big, it will drop and clear in the next few days but I think river levels are going to remain high enough to be challenging for wade fisherman for most of the month. The upside is that these bigger flows will keep the Bitterroot’s alpha fish in play through the whole Skwala hatch. Keep an eye on those flows….the dry fly season is about to start.
We are digging out from yet another winter storm here in Missoula. This latest round has closed schools (unheard of in these parts), shut down interstates, and brought avalanches within the city limits. The bright side is that all of this fluffy white stuff will help ensure healthy stream flows through the summer, but at this point everyone is pretty much tired of winter. I’m sick of it too, but it has brought a certain unusual delight.
Most years the valley is buzzing in anticipation of the Skwala hatch by early March. This hatch has gained in popularity over time, but it has gotten a little out of hand since the advent of social media. Between the fly shops, college kids, and road trippers it’s a constant stream of posts, tweets, and pins all revolving around Skwalas. If one were to rely solely on these sources they might believe that the Skwala hatch is the most consistent unbelievable fishing of the year. This season the feed has been astonishingly quiet. Record cold and snow for February will do that. No grin-n-grins of trout on stonefly nymphs, no shots of PBRs chilling in a snowbank while wade fishing, no tweets of “3 trout looked at my Skwala dry today dude!” This February weather shut down the fishing in the valley and the social media stream.
It will be a little later start to the season than normal, but the weather forecast is for warmer temps and the thaw will begin. We will likely be on the water by next week to check the progress of the hatch. I’m excited because the trout will be a lot fresher than in years past. Most seasons a bad case of cabin fever results in anglers out on the water my mid-Feb. wading, floating, and generally pestering the trout with nymph rigs. This year they have been relatively untouched all month and that’s good news for spring fishing.