Winter Fly Tying always begins with the unenviable task of cleaning. The fly tying desk has laid dormant since the end of the guide season in the fall. No time to tie during the hectic hunting season and certainly no thoughts of cleaning occur during the overdone mess that has become our American holiday season. Only now, in the depths of winter, I face the reality of sorting through the wreckage from last year. Typically the tying desk stays relatively well organized through the middle of the guide season. Flies get tied at night when stocks run low and materials are returned to their rightful places. All is right in the fly tying world until fatigue starts to creep in. After two weeks straight on the river in the heat of late July the last thing I want to do is sit at the vise in the evening. But my desire to catch trout outweighs my need for a full nights sleep. The fly shops either don’t have what I need, or they are out of stock so at the desk I sit. To conserve time and energy I start to cut corners. Materials begin to accumulate on the table. It starts out small scale as I tell myself that I’ll need to tie more of the same in the coming nights. Then conditions change on the rivers. The trusty PMD pattern that had been getting it done all week starts to get snubbed in favor of a rusty spinner. That’s the tipping point and the downward spiral ensues. Instead of putting away all the PMD stuff it simply gets pushed to the side and out comes the rusty spinner materials. This scenario plays out for a few months and the pile takes on a life of it’s own. I think about cleaning, but only have enough time to crank out three bugs over a cup of coffee before picking up clients. It usually gets to the point where the desk itself is barely visible and instead of putting stuff away it just goes to the floor. By the time the last guide day rolls around I’m lucky if I can even find my tools and there is a big sigh of relief when I push my chair back for the last time of the season. Of course, now all the clutter comes calling. Cleaning the tying desk is never that enjoyable although it does allow me to relive the highlights from the previous year. I can always recall the best hatches by what is laid out, and each layer that is put back in the bins takes me back through the season. It took a couple of days this time, but the desk is finally ready for some winter fly tying. I don’t even try to pretend anymore that this year I’ll do better. The chaos will come again.
Most of the hunting seasons have all but wrapped up, and we have had a little time to reflect back on the top 5 fishing moments of 2015. Overall it was a mixed season, as most tend to be, with some stretches of incredible angling and other times when we found ourselves scratching our head. Here are the best moments:
- Skwala Hatch This spring hatch is the most highly anticipated of the year. It is the first big dry fly of the season, and its arrival in March coincides with the peak of cabin fever for most fly fishing enthusiasts. How good or bad the hatch is in any given year is almost irrelevant because anglers are simply happy to get out on the water. This year was a solid hatch though with Skwalas coming off early in March and good water levels through most of April. Some of our biggest trout of the season hit the net during Skwalas and 2015 was no exception.
- Missouri River in May Late April through early June is runoff around Missoula when our freestone rivers are usually unfishable. Fortunately the Missouri is an incredible tailwater fishery that is only 2 hours away. Consistent nymphing and technical dry fly fishing to large rainbows and browns brings anglers back year after year. We were blown away by the great dry fly fishing this season. Blue-wing olives early in May and then caddis from late May into early June. Big brown trout sipping dry flies will always make the list.
- Smith River Floating the fabled Smith River is
something every fly angler should do at least once in their life. We are fortunate to be able to get on the Smith about every other year. The trick with the Smith is timing. The best fishing and floating revolves around runoff and since launches are permitted, anglers are committed to their dates months in advance. This year our dates were absolutely perfect and the fishing was off the charts! We had good dry fly fishing from day one on, and boated lots of big brown trout throughout the float. An added bonus was gorgeous weather for the entire trip. It was a storybook trip from start to finish and the finest overnight trip I’ve ever been on. Unfortunately the Smith River is still under threat from a large scale copper mine. Visit Save our Smith to see what you can do to help.
- Salmonfly Hatch This is the biggest bug of the
entire season and it creates hysteria through the fly fishing community. Much of the hype can be overrated as Salmonflies come off during runoff and the hatch is historically very hit or miss, especially for the visiting angler. One good day of Salmonflies is worth the risk though. “Hit” the hatch right and some of the biggest trout of the year come up to gobble comically huge dry flies. Low water years are usually best, and last season’s low water conditions created some of the best Salmonfly fishing in recent memory. We chased Salmonflies for a solid month from Rock Creek, to the Bitterroot Forks, the Blackfoot, and even the lower Clark Fork. Some years those big orange bugs make us pull our hair out, last season we giggled for weeks with heavy nets and dry fly eats.
- Spruce Moth Hatch This is a notoriously
unreliable hatch. Some years it hardly happens at all and rainy, cool weather can stop this mid-summer hatch in its tracks. It comes off best on Rock Creek, the West Fork of the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and parts of the lower Clark Fork. I’m not sure what it is about spruce moths, but it is more than simply food for trout because they go absolutely crazy for this terresterial bug. Big trout throw caution to the wind in crystal clear water to feast on this hatch. This season we had dry fly pandemonium for a couple of weeks when the moths showed up in July. Lots of healthy cutthroats on the Blackfoot and West Fork, and the best wade fishing of the season on Rock Creek.
We had more than our share of great angling in 2015 and these top 5 moments only highlight a few. We always enjoying looking back, but we are also already anxiously waiting for what next season will bring. Change is the only constant in the fly fishing world and I am excited for the new year!
The 2015 Fishing Season wrapped up at the end of this past month. There may still be the occasional afternoon on the water when the weather is nice, but we are done guiding for the year. The trout are resting in relative solitude and you might assume that Missoula fly fishing guides are taking a break too, but nothing could be futher from the truth. After a long season on the water a little respite is certainly in order, but fall is packed so full of potential that hardly a day can be wasted. All of the fishing guides I know are out chasing their other passions right now. Some are swinging flies for steelhead, others are pursuing upland birds and waterfowl with their trusty dogs, while almost everyone else is in the mountains looking to fill their freezers with deer and elk. Many of us will try to pack as much into this small window of time as possible. Since the fishing season ended I have already been on a once in a lifetime backcountry moose hunt, filled my antelope tag, hunted deer with my son, and spent several days behind my lab flushing pheasants, sharp tail, and huns. I’m home at the moment, but I’m already planning my next trip, either a return to bird country or a few days in mountains after elk. There will be time enough to rest during the short days of winter. Right now is the time to be out there before this short, precious season passes us by for another year. We are lucky in Montana to have one of the best and longest fishing seasons in the country, and luckier still to have so many other incredible outdoor opportunities each fall. The 2015 fishing season was a good one, and we will be looking forward to next season as it approaches. For the moment you will have to excuse us, there are just too many other options.
Our fall hatches have started around Missoula and it is always a highly anticipated event each season. The summer heat and tourist traffic fades away and the rising trout start to appear again on our rivers. The mayflies our are main attraction with Mahagony duns showing up first, followed by Blue-wing Olivers. These hatches make the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers hard to beat in the fall, but they also show up in respectable numbers on the Blackfoot and Rock Creek. The October Caddis is a favorite on those latter two streams with trout crushing big, bushy caddis imitations on the Creek and Blackfoot. The lighter river traffic allows these fish to get more comfortable with coming to the surface to eat. Even on days when the hatch is light you can still motivate trout to the surface with a well placed dry fly. Under the same conditions a couple weeks ago, a dropper or nymph was the only to illicit a strike but we have moved into the dry fly season. It’s still just fishing, and we certainly can have our share of tough days in the fall, but they seem to be fewer and the dry fly rod become the rod of choice. We still fish our share of droppers in the morning when the action can be slower, and an avid streamer angler is always welcome in the boat this time of year, but after lunch it’s time to see what the dry fly can do. A forward angle with a reach cast and a long drift can produce some surprising results this time of year. Our trout know that winter is on the way and they want to feed. That urge to feed is only tempered by the fact that they have been fished to all season long. Show them a dry fly on a good drift and the odds are that they will eat it this time of year.
Fall Fly Fishing has arrived early this year in Missoula. All the signs are here, the crisp mornings, color change in the trees, and best of all the trout have shifted into fall feeding mode. Yet again during this challenging season the weather gave us a huge break. Wildfires had been breaking out all over the west and our valleys were choked with thick smoke by the end of August. Most of us thought it would be a warm and smoke filled September, but a series of cold fronts have moved through and brought us colder temps and much, much needed moisture. The smoke is gone and those classic Big Sky views have returned. The recent weather changes have also kicked the fishing up a few notches as well. The days are numbered now before winter sets in and our trout start feeding with a sense of urgency in the fall. Brown trout are beginning their pre-spawn migrations and these critters start to show up in unexpected places in the fall. A new round of hatches will also keep fish looking toward the surface throughout the month. Hoppers are still very relevant and the tricos will be around in spots for another few weeks, but the buzz right now is the Hecuba, or fall drake, hatch on all our rivers. These bugs come off best in the Bitterroot and Blackfoot, and it’s hard to beat fishing a size 10 mayfly in crystal clear water. The Mahagony duns and blue-wing olives won’t be far behind and it’s why September is one of the most popular months in the Missoula area. Fall fly fishing is undoubtedly the angler’s season. It’s a time of year when a skilled angler is truly rewarded. The trout have seen it all at this point in the year, but they still have to feed and a good drift with the right fly will put them in the net most days in the fall. We love fishing this time of year, and it should only get better as we edge futher into the month.