We are still stuck indoors for the most part in Missoula. February left us with our biggest dump of snow and March has started with the coldest temperatures of the winter. To fill the void I am thinking of creating a contest.
Contests are all the rage on social media these days so why not a Skwala Contest 2019? I am still fleshing out the details and open to suggestions. With the current weather I don’t imagine the contest will begin anytime soon. True to the social media age, pics or it didn’t happen will apply, and points awarded based on posts to social media outlets.
Here is what I have so far:
-10 points – That damned snowpack graphic. We get it. We all love snow and it benefits the river, but it’s only a part of the water year picture. That 110% of average turns into Hoot owl restrictions by July 4 with two weeks of hot weather. Get more creative than the same tired old graph.
-20 points – The migration. Pics of skwala nymphs or comments about how they’re eating skwala nymphs and the hatch is only days/hours/minutes away. Trout eat rubber legs 363 days of the year around Missoula. The fact that they are eating them on March 11 is not newsworthy.
-30 points – Any “first” skwala of the season pic. We are not lining up for recess in grade school here. “First” doesn’t really mean much. If it is really some of the first skwalas that have hatched then the trout aren’t really looking up for them yet. All you have done is tipped off the masses that the hatch is beginning. -100 points if you jump the gun and post a skwala pic from last year on your phone on the first 40 degree day of March.
-40 points – “Gotta love Skwala season” Any post to that effect with strike indicators in the shot. You can nymph them up year round so pitching bobbers in the spring is nothing special. I don’t care how you catch fish, but Skwala season is about fishing dry flies. -100 points if the san juan worm is still in the fishes mouth.
-50 points – “Ate the skwala dry fly” Any pic with a Chubby Chernobyl in the fishes mouth. The Chubby is a great fly but I still have no idea why trout eat them, especially when you hold one up next to a real skwala. Chubby eaters are the equivalent to guys wearing NASCAR t-shirts. There’s always going to be a couple in every crowd. Still doesn’t make it right.
-60 points – “Spring special”. If you are going to pump the skwala hatch as some of the best fishing of the year/best chance to catch a big brown on a dry/best single dry fly fishing then why on earth would you offer cut rate pricing?
As you can see, it’s been a long winter. We are ready to get back on the water but that is going to have to wait just a little longer this season.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of honesty in fly fishing these days. From the Instafamous taking pics of average sized trout just right to make them look huge to the girls posing for grip-n-grins in bikinis. Who knew long arms would be a marketable commodity, and if you’re in a bikini you are fishing for Likes not what’s in the water.
I could easily go off the rails on this one, but the topic of honesty in fly fishing came up recently with another guide talking about the guide/client relationship. As guides our job is to produce the best possible fly fishing experience on a daily basis. Good guides do this consistently, but even the best hit bumps in the road and often the root cause is a lack of honesty.
Clients don’t often lie about their skill level, but why they would lie about that at all is a total mystery. It only takes a couple minutes once we are on the water to see the skill set I am working for the day so why lie about it at the hotel in the morning? Now there’s a chance I may have picked a float that offers scenarios above our pay grade. Once we are on the water I can’t opt out for a different stretch of river that plays better to your actual skill level.
One of the bigger issues is clients being honest about who they are as an angler. Yes, we all want to catch 20 inchers on dry flies from start to finish but that’s not a reality most days. Are you an action junkie who likes a bent rod all day or do you prefer to hunt for just a few big fish? We can cater to either, but usually not both at the same time.
2 + 2 = 5
A good example is a couple guys who told me in the morning they were DFO (dry fly only) anglers. I love fishing dries and enjoy that approach. Based on the conditions I picked a float where I thought we had the best chance of successfully fishing dry flies from ramp to ramp. The first hour was a little slow with only a couple fish and one of the anglers turns to me and asks, “Should we be fishing a dropper?” Excuse me sir, but if I knew you guys would fish droppers I would have picked an entirely different river for the day.
Honest expectations are in short supply on some days. The classic example is when an experienced angler brings their spouse or child/grandchild. In the morning they say, “I’ve been fishing for years so I’ll be fine, just take care of my wife/son/etc.” At some point they realize they’re not catching as many as when they’re in the bow with their 20 year fishing partner along. They can even get a little pouty.
For the guide the dynamics are much different in a boat with a new angler versus two experienced anglers. We love introducing new anglers to the sport, but if you want them to have a great experience then we have to focus on them and that means you are not going to catch as many or even have as many opportunities in the back. If you want your new angler to love the sport as much as you then they need to have the best day possible. If they do, you will be trading off on rising fish for years to come.
Anglers not being fully honest with their guide isn’t a deal breaker. At the end of the day the guide is still going home, having a beer, and getting ready to head out again in the morning. It just makes it a little harder for guides to deliver the type of fishing experience anglers have been day dreaming about at their office for the whole year.
Next time we will talk about honest guides…..if I can find one!
The holidays are behind us and our attention has turned to the upcoming fishing season. It is always a challenge to make an accurate Montana Fishing Forecast, especially at this early date. We still have a long way to go before we will be sure of our snowpack. Spring rainfall and temperatures will also have a big part to play in how the season turns out.
While it is too early to predict with any confidence the specifics of our upcoming fishing season, we can rely on historical averages and the general patterns of our Montana fishing season. It is supposed to be an El Nino year, but so far it is late to arrive. El Nino typically means a warmer, drier winter but at the moment our area snowpack is near average with extended cold in the forecast.
Honestly, as guides and anglers we worry about this information a little too much. Over the past 20 seasons I have seen big snowpack years quickly turn into low water and a dismal snowpack winter salvaged by big rainfalls and below average temperatures. Bottom line, it will be what it will be, and often it turns out differently than we expected.
With that perspective in mind, our 2019 Montana fishing forecast looks promising overall. Here is what I expect:
- March-April: Skwala stonefly season. Many of our biggest dry fly trout of the season come during this hatch. Some years it’s a roller coaster with changing water flows, others it’s smooth and steady throughout.
- May: We spend the entire month on the mighty Missouri river. This tailwater provides more reliable water conditions during run-off and the over 5,000 big trout per mile doesn’t hurt either. El Nino typically produces excellent conditions for the Missouri with consistent nymphing and exciting dry fly opportunities.
- June: Salmonflies and Golden Stones, the mere mention of those two giant hatches sends many anglers into a frenzy. June produces more big trout than any other month around Missoula. Some years it is lights out dry fly fishing with huge dries and other years it is mostly nymphs and streamers. El Nino stacks the odds in favor of the dry fly anglers.
- July: Wet wading season is in full effect with a myriad of hatches through the month. We start the month with Goldens, Drakes, PMDs, Yellow Sallies, and finish off with Spruce moths and Hoppers. The fishing is solid, but we may have to set early alarm clocks if fishing restrictions go into effect.
- August: This month is becoming known for a time to find solitude in our area. Fishing restrictions and forest fires are a possibility, but anglers this time of year can have entire stretches of river all to themselves. Fast water areas are prime for big, juicy hoppers while slower reaches are the domain of technical trout on tricos and small terrestrials.
- September/October: Fall is our most consistent season. Any issues with fires or water conditions are a thing of the past. Hoppers are still on the menu, but several different mayfly hatches are the main attraction. There is a reason why fall dates are the first to book each year.
How will the 2019 Montana fishing season play out? It is anyone’s guess at this point. The only thing we know for sure is that we will be out there everyday enjoying what we do. Be sure not to miss out on Montana this year!
August is our slowest month of the fishing season in Missoula. The risk of forest fires and fishing restrictions have caused anglers to shy away from what used to be one of our more popular times. It is certainly understandable, but for the anglers willing to gamble on August there are some secrets of summer fishing that can make for an awesome trip to Montana.
August is your best chance to find unpressured trout. There are stretches of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork that may not see a guide boat for days during August. If you find yourself on one of those stretches where the trout have been rested it can provide some of the best hopper fishing of the season. There are a ton of fishing options around Missoula and many days in August you will have an entire stretch of river to yourself.
Early on, early off is the key to success. Water temps are most favorable early, before the heat of the day sets in. The trout know this and they feed most aggressively during this time period. Take in a gorgeous Montana sunrise and stick some nice trout when it’s most comfortable for everyone. Get back to town and cleaned up to make the most of all Missoula has to offer in the late afternoon and evening.
Skill is rewarded in August. A well placed hopper in just the right spot next to a log jam or a solid reach cast on target to a rising trout is the way to find the biggest trout during summer. Take advantage of your existing skills and be willing to learn some new ones. Time spent learning new fly fishing skills will pay off for seasons to come.
Take what the river gives you. We all want to fish single dry flies to large trout. Some days we are able to pull that off. Other days the fish are pounding droppers or they want to chase a streamer. Other times the trout fishing is off all together and we are able to have fun sessions chasing northern pike or smallmouth bass. Stay flexible in the summer to have the best fishing that you can. In the past week our biggest trout came on a streamer and another angler landed a solid pike for the biggest fish of her career. They adapted to the conditions and had a great trip.
We are enjoying some solitude and good fishing this August. Not much in the way of forest fires and no fishing restrictions yet. There are definitely some secrets of summer fishing and our anglers have been enjoying themselves on the river.
Summer fishing season has finally arrived in Missoula! A big snow year combined with a cool and wet spring resulted in high water all through May and June. There were some great moments, but we did not see consistent dry fly fishing like we always hope for in June. That has changed. All the Missoula area rivers are dropping and clearing, and the dry fly bite has gained momentum in the last few days.
Based on the current conditions this looks to be our best July and August in several years. There have been many years where are temps are in the 80’s-90’s by mid-June and by the time we get to July we are meeting at dawn to take advantage of the cool weather and active trout. Yesterday we saw a high of 63 and we have been able to meet at a leisurely 8 am for weeks.
All of the Missoula rivers have plenty of water and the water temperatures are ideal for this time of year. The next couple of weeks will produce a myriad of good hatches from golden stoneflies, pale-morning duns, green drakes, yellow sallies, and caddis. During hot, low water years we run through our hatch cycles very quickly, but during high water years the hatches are much more sustained. The last high water year produced a golden stone hatch that went through the third week in July and we could very well see that again this year.
August is our sleeper month. Anglers are a little hesitant about fishing in August because of the chance of fishing restrictions and forest fires. As a result August has become the month with the least amount of river traffic during the entire season. If you enjoy solitude then August is the month for you. In a high water year we can have fantastic dry fly fishing in August. Hoppers are the main game, but there are also good hatches of tricos, fall drakes, and spruce moths.
We will be in shorts and sandals for the next couple months enjoying the best that summer fishing season has to offer. It promises to be some of our best dry fly fishing this year and the crowds will thin by mid-July. If you have a trip planned your in luck, and if you are thinking of coming out we still have some availability left.