Here in Missoula we are blessed to have so many fishing choices so close to town. It means that no matter what the conditions are we likely have a good fishing option in the area.
The challenge comes this time of year when we get a bump in our streamflows, either from too much rain or too many warm days which start the snowmelt. Some bumps we hardly notice, only lasting a day or two, but others like this most recent bump are substantial and can stretch out a week or more. It’s at times like these when guides really start to scramble and daily fishing choices become hugely important.
It really does become a chess game because how well something fished yesterday is of little importance compared to the morning streamflow gauge and how likely the weather is to have an impact on those flows. Of course, the safe option as far as consistent fishing goes is to run over to the Missouri. The 2 hour drive to that famous tailwater has saved many a trip for Missoula fishing guides, but if you run to the Mo every time the water bumps a little you will also miss out on some of the best big fish conditions of the year locally.
The two big benefits to water bumps are that it drastically thins out the river traffic, and the big ones come out to play. When the water gets high and off-color most local anglers all but give up on fishing for awhile and many guides either run to the Mo or cancel their trips. That leaves our rivers relatively vacant which means if you are willing to take the gamble you can have your choice on where to fish in solitude.
No Risk, No Reward
And those who gamble stand a good chance to find the biggest trout of the year. Higher water pushes those alpha fish out of their hidey holes and the lack of clarity makes them approachable and catchable. While fishing through these water bumps does have a bright side in the form of big trout, it also has it’s share of perils. Even the most veteran guides still get their butts kicked during water bumps. All of the data available may point toward a certain option being great fishing, and you end up grinding it out for just a trout or two. Fishing may be great in the morning and you can’t wait for the afternoon, then the river completely blows out as mud and floating beaver houses wash by your boat.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but as a guide it is very rewarding to pick the right fishing choices and put your guests on the trout, and as an angler there’s nothing quite like hoisting up the biggest fish of the year on a stretch of river with no one else around.