Missoula Fall Fishing

September is here and the Missoula fall fishing season is underway. What used to be considered a shoulder season has now become a favorite time to fly fish for many anglers headed to Missoula. Guides eagerly anticipate fall fishing as well.

The fall hatches top the list of reasons why September/October are prime months in Missoula. Terrestrials like hoppers, ants, and beetles are great options, but the mayflies are what keep the fish looking toward the surface. Fall starts with tiny, technical tricos but we also see huge Hecuba, or fall drakes, Mahogany duns, and Blue-wing olives. With that many options, fishing a single dry fly is a real possibility every day.

The diversity of good fishing options is another big draw to fall fishing. The Clark Fork, Blackfoot, Bitterroot, Rock Creek, and Missouri all fish very well in the fall. That allows anglers to spread out over hundreds of miles of water in the Missoula area. The fast pocket water of the Blackfoot fishes great and so do the slower glides of the lower Clark Fork along with everything in between. Variety and fall fishing go hand in hand.

Weather puts fall fishing over the top. Hazy 90 degree days are a thing of the past. The days are crisp and cool, the air is clear and with a little luck the clouds are overhead. As fall progresses the color change of the trees in the river bottom takes place and there isn’t a prettier time to be fishing in Missoula.

Fall is finally here in Missoula and we plan to relish every day on the water. Our waders are back in the truck and the dry fly rods are ready as we head into the home stretch of the fishing season.

The image above looks inviting doesn’t it? It is what we dream about when we think of our fly fishing trips. The reality is that it doesn’t always work out that way. Being prepared to fly fish Montana can be the difference between awesome days on the water and miserable ones.

I took the photo above on May 9 and it was the start of a 5 day run of spectacular weather on the Missouri river. By the end of it we were wearing shorts and sandals and even complaining that maybe it was a little too warm. It all seems like a distant memory now. Since then it has been cold and wet everyday. We have only seen the sun for a few fleeting moments this past week and 50 degrees seems like a lofty goal at the moment.


The right gear makes all the difference

That kind of weather is tough on anglers and guides alike. Cold fingers make it difficult to manage the fly line and feel what’s going on with the fly rod, hoods make it hard to see and hear, runny noses, and full body chills have all been part of the package lately. But the fishing has been off the charts good.

It’s understandable that anglers don’t get excited to see the 3 day forecast for their trip with highs in the 40’s, rain and a north wind. Guides aren’t chomping at the bit in those conditions either, but there are some keys to making your time on the water more enjoyable when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

  • Take more clothes than you think you need. It’s always colder on the water than it is in town or at the boat ramp.
  • Stay dry. Don’t wait to put the rain gear on. If it starts to sprinkle it’s time to suit up
  • Hand warmers are a day maker. Open them and stick them in pockets before you hit the river.
  • Extra gloves are a must. On cold, wet days I often go through 3 pairs of gloves or more. Keeping hands warm and dry is a key to being able to fish well
  • Surgical gloves are great for anglers. Every fly anglers knows it’s near impossible to fish in full finger gloves. Hands tend to get cold with fingerless gloves as well. Wearing surgical type gloves along with fingerless gloves allows anglers to manage their line and stay warmer
  • Cover your head and neck. You lose a lot of heat up top and sometimes a ball cap isn’t enough. Wear a beenie, use your hood and keep your neck protected with a Buff.
  • If you are just a little cold, add another layer right away. Anglers go from a little cold to too cold faster than you think. Don’t try to tough it out, just add more clothes.


Prepared for a great day on the water

The fishing in Montana is often great during periods of rough weather. Come prepared to endure the elements and it may turn out to be the best fishing of the year. The cold weather continues on the Missouri river and we will be ready for it again tomorrow.

I was jokingly referred to as being a little “salty” in last weeks post. After the winter we have endured I can certainly embrace that salty moniker. Since we are still not on the rivers yet, let’s keep that trend alive and tackle the growing Keep Em Wet campaign.

Keep Em Wet states it “is about releasing fish in the best condition possible. It’s a motto for minimizing air exposure, eliminating contact with dry surfaces, and reducing handling. It’s a movement to empower anglers to take small, simple steps to responsibly enjoy and share fishing experiences.”

I think that it is an awesome idea much like the Kick Plastic campaign, using barbless hooks, and the Clean Drain Dry movement to stop the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. The main problem isn’t with the movements themselves. It’s the zealots who hijack things to serve the growing trend of social shaming.

These folks take an idea like Keep Em Wet and use it to broadcast their sense of moral superiority every chance they get. They are the vegan/crossfit heros of the fishing world. You will find them in the comments section of your news feed. Under a grip n grin photo of a nice fish, “Great fish! Too bad you killed it to get that pic.#keepemwet”

There are no shortage of examples like that out there. The problem is, no one responds well to being called out, either in person or on social media. If your real goal is education about proper fish handling or better fish survival then send someone a considerate direct message. Blasting them in the public comments is just a self righteous circle jerk.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the actual Keep Em Wet movement. They have done an excellent job in their literature of conveying their points without seeming judgmental or condescending. Their logic is fairly bullet proof, the less you handle a fish and the less time it spends out of water the better its chance of survival.

But how far do we take that logic? If you never even hook a fish surely it would have a better chance of survival. In fact if you never even stressed a fish by fishing to it, the fish would have a better chance of survival. Is the No Hook movement next? A cadre of anglers casting flies with the hooks cut off. Where do we draw the line, and how far down the rabbit hole do we want to go?

Personally, I love to photograph trout. They are all different and most of them are exquisitely beautiful. I get to scratch that photo itch often with my client’s fish. When I’m fishing I’m perfectly happy to unhook almost all of them in the net and let them escape quickly. But if I catch 3 permit in a week down in Mexico you can be damn sure I am going to photograph each one of them.

That is exactly what it is like for most of our clients. They don’t get to see thousands of trout each season. They feel lucky to get to fish a handful of days and they are excited to document the process. To them it’s not just another 16″ cutthroat. It’s the most brightly colored fish they have ever caught. The classic grip n grin is a staple for guides across the west and I don’t apologize for it.

Those photos connect anglers to a world they only dabble in. They are memories of the past, motivation for the future, and they translate into money not only for the fishing industry but a multitude of conservation organizations. Some fish certainly die as a result of a photo session, but I also know for a fact that some fish photos serve as a good reminder to send that fat annual donation check. Does that even the scales? Who knows.

I do try to shepherd anglers away from taking a photo of every fish they catch. Instruction on how to prepare and set up the shot is always given so it takes a minimum amount of time. I also show them how to properly hold a fish or I will hold it for them if needed. To become proficient at anything you have to practice, and I would prefer that anglers practice with me than on their own. I try to steer clear of excess, but we don’t shy away from fish pictures in my boat.

Still, I want that fish to live as much or more than anyone else, and most anglers are quick to pick up on that. Over the years I have seen many anglers go from wanting a shot of every trout to only taking one or two fish pics over 4 days. Most of us tend to go through that evolution and I think the Keep Em Wet campaign is trying to accelerate that process through education and awareness. An idea worth considering for sure.

It’s important to remember that we devote an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy to pursue tiny brained fish with whippy rods tossing pieces of feather and fur lashed to hooks only to let them go once we have caught them. Whether you throw a picture in there or not, the entire thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We sure do love it though, and in the end it’s up to you whether you Keep Em Wet or not. Just make sure to disable the comments!

We just returned from an incredible trip fly fishing the Seychelles.  It is a destination that is on the radar of nearly every serious angler, and this year we were able to make it happen.  Just getting to the Seychelles is an adventure in itself.  Two full days of travel were required with long flights and longer layovers.  

Once we arrived on the main island of Mahe there was a moment of relief, immediately followed by horror as we realized our bags didn’t make the flight with us.  After speaking with the airline we were informed that was very little chance of our bags arriving in time for our charter flight to Farquhar the next.  That’s the moment when it really pays off to fish with a top notch operation.  After a couple of emails and a phone call with FlyCastaway we were quickly assured that the team on the island would be able to provide us with all of the fishing gear and clothing that we would need.

After a 2 hour flight the next day we arrived at Farquhar Atoll.  It is the southernmost land mass in the Seychelles and well known for the diversity of its’ fishery.  Farquhar was leveled by a cyclone 18 months ago, yet we were all impressed with our brand new and well-appointed accommodations. We had a great collection of anglers on the island for the week and were eager to get on the water.  

image of Farquhar guesthouse

View of the Farquhar guesthouse from the water

The first thing that comes to mind when most people think of fly fishing the Seychelles is GTs (Giant Trevally), and Farquhar has plenty of those high powered marauders prowling the flats.  We had shots at GTs daily and everyone in the group hooked up.  I have never seen a fish with the closing speed of a GT.  When they decide they want to eat your fly there is absolutely nothing that will stop them.  The take is often ferocious, and if the hook holds then you had best have your drag locked down or they will clean you up in short order.  The reputation GTs have earned as a marquee fly rod species is well deserved.  

image of Farquhar GT

Farquhar GT

What is really astonishing about Farquhar is the sheer number of different species on the flats.  We had shots at permit, bonefish, triggerfish, bluefin trevally, bumphead parrotfish, barracuda, grouper, snapper, sharks, and many, many more.  The abundance of life in a remote healthy ecosystem is overwhelming.  We quickly learned that even though Farquhar is remote, the fishing was demanding.  These fish didn’t just eat everything we threw at them.  They required good presentations and proper technique to bring to hand.

image of Bumphead Parrotfish

Bumphead Parrotfish

image of Triggerfish

Triggerfish

image of Bluefin Trevally

Bluefin Trevally

image of Marble Groupler

Marble Grouper

By the end of the week we were all tired, sore and satisfied.  We hadn’t even left the island yet and the thought of returning was already pulling on us.  The guides were all excellent, the food was outstanding, and the fishing was everything we thought it would be.  If you’ve ever dreamt about fly fishing the Seychelles I can say without hesitation that you should go.  You will not be disappointed.

image of Sunset on Farquhar

Sunset on Farquhar

Winter Fly Tying

Winter Fly Tying

Carnage From Last Season

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.