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.
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.
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.
June was a great month, and we have quickly transitioned into summer fishing season. All of the Missoula area rivers are dropping, clearing, and coming into shape. New fly fishing options in the region are opening up each day. The Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork are all fishing well and our biggest problem is deciding where to go each day.
Along with the new fishing options, there are a host of new hatches as well. Pale-morning duns, Bitterroot stones, yellow sallies, caddis, and the last of the green drakes are making an appearance daily. There is something for every angler at the moment. We have all day dry fly fishing to feisty cutthroats, post up rising trout scenarios to bigger fish, dry/dropper fishing for a mixed bag, and even some good streamer action for the die-hard.
As summer fishing season takes hold, we need to adapt to the changes. This year July has come in dry and hot. We still have plenty of water in the rivers but those willing to get up early will reap the rewards of cooler temps and more active trout. The last two hours of daylight this time of year can provide some excellent dry fly fishing during the caddis hatch as well. Just keep an eye on water temps, if the weather stays hot it may become too hard on the trout to fish the evenings.
As the summer progresses we will fish on all of our over 300 miles of local water in Missoula. It is a fantastic time to fly fish Montana. We have traded our waders for shorts and sandals, loaded up on the sunscreen, and filled our dry fly boxes.
Camp life on the Smith River is one of the highlights on this 5 day overnight trip. You’re never quite sure what is going to happen in camp, and by day 5 the activites skew toward the creative. Last year on the Smith, gear guys Sam and Max decided to blow off a little steam once the final desserts of the trip had been served. We always wonder what the gear guys do all day before we make it to camp. Now we have a little better idea.
We are getting to that time of year when Smith River applications are due. The deadline is Feb. 18th and you can find all the information you need HERE
It’s that time of year again when our local Missoula rivers start to go out of shape and we head on over east of the divide to the Missouri river. Craig, Montana is the hub for fly fishing on the Missouri, and it’s a funky little trout town that I absolutely love. I was just over there and at the end of the day had a beer with three local guides. Over the course of 10 minutes I heard stories about “Blue Truck Joey”, “Teardrop John”, and “Mudpuddle.” Yeah, it’s that kind of place. There are 3 fly shops, one restaurant, and one bar in Craig. If you need gas head upstream to Wolf Creek and for groceries look downstream to Cascade. If you show up in early March the town is nearly dead. Joe’s bar is the only place guaranteed to be open although a couple fly shops are usually staffed if the weather isn’t horrendous. Roll through Craig in June and it’s a completely different story. Every flat piece of ground will have a drift boat parked on it, clusters of guides and clients mill around in the morning, and Izaak’s restaurant and Joe’s bar will both be packed in the evening. Depending on the season, we will spend 6 to 10 weeks over on the Missouri each year and over time we have learned a few things to make surviving the Missouri river season a little easier.
You will drink too much….be prepared! There’s no reason to even say, try not to drink too much. There are only 3 things to do in Craig, fish, eat, and drink. You can only fish so much, and after dinner there is nothing left to do except drink. Don’t believe me? Just watch the locals. Your best bet is to down some advil and a Gatorade before bed. Wake up and add more advil and Gatorade, hope the fishing is good in the morning and you’ll be OK by lunch.
Take good care of your buddies who live in Craig. Lodging is a challenge in Craig so if you are lucky enough to have friends in the area then treat them like gold. Lodging options range from staying with clients in a rental cabin on the high end to sleeping in the back of your truck on the low end. Treat your Craig friends to copious amounts of wild game and beer, maybe even do the dishes once in a while.
Don’t be an A-hole on the river. The Missour river is a busy stream, but it’s big and there are usually plenty of fish to go around. That guide you low-holed in the morning might be on a bar stool next to you that night with 6 of his buddies.
Bring cash! Joe’s bar doesn’t take credit cards or checks, and yes you will find yourself at Joe’s bar if you are staying in Craig.
Go home when they start pouring shots of Fireball!!! I know I already said you will drink too much in Craig, but when the locals start buying rounds of Fireball it’s time for you to leave. Most non-residents of Craig can’t handle that level of drinking. Being a little hungover in the morning is one thing, getting black-out drunk and barely functioning in the AM is only made worse when you see the locals already at work and looking just fine.
This week’s photo is from a section of the Missouri river dubbed the Land of the Giants. It was a special treat for me as one of my long-time clients asked me to join him for a day of fly fishing at Land of the Giants. This particular stretch of river is only accessible by jet boat, and we were guided by Capt. Scott Willumsen. This piece of water surely lives up to it’s reputation as we caught a pile of big rainbows. The canyon is absolutely stunning and the fishing makes it a trip that everyone should experience at least once.
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