Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Scott Week, 2017

Dog Days are almost over. All of us river hounds have been praying for just a teeny tiny break after a hottest summer we can remember. The sweltering heat of summer is drawing to a close as morning temperatures hint autumn is looming ever closer on the horizon. Hunting season. Steelhead season. Travel to tropical climates. Winter time and ski season are nearer than we would care to believe despite the smoke of forest fires hazing up the Bitterroot skyline. A little snowfall is still a fond dream and can't get here fast enough to put out blazing mountains out once and for all.

Anyhow. This summer of 2017 has been one for the record books with too many back-to-back days rowing around looking for trout to count. Our water has held out and stayed cold keeping the trout happy and hatches ticking. June and July always seems to pass in a blur but this summer even more so. Its a long road to a hundred days and there isn't much time or space for other things while the grind is going on. This blog has fallen far far down the priority list somewhere below splitting a winters worth of firewood and above burning irrigations ditches. Everything in its own good time I suppose. The changing chores and prioritization of projects are the simple pivots of seasonal living in Montana, their cycle changing little from year to year.

Seeing the Brothers Scott is one of those seasonal pivots for me. Like the different seasons separated by Western Tanagers and Cedar Waxwings their arrival signals the madness and heat of July is almost spent, heading now somewhere between mid-summer madness and the slow afterburn of autumn. And it also means some gangbusters fishing is about to be had as well. Shooters in the boat usually means quality fishing. Yesssss.

They have been coming to Montana longer than I have been a fishing guide but not by much. The two things are becoming synonymous in my memory. Their annual trip fishing with me has had many chapters by now, with plenty of adventures, hangovers, characters, campfire stories and big fish populating them. We kept the travel to a minimum this year and soaked up all the Bitterroot has to offer. Both the low river and the Fork' produced quality fishing for us. We have no favorites, just take me to where the fish are biting. We also soaked up the biggest party in Hamilton with the Bitterroot Brewfest closing out the trip. I feel the legend finds a way and keeps growing every year.

Until next summer finds us sitting on the ledge between the last lazy vacations days of summer and predictable schedule of autumn I will look forward to fishing these boys again.

Thank you Gents


Monday, April 24, 2017

Slow Burning Spring Dry Flies pt. 2

It seems too good to be true.

The rivers of western MT just keep on ticking. Even the ol' Clark Fork has come to life these last few days. Something for everyone out on the river lately and we are soaking it up. We have had a good run this (late) spring with happy repeat clientele and plenty of rising trout to boot. While the weather has swung from bluebird sunshine to blustery to costal Alaskan mist the fishing has remained consistent and at some times stellar. Stellar I say. The afternoon top water bite has spoiled us this year, so much so that we gotta go and do something special in June to top this.

This week the March Browns have popped in full will flotillas of the little kickers showing up like lunchtime clockwork. The fish have taken notice. The Skwala fishing is still the go-to for us daily boat jockys but a little mid-day head-hunting with the sneaky mayfly offers welcome variety. Tying on a #14 parachute behind the big bug or just straight up committing to the smaller fly has paid off recently with some stunning fish hitting the net. Don't just believe me, believe the pictures and the raving reviews.

Mr. Brown

Also Mr. Brown

Like all things that are good this cannot last forever. The specter of high water runoff is looming as the afternoons continue to get warmer. Second week of May? Sooner? With every rainy morning in the valley the snowpack coasts another day into the heat of summer. With our current 115% snowpack waiting in the hills the time is coming soon. The Big Hole will soon be calling us over the divide with relief from the monster, muddy, rock-grinding, tree-falling Bitterroot.

Until then. . . .

Bruce The Moose

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Slow Burning Spring Dry Flies

The Spring Equinox has just past and the bite for western Montana seems to be turning around. While the nymph game has been consistent for weeks now the top water action started out anemic at best. Some times we are honest on this blog. Sometimes. It has not been a gangbuster start to the flyfishing season this year and that much was expected: With all the snow accumulated this winter along with a record-setting stretch of cold temps the rivers are slow to warm this year. While some have quickly grown accustomed to finding superb spring fishing as early as mid-February these past several drought years, this spring is a return to the Skwala hatch being more of a gamble. This past two weeks, however, has seen the fish shake off the winter slumber and go back to eating on the surface full time. Man oh man is it fun when things come back to life!

This past week has seen a change in fortune for the dry fly flickers. More numerous and more willing surface feeders are lined up opportunistically sipping the well-presented Skwala. Any day now we should be seeing our first consistent March Brown hatches of the season. While the eastern March Brown comes off in March like the name suggests our western hatch R. morrisoni is rarely seen before April. Once it gets going you can count on the 1-4pm window hosting concentrated areas of this prime hatch. It is best to post on pods during this hatch rather than prospect with the searching mayfly pattern. Find the fish focused in on the mayflies and catch them there. Not too much calendar left before we head off to foreign rivers trying to avoid the Bitterroot Brownout. Runoff will be a doozy this year but the Big Hole and Missouri figure to be prime. The season long game of finding fish has just barely started.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Guides Montana Trip Planner Reduex

March has sprung up all around us and that means finally some spring fishing is around the corner. Thankgod. Skiing is fun and all but that particular affliction is not what makes us river hounds tick. The downtime to tie flies and pick away at the ever-expanding reading list is also an important part of the fishing bum seasonal lifestyle : All those classics aren't going to read themselves goshdangit. And most importantly it offers the chance to plan a seasons worth of fishing trips across the state ( and maybe the world??), weighting options and piecing together the perfect 12 months of fishing experiences. Having lived in Montana plying its fishy rivers for the last twelve thirteen years I have developed some hunches. Call it "hunch development" as to when and where to be in the state for best results. Granted these hunches are often informed by one specific trip in which we stumbled into a suicide bite of one kind or another. Still once that memory is in there the daydream of going back and seeing if lightening could in fact strike twice. So without much order or editing here's a rough list of our favorite stops throughout Montana and the time of year we most enjoy fishing and guiding them.

Dream on.

Spring : Bitterroot 

Spring comes earlier ever year it seems and that is not something that you will hear me complaining about.  After the long dark days of a winter in the valley the thought of hunting sipping trout on a sunny afternoon seems like the greatest thing you could ask for. By the middle of March and rolling into April we see the first chances of legitimate afternoon dry fly fishing. The Bitterroot is my favorite spring fishery and has the best Skwala hatch around : Long considered a "guide only" season due to erratic weather and fishing conditions, the cat is out of the bag and now lots of folks know how good this hatch can be. Its a gamblers game for sure, tshirts one day and parkas the next is the halmark of Montana spring. But if you are down for the unreliable weather it doesn't take much for this to be the bonanza kickoff party to the fishing season. A week of warm afternoons and the back eddies will have these olive kickers out in numbers with large (large) trout hunting them. Similar in many ways to Rock Creek we get a lot of spring sunshine to help get our fish moving and once they see the first helpless struggling stonefly of the year they are on it like ham on any kind of bread.

This year a healthy snowpack looks to make spring dryfly season higher than normal. Wet snow storms and spring rain are all combining to the make area rivers big and burly for the opening drifts of the season. While the lower river sees most of the pressure this time of year the entire Bitterroot can fish well. We usually stick to our favorite upstream water and prospect away waiting for that big fish to eat a dry : A big Rainbow hungry from a long winter slurping a dryfly is a heart-stopping moment. Some of my favorite flyfishing memories from college days happened during Skwala season, warm afternoons making half-day classes give way to lazy afternoons looking for risers.  I still hold this season near & dear and get out whenever I can. If you've got any interest in seeing what spring fishing in Montana has to offer this is the time, and this is the river.

Runner Up : Rock Creek

Early Summer : Big Hole

Hands down the place I want to be for the first giant brown trout of the year is on the Big Hole. No other piece of water in Montana catches my eye like the slowdown inside chop of a riffle near Maiden Rock. And when the possibility of a monster brownie is lurking behind every other rock, tree, and stump, I fish with double conviction at every opportunity I get. 

I set my calendar to arrive somewhere near Wise River in May. The high water part of the year is the bane of many rivers throughout the state but not at all to the Big Hole : The BH gets high and a little off-color,  yes, but never ever gets truly Muddy. The sludge that Missoula-area rivers have to contend with is a non-factor over here, and the browns (like the good predators that they are) love the extra cover. If you want to spend the runoff season on a freestone and not a tailwater the BH is your play. Expect to throw big Gallup streamers to every bank and sit and nymph everything else. You will be rewarded over here, its just a matter of when and how big. The Big Boys come out to play this time of year no question, with so many of these giant fish hitting the net in 14' that the nickname "Jurassic Park" rightfully took hold.  And then there is the Salmonfly hatch to end all Salmonfly hatches. Truly the river that made this hatch what it is know as today the Big Hole generates these bugs by the millions. Being here early (i.e. pre hatch) is key, cuz the big fish only need to eat the first hundred or so they see then its all over til maƱana. By the middle of May the hushed voices around fireside are all predicting the first epic day of "THE hatch". You gotta be here to appreciate this river during high water and the insanity that is a Salmonfly grab. Bucket list year for everybody!

Runner Up : Missouri

Summer : Bitterroot

Not to be a homer or anything, but the Bitterroot for me wins the summer season hands down. Dry flies baby, dry flies. No other river has as consistent dry fly action at the Root'. None. Period. The combination of diverse hatches throughout our river system, multiple trout species chugging dry flies with reckless abandon, and the miles of eye-dropping scenery and you have the complete package: The quintessential Montana flyfishing river. I've seen a lot of Montana so far and no other river has called me quite like this one has. Fish with confidence and leave the bobbers at home : Summertime in the valley is a very very good time.

We are truly blessed by our hydrology, cold West Fork headwaters and tributaries to go along with a massive amount of low valley subsurface recharge. We stay cool in the summer when other rivers are heating up, have all the trout species in whopper sizes, lower number of anglers than other famous flyfishing rivers, and list of fishable hatches is longer then a 20-incher: Green / Gray / Brown Drakes, Goldenstones, Salmonflies, Flavelenias, PMD's, Hecubas, Hoppers out the whazoo, and some Tricos and BWO's to round it all out. You gotta spend a year here to truly appreciate this rivers' diversity.

And the Cutties, oh the Cutties. God bless their aggressive little hearts.

Runner Up : None

Fall : Missouri 

After a long summer hunting said Cutthroats throughout the Bitterroot valley my mind very quickly turns north : Craiglandia and the fabled Mighty Missouri River. Although the BRG crew take clients over to the Mo' periodically over the summer it is the autumn season that really shines on this river. The Blue Wing Olive hatches are truly world class Rainbow freakout events that even us exhausted guides want a piece of. Nothing like a 30-plus fish pod nosing up to flotillas of mayflies to get the blood pumping. So much water out here that everybody can find their own fish and catch to their hearts content. Add to that a building streamer bite as the brown spawn approaches and you have a real winner.

The fall fishing is so good over here that we have made the Mo' our destination for the annual end-of-season birthday fishing bash : For when you just haven't caught enough stinking fish in a guide season. Pods slurping with such lacksidasical confidence that the muttering of "why you smug little bastard" is the opening war whoop on nearly every riser. You don't rise down n' across from me at 30' and get away with it . Fish awwwwn!!!

Runner Up : None, the Mo' is the only one.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bitterroot River Guides In Andros

Hot off the presses and back from a week in the Bahamas BRG mainstays Jed and Chris are all about the salt. Saltwater is the new frontier for us Montana-bound trout hounds based on the astounding week these two had hunting bonefish and tarpon and partying like back in the day.

There will be more coming on this trip from Chris so stay tuned. Check out the freshest fresh here!

Andros Tarpon BRG

As for fishing prospects in western MT it is looking good. Very good. Some of the wettest snow of the year fell last night and looks to continue for the weekend. There hasn't been this kind of late winter wet snow in years and they always lead to epic dry fly years. Get ready people its going to be one for the ages. Stay tuned from brown trout pics as well, they will be coming in fast and thick.

Monday, February 13, 2017

North Lands Roadtrip : BC Steelhead Pt. 2

Not many people are going to live out of a tent for a month looking for a trout. Maybe a few hardy souls out there consumed with the passion for a true giant, but not many. A trout in a gentleman's sport fish that sips delicate dries and gets stalked during pleasant summer weather. A Steelhead is a maniacs sport fish that crushes things that wander into its marauding path as it moves through a drizzly costal jungle. Some of the thickest country this side of Alaska: Bears, moose, and the Sasquatch could be yards away and you would never notice. Knowing that bites most days will be infrequent it is passion alone holding you up through this imposing environment with only the hint of the possibility of the grab, the possibility of a monster Steelhead lurking that keeps you rooted in a run. He's living in there, somewhere, I know it. Just need to swing one right onto his nose and . .. . . WHUMP*

Living out of the truck over a long guide summer shapes you into being the perfect drop-in exportable angler. Tackle bags, rods, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear all become fixtures of the daily routine . It is definitely in all ways training for Canada. When people ask me what I do instead of saying "I'm a fishing guide" I should say "I train to catch Steelhead". The vision of Steel starts honing you from the first dry fly cast of cold springtime. The equipment needs and circadian rhythms all get finely synced to the ebb and flow of rivers. Once you are here, it's like a latent part of you was there all along waiting for you to come and see in again for yourself.. . . .

Swing. . .. Swing. . . . Swing. . . .

There is an erie feeling that occurs after all of the planning and day-dreaming is done and you feel the first icy cold step into the run. Everything up to now has lead to setting foot back into this memory, one that somehow drifted in and caught purchase deeper than most others can ever manage. And now here you are, standing in that memory.

Swing. . . . Swing . . . . Swing . . . .

The present narrative blends with legendary trips of the past making facts begin to distort. Our middle week was slowed by yet another 48 hr downpour that bumped the area rivers into chocolate milk stage. Always part of the gamble when spending a month in the bush leaving yourself to the mercy of the weather god. Damm you Poseidon! We tried changing rivers to dodge the bump to no avail, the big rivers and the massive ones all swollen from inches of cold fall rain. As with most things when we started trying too hard things began going downhill quickly. Broken rod, lost shooting head, punctured waders and of all things a beer shortage made for a low week of morale. We made the most of it and hunkered down to do some serious partying. We are here to stay Fish, better get used to us even if you won't bite! While the fishing slowed the cards heated up as hand after hand was played into the night. The Boxer rumbled ominously. Rain licked the tent and the Steelhead moved in right under our noses. With nothing to do but wait and tie flies we started to get creative.

After a few days in camp, and especially during the slump, we found ourselves spinning bugs up by the bushel full, odder and more exotic variations being concocted every night. It has to be the fly, right? A dozen got tied a night all hoping to be the one that would crack the code the following morning. Blue? Mauve? More Rubber Legs? Amherst feather? Peacock? Jungle Cock? More. .. .

Close observation caused by drizzly desperation and weeks living in the wild suggested the omens were improving: I am no mystic but I definitely believe in fish-magic.  The Powereagles came back and the ravens left. Afternoons became less windy. Casting got tighter. Rumors of fish being plucked downstream came our way. Finally it broke. After a long stretch of slow action the river lowered just enough and the steel started clicking again. *tug,  tug   *TUG. .. . . . A big hen came to hand at lunch high up in the canyon where we had never pinned a fish before. Omens. Gorgeous. Silver, chromed-out fish head-shaking and refusing to give up. A fresh-fresh-fresh one from the salt. Hmmmmm, maybe a few more of these have moved in too. Gotta go fishing to know.

As so often happens the final days of the trip fell in the "Epic" category for steelhead fishing, everyone getting multiple tugs and some truly stunning fish being landed. It isn't all about the fish after all, the adventure and camaraderie with the boys is what makes this trip happen, but ya sure like to go out with a bang. Lifting a big Steelhead out of the water is a pause in time, the normal flow of experience getting stopped dead in its tracks when you finally get a hand on one. The Tail. The Eye. That power that calms for just a moment, the icy resolve leading it upriver idling in your hands. Magic.

All the planning and day-dreaming will start soon enough as we all already know we will be heading to the Steelhead Holy Land again next year. Once we are there the whole routine will be as natural as flicking dry flies to cut banks. Latent memories revived with that first swing in costal BC.

Bring me back.