Thursday, June 14, 2018

So You Had A Bad Day...

Complacency is probably what get's people in the most trouble on a river. The mistake these folks made is letting a young, inexperienced rower guide the boat on a river that is twice as high as normal. Even in normal conditions, things happen quick on moving water. It's deceptive, how fast the water is moving and much power there is in that water.

A couple people in the group I've been guiding saw this happen and talked to the people afterwards. Three boaters trying out their brand new boat and the dad wanted to get his son some experience on the sticks. The bridge abutment came up quicker than anticipated and they rammed it, turning the boat sideways and capsizing it. Luckily, the three were thrown from the boat and not under it or inside it. 

One of the boaters was missing for a short period but then was found a few hundred yards downstream. That's a pretty sick feeling, I'm guessing. Another of the boaters literally had his shoes and pants ripped off of him from the current. 

There is a chance they get this boat back after the water drops. If not, they lost about $12,000 on the boat and who knows how much in rods and other gear? At least they didn't pay the ultimate price. Always remember; moving water is no joke. 

Keep 'em where they live...

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Many Shapes and Colors of the Morel

I got off the river early yesterday. Actually, we never even fished. My guy had a miserable time on the river the day before due to the wind and cold and decided he'd rather see more of Montana from the truck. We drove to Augusta and had lunch while taking in the sites from the Rocky Mountain Front. 

I dropped him off early and hung out at the shop for a bit when a buddy showed up with a bag of morels. He gave me the 411 and I immediately jumped in the truck and headed for the hills. 

You'll notice the many different shapes and colors in this bunch. I know it wigs people out a little with mushrooms--not knowing what is good or bad but morels are pretty safe even with the different varieties. Yes, there are "false morels" that can make you sick but they are quite a bit different in that the stem makes up most of the mushroom with a small nob on the top. Most of these are the black morels that grow up in the mountains and in burn areas. After last year, there are plenty of burn areas out here and the shrooms are still going strong. It won't last long though.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Exploration Works

If you're familiar with Central Montana, you might recognize this area. If you're not, well, let's just say it's a body of water I've never floated before but was always curious what it might look like and how it might fish. This is a big part of fly fishing for me and what I try to offer people that come out fishing with Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters. I like exploring. I like feeling like I'm fishing or hunting in a place nobody has either stepped foot on or thrown a line over before. At least not on that particular day. 

The reality is, those places that haven't been touched by another angler don't exist anymore in the States. However, with a little work, an angler can feel like they're the only ones that have been on a stretch of water in quite a while. It ads mystery. It allows for solitude. It gives the impression that you're going after trout that have never seen a fly before. They are unsullied and untamed. They are also not very educated. All these things contribute to anticipation and the excitement of a day that may quite literally be the most amazing fishing experience in a person's life. It also might set a person up for failing to reach some pretty high expectations.  

Within the first half-hour or so, Johnny LaRue stuck this pig. This is literally, the first fish we hooked. We were just getting out of the gates and getting familiar with the type of water we were fishing and Johnny pretty much shot the bar up to a height where they only way to go now was down.

One way to look at it though, is the pressure was off. Johnny landed a great fish and the rest would be gravy. Besides, we were floating one of the most scenic and beautiful stretches of water in the country so we were already ahead of the game. 

We didn't catch a ton of fish but we did get some good ones for this river. We also saw some fish come up to dry flies, which is something I haven't seen in a while given the condition of the rivers right now. Run-off in most areas is still pretty crazy so any opportunity to throw big dries is worth the effort--not the most productive but definitely a nice change of pace from watching bobbers and dragging wire worms, watching them get stuck in drowning willow saplings.

And all of this on a Sunday in early June. No other anglers. Just a group a kayak'res. A gorgeous day fishing with a couple good dudes. It really doesn't get any better than this.

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, May 28, 2018

Bountiful Basket

The fishing was good this weekend. The picking was better.

It is the time of year when fungus is among us...(I know. It's old and not that clever but I'm milking it.) People are reporting some good harvests in the mountains and on the Missouri. The problem on the Missouri is everyone knows the spots and the shrooms get picked through pretty quick. What folks don't tend to look for however, are the oyster mushrooms.

I picked a big oyster last week and made probably the best cream of mushroom soup I've ever tasted. I know that sounds a little sacrilegious to waste such a beautiful specimen on soup but it was delicious.

5 cups of chopped oyster mushrooms
1/2 an onion
   Saute in a little walnut oil and sherry.
Add some beef stock, roux, heavy cream, more sherry, thyme, salt and butchers grind pepper, hot sauce and simmer down. Piece of cake.

One of the challenges of picking mushrooms on the islands is that the water is so high, it's covering up many of the spots that I've found them in years past. Yep. We have really high water. In fact, if you remember, I set the over/under for this year at 17,000 cfs. I picked the under and yesterday the Missouri reached 18,200. That'll cost me a bottle of whiskey.

The fishing is still pretty good though.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

More Pigs in Mud

In the last week, clients have caught a couple of the bigger browns I've seen in a while. I know we all talk about the two-footers and you'd think some people get them on a daily basis but the reality is, they are rare. Really rare. This one caught by Pat Rose came up just shy of the 24" mark but such a gorgeous fish--if you like a little meat on the bone. She was beefy and looking on the cooler at what she coughed up while in the net, you get an idea of why. Worms. LOTS of worms. 

Some people think the high water makes trout put on muscle to have to fight the current and that's why they get healthier and fatter. I tend to believe it's because of all the protein getting washed into the river. We've caught a lot of browns in the last week with distended abdomens, which is really common during these conditions. They sit right along the banks and off the washed out ends of islands and gorge themselves on worms. What you see on the cooler is about half of what came out of this brown. Pigs in mud. 

Keep 'em where they live...

P.S. For the ass-of-nine guide ripping up and down the lower river in his jet-sled, you might consider the amount of destruction you are doing to the banks. The river is high and does a pretty good job of eroding itself the way it is. Adding an artificial wake crashing into the bank multiplies that erosion by like, a hundred times. Trust me. We were fishing the bank you destroyed. I wish the landowners on the Mo would get on board with restricting motors down there. Maybe then we'd see some change. Or, maybe you'd all have some common sense and take it upon yourselves to protect the river. That would be a noble idea. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

One of the things that attracts a person to fishing is you never know what you're going to catch. I mean, when you're fly fishing on the Missouri, you have a pretty good idea that you're going to get some rainbows and a few browns mixed in and maybe a couple whitefish but that's not all...check these suckers out.

The first three fish a client of mine caught the other day were these two suckers and a whitefish. Yeah, you might say he was feeling a little snake bitten but really; how awesome is that? In 12 years of guiding on the Mo, I've had maybe 4 of these caught and this guy gets two in one day? And, what he was catching were truly indigenous species of fish. The rainbows, browns and brook trout were all brought here at some point. The suckers and the whitefish have always been here and I believe, this guy actually caught two different species of suckers--the longnose and the mountain suckers. (I'm not an expert at identifying suckers so don't quote me on that.)

So what are some of the other fish I've seen caught on a fly in Missouri? Walleyes, which are not indigenous to Montana regardless of what people may tell you. (Saugers are. Walleyes are not.) Carp--and again, not indigenous--yellow perch, brook trout, rainbows, browns, Yellowstone cuts, and whitefish. I've also caught burbot but not on a fly. I think that's about it but I have heard of people at least seeing small mouth bass and northern pike. 

Like I said, that's kind of the fun behind fishing in general and I know folks are a little down on the fly fishing this time of the year because you have to chase bobbers around in the high water but just think of that feeling every time your indicator moves of not really knowing what you might have. It ads another element that's pretty cool if you ask me.

As for the water conditions? The Missouri is up to 15,000 cfs. The tribs are leveling off and not dumping too much silt into the river so visibility is decent. What does that mean for my bet? I'm still good. I took the under at 17,000 and I'm sticking with it but we did hit that ideal level for a good flushing. 

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Late Skwalas on the Missouri--What does that say for high water and the season?

We were eating lunch two days ago under a willow tree on the Missouri when I noticed something hanging out over the brim of my hat. Normally, or at least up until I started guiding, I'm not going to lie but this little critter might have freaked me out a bit. I'd probably flick it into the water with a good deal of vigor and haste. The thing is, the more you rely on bugs for a living and the more you get acquainted with them, the less they freak you out and the more they peak your curiosity.

This is a skwala and if you know anything about stone flies and tail waters, you'd probably start asking the same questions I did. Mainly, "Where the hell did this thing come from?"

This is one of the cool things about fly fishing and sharing that with people. Bugs matter. Noticing things like this matters and trying to figure out if this is just some anomaly or is there something more significant happening can be a game changer.

I brushed this guy off the table we were camped out at and continued eating my sandwich but still kept the question of where this skwala came from in the back of my head. And then another one showed up and then a third...

Tail waters, like the Missouri River, are not know for stone fly hatches. We do see some skwalas in March and April but not many. We also get some golden stones throughout the summer in spots and fish do eat them but again, it's not the main staple. The most prevalent stone fly we see are the yellow sallies. Seeing these guys at this time of the year and that many of them was definitely peaking some interest.

Stone flies are kind of weird. They can lay their eggs one year and those eggs often get covered in silt or mud and can lay dormant for years until the conditions are right. Those conditions include oxygen, sunlight or energy and water temperature and of course, a way to get out of the mud. If we have a series of years where high water doesn't come, that can really put a damper on the bugs because of the amount of silt that settles in on top of them. This year, we have a significant amount of water in the system and although we haven't hit the benchmark, where the biologists would like the flows to get in order to do a significant flush, we're pretty close and I think this skwala is evidence that many of these bugs are getting uncovered.

The Missouri River is just under 14,000 cfs right now on May 16th. The biologists say they would like to see the flows above 14,000 for a few days to get that good scouring of the gravel. It's a little confusing on who actually regulates the dam but the Bureau of Reclamation has been really cautious this year to not allow flooding down stream. They drew down Canyon Ferry Reservoir to less than 70% of capacity, not including the flood control pool, planning for an epic run off. A lot of people have been predicting flows above 20,000 cfs. It has happened before but I actually rode up the chair lift at The Great Divide ski hill a month or so ago with a guy from the bureau who told me they won't let the river get above 25,000 cfs in Great Falls or they'll have major flooding.

If you do the math, with all the tribs contributing to the Missouri between the Holter Dam and Great Falls including the Little Prickly Pear, Dearborn, Sheep Creek, Sun and Smith Rivers, not to mention all the little tributaries, the Missouri can't get much higher coming out of the dam to keep from reaching that threshold down stream; especially given the amount of snow feeding those tributaries.

So here's the deal; we're at about 14,000 cfs now. Canyon Ferry is at 78% full. What's going into Canyon Ferry is about 18,000 and dropping. Although we still have flooding going on in the area with the creeks, most of the lower elevation snow is gone and those creeks will start dropping as well. Snow pack in the high country feeding the Missouri is a little over what is the average for this time of the year. What that means is there's still plenty of water to fill Canyon Ferry but unless we get some serious precipitation over the next couple weeks, what's coming out of Holter Dam is not going to go up that much higher. We've got the water to scour the river bed and all the jet skiers and boater will have plenty of water to play with in the reservoirs. I'm not going to call out a victory yet but I would say that the bureau did their job. (BTW, I set the over/under at 17,000 cfs a couple months ago and took the under. Again, we still have a month to see what's going to happen but I'm feeling pretty confident.)

So getting back to the skwala. If you look at the photo, you'll notice something else unique to this particular skwala but pretty common on the Missouri; its wings are underdeveloped. These guys can't fly. Nor can the majority of golden stones we get. That does have an affect on the way you fish them. You might keep that in mind.

As for the rest of the season and what we should expect? I think there are going to be a lot of bugs this year as long as water doesn't remain too high. A lot of folks are anticipating 7,000 cfs through August and are looking forward to that. I'd be careful what you wish for. High water on a tail water like the Missouri doesn't necessarily mean favorable conditions for trout and the bugs. The water coming out of the lower part of the dam is about 2,800 cfs. Anything more than that comes from the spillways at the top of the dam. That's surface water from the lake. That surface water can get up to 80 degrees if we have a hot summer. Honestly, I'd rather see 3,500 cfs after a good spring scouring than 7,000. We shall see.

Keep 'em where they live...

P.S. Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters still has openings for July but will book up quickly. The creeks and freestones will have plenty of water if you're into walk-wade trips and the Dearborn River should have a pretty good window to float it as well. The Missouri will fish well throughout July regardless of flows so you have plenty of options and we love to explore those options. Get in touch: Book your dream trip today! And don't sleep on August either! Hoppers and crayfish...big browns? What more could you want?