Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Women on the Fly

It would appear that summer is here and these two women took advantage of the sun and heat. Carol, with the big ole brown does it again. Nobody catches more of these browns than anybody else I know. Rosanna is also becoming a pretty damn good angler. (Hurry back Derek. You and Rosanna need to spend a day on the water together.)

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thar She Blows!

The LaRue boys and I headed out before the big storms rolled in. We floated the lower stretch of the Missouri. No bobbers. Just short leashes and big ole dries for big ole browns. It was pretty fantastic.

We also found some of these, which was a huge bonus.

And then this happened over the Memorial Day weekend.

The rain and snow from the weekend has definitely changed the game for the Missouri. That doesn't mean it won't fish. It just means you might be a bit limited for a few days on what stretches to fish. As you can see, the Dearborn came up to epic proportions again. That's twice in the past two years we've seen either record or near-record flows. Last year it hit 10,000 cfs. This year it reached 6,000 but at least it's early and it's already coming down.

When I first started guiding, a random storm brought the Dearborn up to 5,000 cfs. People tried floating it, which was not a good idea. They didn't know what they were doing and 2 out of the three people on one raft of thrill seekers died. It's not anything to mess with.

That year, people were talking about that particular flow as an anomaly. It never happens. But the reality is, is it is happening now pretty regularly. Now I get it; it's only been two years but that's two years of epic flows. You have to start wondering.

So for a couple days anyway, the Missouri is out below the Dearborn confluence. I've rolled the dice before in these conditions, thinking the water would clear up a few miles downstream and it doesn't. The benefit is that you get away from people but there's a big cost. You might get blanked so it's best just to join the crowds and get what you get for a few days. You'll catch fish and if you're able to take the traffic in stride, you might make a few friends.

Keep 'em where they live...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Fishing Story

It's that time of the year when weather comes in and out and people have to decide to roll the dice and book a trip or wait for more predictable conditions. Let me just say, holding out is missing out. Seriously. Yesterday was the absolute most ridiculous fishing I've ever seen. Period. (It helps to have a good stick in the boat. Nice work Mary Kay!)

With the wind up, we elected not to go down low and instead, stay in the canyon. We had a slow start. In fact, in the first couple hours we could only muster up a few white fish and a couple small trout. The day before, we had a lot of success on the short nymph rig so we were committed to sticking with it as to not chase bobbers and 9 foot leaders around all day. It took a while for fish to look up but we were being patient--confident something was about to happen. At around 11:30, that something did.

Part of what is so great about what we do as guides, is seeing the transitions between the seasons and witnessing what that does for bugs, fish, and how that translates to providing lasting memories. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but it's true. A fishery like the Missouri is so incredibly dynamic and has the potential to go off at any moment. It can also be an ass kicker. When March browns come out like they did yesterday and you are fortunate enough to be out there witnessing it, you really get an appreciation for how truly special the Missouri River is.

Sticking with the game plan, Mary Kay and I slid the boat into a shallow channel and started seeing a few March browns popping. We were fishing scuds and small BWO nymphs. It was time for a change so we went big and the fishing got stupid. Every seam had a fish looking for March brown nymphs. And as the duns started showing themselves more and more, it would have appeared that every fish in the river started coming to the surface. It was amazing and something not everyone gets a chance to see. You know who did get to see it? Those folks willing to risk the weather to get out there and fish.

We worked our way down stream, short nymphing the banks and switching out rods to throw dries whenever we saw a good target sipping. We never really parked on fish. We just threw bugs at fish and if we screwed it up, we went on to the next one but the reality is, Mary Kay capitalized way more than she didn't and as we let the boat drift down, netting fish after fish, we were never really all that concerned that a missed opportunity would be the last. That's when you know the fishing has blown up.

Imagine this--floating along, casting to pockets and every time you hit your spot, you get rewarded. Every time. Then you see that fish sipping. He's just off a seam and he's content with the rhythm of easing up, gulping a bug, dropping down to swallow and then returning to the surface for another bite. He's like a metronome. Tick, tick, tick, gulp. Tick, tick, tick, gulp. On this particular brown trout, Mary Kay switches out rods and rips off about 30 feet of line. I hold the boat steady, not dropping anchor, just holding it for her as she takes a couple false casts and then sets her fly down a few feet upstream from this guy and feeds line out. One cast.

Slowly, hesitantly, he comes up. The rhythm has altered just a fraction of a second as he studies this imitation. The world stands still. It's in that moment, when you see him looking at your bug that fly fishing takes on all the mystique, all the uncertainty, all the myths and hyperbola of pretentious fly fishermen telling stories of success and failure. The heart beats faster and then stops for just a second as we wonder if our presentation is "good enough" knowing in the technical world of dry fly fishing on the Missouri, if you're asking that question, you've already answered it. Good enough is never good enough.

Mary Kay's presentation was perfect and although the brown hesitated for just that split second, he continued his rise and his mouth opened up. The imitation drifted in and his mouth closed on it and he descended back down to complete the measure.

Mary Kay also hesitated just enough before lifting the rod tip up. I was not so patient.

"Dope! Get 'em!" I half whispered, half yelled trying so hard to hold back as to not initiate the ripping of the fly out of this brown's mouth.

Mary Kay was perfect as she came tight on a truly gorgeous fish and a more gorgeous display of what fly fishing is all about. Impressive and something neither one of us is probably going to forget for a long time, if ever.

On a side note, the fish in the picture above let us ponder an interesting question from the day before. "Do geese have an impact on the fish?" Fish don't like when osprey or eagles fly over or pelicans swim overhead. What about geese?

I figured that somehow they know the difference. So yesterday we, were coming up on a seam where a couple geese were floating around getting in on the bug action when I suggested we test out the theory. Mary Kay chucked her short nymph rig in the seam, which sent the geese fleeing and within seconds, this 22 inch brown ate her bug. Definitive? You tell me.

Keep 'em where they live...

Friday, May 17, 2019

Predicting the Next Month of Fishing on the Missouri

Part of the human condition is to predict outcomes. Some folks think that's our demise because it leads to expectations and then disappointment when those expectations aren't met. It also leads to criticism for those who publicly try to predict outcomes in such things like sports and politics. It's almost as if we hold those public opinions or those people that hold those opinions accountable for our disappointment. I doesn't really seem fair but then, those people are making a living off of those opinions so maybe they should be held responsible.

As it pertains to fishing and getting guided, people want information because they're spending a lot of time and money to come out to these places and they don't want it to be a waste. So they hear about all the snow we got out here and they get a little concerned about high water in the spring and whether or not it will even fish until late June. It's a valid question, especially after what happened last year. 

Last year we had close to 200% of normal snow pack. It was an epic year and we saw the Missouri go up to 22,000 cfs. That doesn't happen very often. It stayed really high throughout June and into July. The fishing early was a bit tough and you had to go really deep and really heavy and it didn't feel like fly fishing to a lot of folks. We also got a storm system in Mid-June that dumped 8 inches of rain in some places, which brought the Dearborn River up to 10,000 cfs. That's only happened once in recorded history. It blew out the entire lower stretch of the Missouri right when we all thought the rivers were coming down and we would start to see more desirable conditions. 

Spring storms can't be predicted but we can be pretty certain that we will get rain and it can have an affect on the fishing. Normally those storms have an impact for only a couple days and then things settle down. You play the odds and there's some risk. Snow pack and reservoir levels are a bit more predictable but we're not all privy to the information that goes into making the call to either release water or pull it back. For instance, this year the Midwest got hammered and they don't need more water so the Bureau is trying to help out with flood mitigation. But we can look at trends and see the charts and feel pretty good about a few things.

Water levels across the board have been really high this spring. You can look for yourself here:

Go to the site and click on your favorite rivers and you can see for yourself. The run-off has been early and rivers are higher than normal for this time of the year. But if you look at the charts above, you can see that snow pack is now down. That means a lot of the water that was in the system has already broken loose so rivers should start coming down sooner than normal barring any major storms that would change that. 

We can also look at the level of Canyon Ferry, which is probably the best indicator of what's going to happen with the Missouri. The Bureau has managed Canyon Ferry as if we had comparable snow pack with last year. We don't have even half of what we had last year so again, if you look at the flow for the Missouri below Holter, you can see that they're now trying to play catch-up. Way more water is flowing in than flowing out and that's going to continue to happen until the reservoir reaches about 94% of capacity.

That's a really good thing for the anglers. For the next couple weeks and maybe even throughout June, water levels should remain pretty consistent to where they are now and right now, it's perfect. Fish are happy. Bugs are poppin. Life is good so it's time to stop hemming and hawing and get out on the river! Book your dream trip today!

Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, May 16, 2019


I found this guy in my boat yesterday while floating the Missouri. Could you imagine if we got a significant salmonfly hatch on the MO? Holy crap. Twenty-two inch browns racing across a seam to crush a size 4 dry fly? It would be like hopper fishing in the spring only 100 times the action. The problem is, fish on the Mo don't eat these guys because we don't get enough of them and there's too many other options. I've tried it. They will eat an orange rubber legs but I've never seen them eat a dry. Bummer.

A few people have reached out, asking about me because I haven't posted in a while on the blog and we haven't been producing The Montana Dream Cast. I'll be honest, and I'm not trying to sound like a country song, but this winter and spring have been tough. I've moved into my third house in less than 8 months, my truck took a shit, and life has pretty much just been kicking me in the nuts. The podcast was keeping me a little grounded and little focused but then my co-host disappeared. The one positive note has been fishing. When I'm on the water with clients, nothing else matters so let's talk fishing!

If you're wondering about flows and how they're managing the Mighty Mo, I've got no answers. We have average snow-pack and pretty much average rainfall for the spring. The river, however, has been running close to double of what's expected for spring time and the reservoirs are still about 14 or 15 feet lower than capacity and it doesn't look like the powers-to-be are worried about filling them. What's coming into Canyon Ferry is 11,600 cfs and what's coming out is 7600 so I guess they are now starting to fill it. But all spring, we had double the flows, which kind of sucked for the dry fly anglers.

So in the last few days, they dropped the lower river by about 3,000 cfs. What does that do to the fishing? Well, the first couple days it would appear that every whitefish in the river decided to eat. (By the way, I kept a few so I'm going to try smoking them today.) It seems that whitefish like the dropping levels and I feel like every time there's a significant drop, whitefish come out to play. But there are other really significant changes.

The big thing is water temps change and bugs come out. We've been seeing tons of midges, some BWO's and some March browns. That's a big deal folks. Fish are now happy and you can find some good browns looking up if you spend a little time searching. The other thing is fish have moved off the shelves and the inside out bends and are now in the scum. Do you know how easy it is to catch fish in the scum right now? It's ridiculous and you don't have to fish a ten-foot leader with a bobber and a big ole wire worm and sow bug. Can't give you all the secrets but let's just say, get a bug in the scum and hold on.

The other thing that happens is suckers are spawning...Nice work Bubba.

If you're waiting for the right conditions, I'd jump right now to take advantage of the fishing. It's pretty damn epic right now and we have slots available. Check us out at or give us a call: 406-403-8163.

Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Winter Kill on the Blackfoot

You might remember from a couple posts ago that I went over to the Blackfoot to do a little recon last week and in one of my favorite spots, it was pretty much locked up--totally iced over. Well, I decided to go over today and see if it was flowing and if there were any bugs. It was a little shocking to see the impact of the winter on the fish in the Upper Blackfoot. In just two pools right next to the road, there had to be 50+ dead fish. A lot of them were whitefish but a lot were cutthroat too.

I spent a few minutes standing above the pool and did notice a lot of trout fingerlings swimming around but not a lot of mature trout. Fortunately, fish do migrate so once the river starts to flow, hopefully new trout will fill up these runs. To be honest, I don't know how prevalent these winter kills are. I've never seen it. I've also never seen the Blackfoot locked up like it was this winter.

It's not just fish in the Blackfoot that had a tough winter this year. If you've been on the Missouri lately, you may have wondered what was up with all the dead geese floating downstream. I talked to a FWP employee who said he believes it was the cold. He said he actually walked up to a group of geese that had climbed up onto a snowbank huddling together to keep warm and a lot of them didn't make it. They were left huddled up on the bank and never moved, dying from exposure to the cold.

Winter came late this year and only lasted for a month or so but it was brutal. It was the coldest February on record in Montana and it's obvious what the impact has been on the wildlife. And what made it worse, a lot of waterfowl had gotten into a pattern where they just hung around all winter. There was open water and plenty of food and life was good so why waste the energy to travel a thousand miles for sunshine and winter wheat? Well...

The recon wasn't all bad. I headed downstream and did find some good water. Too high up, there was no water flowing yet. Too far down and the main stem of the Blackfoot is coming up and not really fishable but there is a sweet spot. Fish were happy and there were skwala nymphs and golden stones. No adult bugs but fish were eating the nymphs. And a question I always pondered was whether or not the Blackfoot had a skwala hatch. Well there you go...

 Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Snow Days in Montana

I usually get out a few times on the Upper Blackfoot wade fishing before run-off. Pretty tough to catch anything here...

So yesterday was stuck to the Missouri and did pretty well with one of The Montana Dream Cast listeners, Jonathan. Here he is with one of a couple browns we caught yesterday.

Jon's not much for taking photos but he had to get at least one for the scrap book and since browns are a little more coveted on the Mo, it had to be done. We finished the day as the snow started to fly with a Missouri River trifecta and a few more bows. All in all, a great day.

Today the snow kept dropping and with a wet, 30ish degrees, we decided to put off the fishing until tomorrow. So instead, I spent some time in my studio mastering a track that I got some help with from a long-time friend in Minnesota. It's crazy what you can do with technology these days. Todd Johnson recorded drums in Minnesota and I did the rest in Montana. Check it out.

Keep 'em where they live...