Welcome to Montana Trout Fishing!

Bringing you up-to-date information for fishing around Bozeman Montana. Feel free to Email me anytime at Norbaracer13@gmail.com!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Quick Tips: Fall Trout Fishing

Fall is a beautiful time to be in the river. (East Gallatin)
         Fall has certainly made an appearance in my part of the country. This time of year is known to be one of the best seasons for fly fishermen. The waters are low and clear. The summer tourists are long gone. The big browns swim out from cover looking to feast upon an abundance of food, food that will help them survive the winter. Colder temperatures shut down the highly productive insect cycles and slow the trout's metabolism. They need to stock up in order to survive the harsh months ahead. Think of a bear in pursuit of food before hibernating; when bears are often causing the most trouble. It's then that they lose their ability to rationalize and think adequatly, pushing their limits to find sustenance. Large browns will go out of their boundaries too. They realize that they need to act when the opportunity arises instead of waiting until conditions are just right. Big fish are less likely to be pushed into cover for the majority of the day, only coming out to feed at night, when they are desperately trying to get fit for winter. After the leaves have changed and before the snow constantly falls, big fish swim hungry under the ever lowering sun. Its fall when the twice-a-year angler can dawn his waders and head to the river with significantly greater chances of hooking into a trophy fish.

        I realize that to catch more fish you must increase your odds of doing so as much as possible. That sounds simple enough, and it really is, but that must always be on the top of your mind if you want to be successful. Taking that, we can break down the best times of the year and focus on the type of fishing for each. My two favorite times of the year are after the spring run-off and during fall. I have focused a lot of my attention on learning how to fish post run-off. I have learned the about the insects that hatch that time of year, where the fish are holding, how rising water levels will effect them, etc. I literally imagined myself as a fish trying to survive, thinking like a fish in every aspect, I almost felt loony. We can do the same for fall fishing. We know it is one of the best times of the year to wet a line, so why not learn all we can to fish it even better?

Fall trout feeding on BWO's
      I really could write for pages on this subject, but will try and share some big points. The trout, especially the large ones, need energy to survive the upcoming harshness of winter. A lot of animals die every year in this part of the country, including trout, because food becomes sparse. The caddis and mayfly cycles almost come to a halt in the middle of winter. Terrestrials are rarely seen on the banks, let alone in front of a hungry trout. Even the sculpins and crayfish slow down and burrow into the mud and rocks. The whole underwater scene that is so prolific with life during warmer months turns into a gloomy, dark, cold deathtrap for any living creature ill-prepared. That being said, the fish are hungry in the fall! The high sun and clear skies which make trout weary are turning into shorter days and overcast skies. Big browns have free range in any water they desire. Try fishing those places that held no fish in the summer. The shallow riffles that were too warm in the summer are now as cold as any other part of the river. Remember this and apply it to your waters. Knowing the above will boost your morale and help you catch big fish. Fall is also great time to fish streamers shallow with floating line, whereas during the summer, you would need a sink tip line to fish deep during the hot days.

       Large streamers are known to take hungry browns during fall, but don't forget about the tiny midges. My fall setup is often a large lead fly, say a salmonfly nymph, above a tiny #20 blood midge, or zebra midge. Midges are one of the few foods that trout prey upon year round. You can bet that midge hatches happen almost everyday during the deep winter months. The idea of big fish on tiny flies is intrigueing yet can be extremely frustrating. My largest trout was a Madison River hog, hooked in the lip with a #22 lightning bug. He held on for five minutes but the hook quickly came flying out of his mouth when he left the water that one last time. Despite that, fishing small flies into fall is a must to catch large numbers. Another excellent fall pattern are small pheasant tails. This time of year, the Blue Winged Olive is a common site in western waters. Pale Morning Duns and Pale Evening duns also commonly rise from the rivers during fall. PMDs and BWOs are the two dry flies you will want to have in your box, along with all of the stages of these bugs lives. You will want to imitate the size more so than you did during summer. Some of these fish have been thrown every fly since run-off and havent yet had a winter to get adjusted to less pressured life in the stream. The water during fall tends to be low and very clear. Concentrated fish are a good thing, but they are weary, and will become less weary as the need for food becomes more important.

         So there you have it. Since there is so much more I could discuss, I give you now the basics to fall trout fishing. Maybe I will make a part two for fall 2015. I hope the novice fly fisherman can learn something from this or perhaps the intermediate angler can reinforce their thoughts on the subject. If you're an expert reading this, please feel free to email me and share your thoughts on fall fishing. The sport of fly fishing is a lot like golf, a whole lifetime is not enough to learn every single aspect. I share the same desire as many of you do in pursuing fish and I hope to help anyone having trouble figuring out the riddles of fly fishing for trout. Tight lines all! -Mike

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chasing Grayling and Big Cutties, Part Two

         ...Continued from Chasing Grayling and Big Cutties

            Little did I know that the first, second, third, and fourth cast would all redeem worthy fish. At one point shortly after, I remember thinking that this was so unreal, it couldn't be possible. During the fun of one of the fights I noticed something was strange about the fish on the end of my line. He didn't hardly put up a fight but had considerable weight. To my surprise I had hooked into a gorgeous sixteen inch arctic grayling. I could go on and on about how grayling are the representation of superb water quality, and how catching them in the lower forty-eight feels like a true privilege, but Ill save that for a later article. I will share however, the beauty of these rare gems. Of the few I caught, one stood out the most. It was the largest of the four I caught that day, maybe seventeen inches long (a very respectable catch for a grayling). It's skull felt thick upon hook removal and it had the colors of a marble with multiple blues and greens swirling together. I felt what I imagined shark skin to feel like when I picked it up, rough like thick sandpaper, nothing like a trout. The last thing I noticed was the massive dorsal fin. When held right, the fin stands a full body width in height, almost doubling the size of the fish. Grayling truly are a special fish, just as special as the places you will find them.

           So about a dozen casts later I had caught my forth grayling, I was also catching plenty of big cutthroat. I came to the realization that all of the fish I was catching that day were exceptionally beautiful. These cuttys were on their way to spawn so their colors were at their brightest. Deep oranges to bright reds, iridescent greens with hints of purples and chrome, every fish was unique. The bright orange on their gills that stands out so much any other time of the year was now hidden in a jungle of colors and hues. I took a moment to appreciate each and everyone of these great creatures before releasing them. I even took time to snap a few quick shots. Among them, my personal best cutthroat trout with a length of about nineteen to twenty inches.

           By now, the fisherman that were so far away from me when I arrived, were now making a pilgrimage towards me. Every successful haul, I could feel their energy getting closer. There's nothing that bothers me more in the sport of fishing than other people encroaching on my success.  Back home, in Iowa, this bothered me almost everywhere I went. The populations in other states are expressed on the side of the bank, many many fisherman. Out here, in almost a wilderness type setting you'd think we could all find our own little space, and leave others to theirs. After a steady twenty minutes of me reeling in the big cuts, I had plenty of company. "What are you throwing at them?" one replied as he stood on top of the water I was fishing. I told him, straight up, everything I was using to catch the fish. Thirty minutes went by before they got as close as they could, believing I was where the fish were, and it certainly seemed true.

            I'm a fairly humble person when it comes to things I'm good at. But this day in the mountains I was catching so many fish, I almost felt like someone else should have at it. The other guys out there were watching me but I too was watching them. The only interruption would be a trout breaking the surface in front of me, and a look on my face expressing something like "Sorry, I didn't mean to catch this guy". Maybe it was because I was fishing so close to the sign prohibiting fishing upstream out of season. Or it could have been that I made it look easy and I happened to have the correct gear. Whatever it was it ended up getting the best of me by the end of the day. After hooking up nearly every other cast, I was worn out. "It couldn't hurt to leave these fish for another day", I told myself before heading to the Jeep. It wasn't until the next day that I realized I stumbled into that short window that only comes maybe a few days a year up at the reservoir. The long drive up the mountain the next day revealed disappointment. Only twelve hours after I had walked the treacherous journey into a flawless honey hole, the reservoir flooded its banks.
cutthroat with spawning colors

           Maybe I won't make it back to the outlet of the upper creek ever again. Timing is key and with that is the risk of making several drives next year only to find out that I'm too early or too late. Mother nature cannot be predicted on the level it takes to foresee when the reservoir opens without swelling beyond its banks. The window for opportunity is very slim and anyone who finds themselves up there during the spring melt, keep your eyes on the upper creek outlet for ideal conditions. You'll know it when you see it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gardiner River, Yellowstone Park, MT


 Gardiner River, Yellowstone Park
September 21st, 2014

           I kicked the bug I had and recently went fishing on the Gardiner River. It was a great to put my boots on and anticipate that cool water around my legs. This time I was headed to a place I've never been before. These waters I've so badly wanted to fish for many years, the rivers and streams of Yellowstone Park. For some reason since moving to Montana, I haven't taken the short drive there to fish. I've been there a handful of times since residing in Bozeman, and once when I was younger. And have always had a strong desire to come back and try my luck. Well, since meeting a new friend that is as obsessed with fly fishing as I am, I've had the opportunity to learn some outstanding information about the angling. Almost as soon as I met Joe I was invited to come along and spend a day learning how to fish the Gardiner River. Joe has been fly fishing the area since the 1980's. His plethora of knowledge far exceeds mine. When he's not fishing the same rivers that I do, he spends his time chasing bonefish in Central America. Fly fishing and tying are just a few things hes good at, along with a few other hobbies we share. So far its been a great and pleasurable experience fishing with Joe.

Fall colors line the Gardner
           We left at about eight AM from Bozeman. It only took us an hour and and ten minutes to get to the cool little town of Gardner, Montana. Gardner is a gateway town to Yellowstone, so it is simply everything Yellowstone. Elk and mule deer graze on the lawns, and buffalo frequent the tarmac of the Gardiner airport. We stopped at Park's Fly Shop to purchase my three day park permit and a few leaders. Joe introduced me to Matt Minch, a fly tying enthusiast and long time guide of the Yellowstone River. Minch is a great fellow to know. His days of river wading may be over but he can sure tie a pretty fine fly. I would say nobody knows the area better than Matt and the guys at Park's. If you are new to the area and need to be informed or perhaps don't want to hire a guide, stop in and they'll be happy to share with you what they know. Golden stoneflies and the shop's "bead hair and copper" were recommended this time of year. Hoppers were something to keep an eye out for and who doesn't love fishing them? We hustled out the door and made one more detour for coffee. Through the gate, our first pull-off was only ten minutes down the road, near the cliffs where some mountain goats are often seen. The river here is high flowing white water gushing over plenty of flat water, or pocket water. I would say from bank to bank the river spans fifteen feet across at this section. As I got my gear on, Joe came over and gave me a couple of his hand tied golden stones and a few bead hair and coppers. I stowed them away as I had already tied on my trusty girdle bug and BM. I headed off the road down an embankment to a strip of river he advised me to hit first. By my second cast I had caught a hard fighting twelve inch rainbow. The Gardiner holds a variety of fish including rainbow, brown, brook, cutthroat, mountain whitefish, and possibly grayling. It's a fun factor when you dont know what you're going to catch next. I knew the day was going to be excellent.

Very colorful rainbow 
        The plan was for me to keep walking about three quarters of a mile upstream to a parking area where Joe would leave the truck. I would get there, get a bite to eat and then continue upstream to where he was going to be fishing. After walking upstream from my point of entry and around the first bend I netted another small rainbow. I couldn't help but pause after releasing the fish, and take everything in for a moment. "This place just keeps on amazing me", I thought. Another bend revealed a meadow setting, within it beautiful fall colors from bushes sheathing the bank, contrasting against the sky and river. To me this was heaven. I love sections of meandering streams. Lazy quiet and peaceful. Places like this are home to big brown trout. You can hear it in the quietness of the air. Deep, slow water chugging along through each bend riffle and run. The transition into fall sends the hogs ( 2-9 lbs) up from the Yellowstone in pursuit of the spawn. We were hoping the cold snaps this month had convinced some mature brown trout into thinking its time to move up. I slowly walked up on a nice run and took a few photos. I took a minute to read the river and listen for any movement in the water. I still had on a girdle bug and that size eighteen blue midge. I was employing a nine foot, 3x Rio leader with some 4x tippet tied from that, securing my split shot on the knot. I worked the run a few times and pulled from it a respectable sixteen inch rainbow. This fish had colors unlike I've personally seen on a trout before. A quick picture and he was abrupt to swim away, while I just wanted to thank him for his time. By now I was beginning to get a bit parched but unfortunately left my drink in the truck . Although I fished a few good spots on the way, I hustled past a lot of good looking water.

Gardner River brown trout, size ten girdle bug
       The day was turning into a hot one. The skies were clear and the sun was shining down on me. Despite the intense sunshine, the bite was a good one. I hadn't seen any other fishermen. I did however run into a part of the river with lots and lots of people.  Upstream from the truck there's an attraction that brings a lot of tourists to this part of the park. Here, thermal springs come up out of the ground and mix with the cool mountain water of the Gardiner. On cold days this is a lot of fun but even on hot days the water from the Gardner is so cold it can still feel pretty refreshing. It was a strange feeling fishing so close to people in their bathing suits. Did I say there were a lot of people? Every other back cast I had to check over my shoulder as not to snag grandmas one piece. I managed to meet up with Joe and we chatted. I decided to head way up past the hot pots and find some solitude again. Joe said good deep water was up there, and I was itching for a big runner (spawning brown). I walked and walked until I finally looked up and saw a site to be had. River like I've never seen before, unspoiled by anything made by man. The only path along the bank was used daily by a heard of resident elk. Just about every big mammal in the country was somewhere out there in front of me. I was alone and it was awesome. I kept pushing to get around the next bend, to see what was out there. I released a nice fish here and there. My last fish was a decent little brown trout, maybe fifteen inches. It certainly wasn't the runner I was looking for but nonetheless a nice fish.

One of four braids with meadows all around
        I agreed to meet Joe back at the truck around three and needed to get back. On the way I had some fun with a few fish on hoppers and found a few pieces of black obsidian glass. It was a great day. I was fairly exhausted on my return. The sun was harsh but I could have easily stayed for the rest of the day. I was hungry and thirsty and even a little bruised from a spill I had. Joe and I had a sandwich and swapped a few stories with another fly fishermen. We relaxed next to the river for bit and then packed up. I was one hundred percent satisfied with the day. It wasn't easy to leave, but not as hard if I had ended up skunked. I'm definitely going to have to make it back in a month or so for the fall brown run. I also wouldn't mind exploring further in the park. This trip, the fish were holding in pocket water and near the tails of deeper runs. There was a little bit of algae on the rocks, returning a few fowled hooks every now and then. I could imagine an egg pattern would be devastating during any spawn. With the remoteness and lack of other fishermen, at least to me, is something to be cherished. Not knowing when the last time someone fished a particular stretch of river rivals the waters people fish everyday. Untouched and unknown are two huge factors I have hard time finding, even in Montana. Yellowstone leaves all of that open for anyone to enjoy.

   *Top photo is about 1.5 miles upstream from the boiling river "hot pots".


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Just an Update From the Author


          Hey trout fishermen and women! Mike here and I just wanted to say I have once again been busy with work lately. I apologize for the lack of articles and updates. I will continue to do my best by providing weekly reports of the rivers in SW Montana. The few times I have been out this past month I did not do so well. My ego was torn but I will shake it off with the upcoming fall bite. I learned a few things this year but what I realized most was how difficult fly fishing can get in the late summer period. The fish that so eagerly took my Elk Hair Caddis and Adams Parachutes in the early season wanted nothing of them mid to late summer. The high sun and low waters, even though this year had good summer flows, usually make fishing difficult enough as it is. I hope everyone had an excellent summer and caught plenty of memories.

       Give me a week or two to shake things out with work and I'll be back at it, fishing three to four times a week. Tight lines everyone and be safe out there! Spawning browns are right around the corner ;)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Living in the Mountains

          Good friends of mine are selling their beautiful home in the mountains near Sheridan, Montana. I've spent numerous days on their property, and after realizing how special it is, I  would like to share it with the readers of this blog. The first few months after I moved to Bozeman, I was taken to a great home in the Tobacco Root Mountains. Before I ventured the gorgeous drive from the Gallatin Valley to Sheridan I was told how the house looked, where it sat, what it oversaw, and the abundance of wildlife. I remember how excited I was to finally see it, spend time there, to look over the Ruby Valley and enjoy the delightful sunshine. It doesn't surprise me at all that they chose this location and this house. The property itself is eighty acres, subdivided into four twenty acre lots. A trophy bull elk was taken two hundred yards off the porch one year, along with plenty of pronghorn, moose, mule deer, and coyotes. No wonder I enjoyed going out there when I could. There are four mountain ranges within view and several historic towns, including Virginia City, within a short drive.

         This would be a great house for corporate retreats or a seasonal home to spend the summer in. There is year round access. The property is ninety miles from Bozeman and Yellowstone International Airport. Renowned fly fishing waters are only twenty minutes to an hours drive. These include some of my absolute favorites, the Upper/Lower Madison, Ruby, Yellowstone, and Gallatin rivers. Yellowstone park is also a short drive away. Two miles from the driveway there is access to Beaverhead National Forest, excellent for hunting. I shot my first mule deer last year in these mountains! With all that space you could set up an archery or skeet range, great for sighting in your rifle too.

Cabin section of the house
         The spacious house is pretty isolated. No dogs barking, traffic sounds, or loud neighbors having parties, except for the cowboys next door having a good old country bonfire. Really though, you wouldn't even see that as the house is tucked away nicely. While walking in the house for the first time I noticed how big everything was. Huge bedrooms and living spaces with windows looking out over nothing but vast views were hard to miss. The second thing that stuck out to me was the kitchen. Its rustic and has a lot of character. Its very unique, having knotted hickory cabinets with washed copper panels. It goes well with the wood floor and wood burning stove. Outside there is a large deck that covers most of the perimeter, it too looks over a perfect view of the Ruby Valley. There are a few small outbuildings for storing any toys one might have and a gazebo too! Another cool feature is the "cabin room", which is a good sized portion of the house that is, well, a cabin! One of the front doors takes you into this original structure (back from 1978), which also has a wood burning stove and two utility sinks. It was used as a woodworking shop but I could easily see someone making it a comfy living space or rec room.

Winter view of the Ruby Valley
  Heres a few details in case you or someone you know may be interested

Main level includes: one bedroom, kitchen, dining area, living room, full bath, laundry room.
Upper level includes: two bedrooms, family room, two full baths, extra room

        If you or someone you know is interested you can contact Cindy Morris at 406-209-1104. The listing number is 199110 at Coldwell Banker RCI Realty. Id like to see someone who really enjoys the outdoors, the solitude, and of course the fishing, to have an opportunity to see this great offer. The price is listed at $585,000, which really is a bargain for anyone looking for a place like this.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Exceptional Spring Creek Fishing: Part 2

Continued from previous article "Exceptional Spring Creek Fishing"


              After relaxing in Eva's Hut for a solid thirty minutes, the whole party agreed to head upstream. My hauling arm was burning for more fish. How could fishing be such an upper body workout? Netting a dozen or so lunkers on light tackle is how! Besides the usual neck and shoulder pain from high-sticking so much, nearly all day, I was going to feel sore in all the muscles of my right arm. No matter how tomorrow was going to feel, I kept pushing on for the moment. The weather turned for the worst (not terribly bad but not good either) and consisted of a steady, but light, downpour for the rest of the day. Since leaving Eva's hut we drove up the road and fished a few spots until we pulled into one of the best sections of the whole stream. We parked near a small bridge that confines a large culvert that the creek flows through. Downriver directly outside the culvert, one of the largest and most beautiful trout holes exists. I always take my time and work a few patterns through it but have never hooked up there. I gave the other guys the opportunity to find their spots on the upstream side of the bridge while I fiddled around looking for my twenty pound trout in this seemingly bottomless pit, dark with thick vegetation.

             I struck out below the bridge and joined the others. The stretch consists mostly of tight bends and thick bush surrounding it. From the bridge where we parked to the end of good water is merely a half mile or so. Within those boundaries, subtle trout lies lay. Luckily, I had "leap frogged" amongst the other fishermen and landed at a sweet spot. I remember this particular corner last time I was here, fishing with Mark. He did a pretty good job at cleaning it up then but now it was my turn. Mason, standing belly deep in a spot within sight from me just upstream. The hole has two tight turns and a small overflow of whitewater before it gets washed into deeper water. I don't recall the hole being deep, instead, the transition from the riffles into the feeding zone is a subtle one. The only change in depth is give or take six inches. The whole scene didn't particularly scream fish to me, I knew it was worth my time though. First four casts, to my certain surprise, landed four worthy fish. At this point in my day I was so overstuffed with joy and satisfaction that I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Every time a torpedo trout would take my line, I'd be cheering for myself hoping someone would get a glimpse. After a few moments of joy, adrenaline and a few photos, I took a short break before I gave it another go. Cast after cast, fish after fish, some would get off and others would come in. This was 100% pure bliss for me. Although it may sound easy, let me tell you the amount of concentration I was putting forth was exhausting within itself. So, I started looking at why this little hole was such a great place for big trout. It had occurred later that day the reason most likely for my success was the natural barrier that lay only twenty yards up the creek. The fish navigated to this difficult or impassable structure and got all cozy right below it. They pretty much kicked their shoes off, dug in, and got fat from the feast of insects that were floating downstream.

"He made a few more good runs before I had him in my possession. I admired this fish briefly, appreciating every second we had together. Another worthy trout, another exceptional day."

            After possibly the greatest thirty minutes of fishing I had all year, I was ready to walk up and share my joy with Mason. He was serious, doing his thing, trying to hook as many trout before sunset. The piece of stream he was fishing was probably no larger than a master bedroom. The water twisted and turned, finally easing its tension while flowing into less gradient terrain. This less gradient terrain is where the pool formed thus bringing in the trout. I walked a ways up from there and ran into Chris, who was tying on a different fly. From there the section didn't yield many favorable options and had recently been drudged out (evidence of machinery tracks and muddied bottom). I meandered back to the honey hole I found and regrouped with Mark. Mark wasn't surprised at all after I shared with him my results; he and everyone else knew what was swimming in this part of the river, at that particular hole. I happened to nonchalantly be the first to have given it a go. We were now completely soaked despite wearing rain gear from head to toe. At this point I felt like a GI who had just survived his first battle, a little hardened to the sport you could say.We started the short walk back to the car. Trumpeter swans and geese were heard beyond the mist. Every chill I accumulated began to stick, making me tired wet AND cold. No need to worry, we were headed for more trout upstream!

A pair of bulky rainbows caught on the upper section of Depuy's

          The property has on site, a fly shop, which is as small as the warming huts. In front of the store is some great brown trout water. Here, the river is wide and shallow. Still, you could throw a stone across it with little effort and the depth maxes out just below the knee. However, every time I've fished these waters, this is where I end up last. Something to hold on to just in case the previous parts of Depuy's didn't fold earlier. The fishing, again, was absolutely ridiculous. Everywhere I looked one of us had a fish on, sometimes two or more at a time. Clouds began to give way, revealing a very surreal sunset. It seemed as though each cast I made brought the sun down just a little more, until it would be gone. Worn out from the earlier half of the day, I was trying to push myself to cast just a little further, walk just a little more. It paid off. I already had the best day I've ever experienced at Depuy's, why not make it even better?

          Well Mason and I said goodbye to Mark and his friends. We planned on going back to Eva's Hut to find the same action we had that morning.  If I didn't have two happy dogs at home waiting to go outside I would have stayed for another hour or two. We quickly hopped on the highway and back through the first entrance. At Eva's Hut we took no time getting back in the water. Mason went his way and I went mine for our last chance at another quality fish with maybe twenty minutes left in the day. I heard first, then saw, three or four cast-worthy trout. They were feeding in shallow water, dorsal and caudal fins poking out of the water. I had tied on my trusty eggy and my own variation of Marks "Blue Midge", with a size twenty hook. A stealthy downstream crossing put me at just the right position for a backhand cast. My targets were hugging my side of the bank, very close to the thick, grassy undercut bank. I cast my line, take one half step forward and cast again, landing my flies twelve inches in front of my prey. My indicator alerted me to the take just half a second before my drag started squealing. I caught the attention of two gentlemen who had started fishing downstream. I had to step about three feet off the bank into ankle deep water where my last trout of the day was laying. He made a few more good runs before I had him in my possession. I admired this fish briefly, appreciating every second we had together. Another worthy trout, another exceptional day. One of the fishermen who was near us came up and gave us a few of his "Depuy Killer Flies". They were some natural looking blood midge pupae on a sixteen long-shafted hook, I took them home with me and tied some of my own for next time. Exhausted, we packed up and drove home.

            We say numbers don't matter but that day I landed over fifteen beautiful trout. The smallest was maybe sixteen and the biggest was close to twenty, average being seventeen to eighteen inches. Its days like these that give us a taste of how great the fishing can be. Lets not forget about the days we get skunked either. When I leave the river without hooking a fish, it only feeds my desire to find days like this at Depuy's. During the summer months the price doubles to spend a day at this place. I'll stick with my freestones and tail-waters until fall. Fish on all!

 Pictures to be added soon!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Chasing Grayling and Big Cutties


           I found myself debating on whether or not to make the thirty minute drive up Hyalite Canyon in pursuit of whatever it was I could find, I wasn't even certain. I had to tell myself to go or I would end up sitting inside, tying flies until my back screamed for mercy. The weather was hanging between rainy and windy, and really rainy and cold. I knew the fishing would be great If I could find the fish though. I'm fairly familiar with my local waters, where to go at what time of year, and of course, what to use and when. Most of my local fish habitat is blown out this time of year and I was just itching for some mediocre fishing. I had in mind a place I've heard of many times. Locals talk about it but it seemed harder to get there at the right time than even trying to bother waiting for the right conditions. Winding up the narrow mountain road, past what seems like endless pocket water full of brookies, I was heading for a reservoir. It was difficult not to stop before getting to my destination.  Bigger fish are ahead I told myself as I passed one of my favorite runs this time of year, bigger fish are ahead. Like I said, I wasn't sure what I was looking for, I just know I wanted to fish the reservoir with either chironomids or streamers from the bank.

             To my surprise, when I reached the top of Hyalite Canyon Road, the reservoir was full of white caps. The wind was harsh and cold as if it were blowing straight off the mountains themselves. It was seventy degrees at my home before I left, but here I was barely prepared to stand the elements, let alone fish into the awful wind. My spirit was a bit bruised. I felt the urge to explore a little, but knew I would probably turn around and go home. I figured the drive up the canyon was as good as sitting at home. Before I turned back, I noticed the road to the upper section was now open. The stories of what lie ahead popped up in my head. The destination I wanted to check out was only a mile or so down this old dirt road which is closed many days of the year. The road follows the steep banks of Hyalite Reservoir for only a couple of miles. I was looking for where upper Hyalite Creek flowed into the reservoir. The small, whitewater stream feeds fast flowing water right into the high elevation reservoir. Most of the year this location is flooded, taking away the structure of channels that attract the fish before they head up the stream to reproduce. There's actually a sign posted that says "fishing above this sign is off limits until July", after the cutthroat spawn. When people talked about being here at the right time, they mean the cutty spawn, when the reservoir

           There are a few reasons the outlet of the upper creek is such a hot spot for fish. Cutthroat rainbows and grayling stack up here for a few reasons. The rainbows follow the cuttys during spawning and feast upon the eggs that drift freely downstream. The other reason may seem obvious as well; colder water and current flow. This outlet of water is the greatest structure in the whole reservoir. I could walk miles of the shoreline, throwing wooly buggers along the banks, hoping to hook a lone cruiser or two. But here was something special. At the outlet, I desired a place that 1.) hadn't been fished hard since ice-over, 2.) has a steady number of fish moving in and out all day 3.) brings in the native cutthroat on their way to spawn. Of course, these were factors I had in my head, and the reasons I wanted to find this so called honey hole. I was unsure of what the conditions might be.
             I pulled up to a two car pull-off on the south end of the lake. Right away I could tell the lake level had not yet risen to undesired levels. I actually looked out through the rain and saw a rather dull sight. Heavy waves and gusts of wind were pounding the muddy banks. I couldnt see my destination, it was just around the corner behind a boggy, muddy, stinky swamp-like flat. I had to navigate through what reminded me of a mangrove swamp. Small channels of nasty, bacteria filled water blocked my path. I would have to climb over a hundred dead bushes in order to keep my feet dry. So I backed out and headed back down the dirt road. Either my curiosity or my urge to fish got to me. I turned around and parked back into the small space, turning off the ignition as a statement saying "I'm here to stay now". I thought I would get a little dirty, but I wanted to see if these channels were fishable, I had nothing to lose. I zipped up my rain jacket and made my way through the maze that was the bog. Next time I will be bringing my waders I thought, as I jumped another small, stagnate piece of orange colored water. It was too easy to imagine a bull moose or grizzly bear rummaging around back there. I wasnt surprised to see bear tracks when I saw them.

a new personal best cutthroat from Hyalite Reservoir, caught on a #20 caddis pupae

          I made it out of the bog with dry feet, I succeeded! My first glance at the water I was going to fish was a sight to see! There before my eyes was a beautiful piece of water, no longer than twenty five yards. I had it all to myself too. A few fly fishermen were on the shore across from me just within yelling distance. Up ahead I saw the sign, maybe fifty yards away, and below that the upper Hyalite Creek raged around a corner, slowing its release right into the pool I was about to fish. The water flew around, jetted over a shallow rock bar, and slowed down as the water deepened. I didnt know what I was getting myself into. I was unsure if someone had already hammered this spot. It would be very easy for one man to cover the hole by himself, and there wouldn't be a lot of room to share. However given the time of day, only 9:00 am, I imagined I was the first here. I spent no time rigging up a San Juan worm and small caddis pupae under one BB sized split-shot and an indicator roughly seven feet up from there. I took a few minutes to finish my cigarette and watch the water. I couldn't help but breath the mountain air in deeply while I gazed at the surrounding Fridley, Blackmore, and Hyalite peaks. Fortunately for me I was in the right place at the right time. What I was about to experience was one of those moments that will stay with me until the day I no longer walk this earth.

          ....To be continued

Monday, April 21, 2014

Exceptional Spring Creek Fishing

               Exceptional fishing at spring creeks doesn't always happen. For many, spring creeks are often perceived as challenging. The water is crystal clear and in many areas no deeper than ten inches. Trout see you coming from a mile away and are very skiddish. A fly line carelessly flopped across the surface will cast a shadow that could spook the lunker you're casting to. Hatches become particularly specific many times of the year and the trout are selective during feeding. Its important to understand the fundamentals of entomology before stepping into these demanding waters. There are however some factors that make spring creeks the most desirable of all the fisheries. The predictable flows and temperatures make conditions nearly ideal no matter what the weather is doing. The water is always around forty-five degrees. Life long fish that never leave the creeks grow to huge lengths. Fish migrate to these creeks for ideal spawning conditions and substantial food. Insects thrive in these year-round warm ecosystems as well. Also one of my favorite things about many spring creeks is that they only have a maximum number of rods per day. With the decreased pressure and size of some spring creeks, finding solitude and quality fishing is easy.

                Like mentioned above, some anglers feel a sense of challenge towards spring creeks. I feel the same way. While heading out for my recent trip, and even the night before, I felt extreme anxiety. I felt the pressure to fulfill my moneys worth and anticipated the amount of effort and skill I would have to put forth. I knew that prior trips left me exhausted, some with good results and others with very little success. This time around, however, I knew it would be good, maybe easy. The spring rainbow spawn is underway and for a fact the fish are stacking up at Depuys. The previous night I tied plenty of Blue Midges and WD-40's, both sizes 18-20 along with plenty of orange Eggys, which I had hoped would be all I needed. It was a beautiful drive from Bozeman to Paradise Valley, as it always is. Its a trip I will always remember as Ive made it many times before in the early hours of the day. Giant mountains loom in all directions and wildlife is all but hidden. Every turn and bend in the river is as picturesque as a Montana post card.

Marks first cast fish- gota love those!
               We pulled into Eva's hut which is the warming hut at the bottom section of the property after we paid and said hello to Betty, the property hostess. We met up with a few friends, so there were five of us all together. Someone started up the wood stove as we talked and finished our coffees. Outside a few of us discussed what was good to tie on and rigged our lines with various double nymph setups. We agreed the Eggy was the ticket and that there were plenty of midges on the water. It was 8:15 am, the weather was nice, light fog at the time with a calmness in the air. The surrounding mountain-scape was hidden by low lying clouds, like smoke. It was ideal conditions to start a perfect day in a perfect place! Eva's hut is within a few steps to the river. One at a time as we finished getting ready we all walked to the water.

First cast of the day at Depuy Spring Creek
             Like many other outings to Depuys, the first twenty minutes are almost always guaranteed good fun. Collectively we had pulled in fifteen worthy trout and it had not even been fifteen minutes. Its quiet a sight actually, to see how the fish get spooked by the commotion of reeling in their buddies. Within an hour this whole stretch turned into a normal fishery again. I told Mason how this happens every time I'm here. How the fishing is incredible those first few casts then becomes a lock box allowing no room for error. Mentally I began preparing myself for the tasks ahead. After the slaying slowed down I sat my rod aside and went to see how everyone else was doing. I figured I had my fun and was in no hurry to get serious. Just while sitting on the bank watching everyone I could see trout everywhere. The football sized fish were dancing over their redds, spashing, coming nearly all the way out of the water as they rolled about spawning. The sizes of some of these fish made my heart beat faster. The sight of it all reminded me of salmon migrating upstream.

            After a few hours I was hoping I could find untouched water.  Mason and I decided to head all the way to the bottom of the spring creek, the area that is nearest to where the Yellowstone River comes in to feed it. We walked maybe ten minutes before stopping at the first hole. He went to a spot I had suggested and I went down twenty more yards to a nice spot. It was not a redd but a nice hole maybe four feet deep and ten feet long. I cast my line into the riffle up ahead and let my line drift slowly down. Sure enough, I hooked into a seventeen inch rainbow. Well this was good I thought. I was now catching fish when I knew it wouldn't be easy. I ended up catching three more hefty fish before I hooked something massive. I thought I was snagged until whatever it was sped upstream faster than I could sprint on land. My rod instantly went horizontal and before I could pull it up the fish had caught my drag so fast it broke me off. I knew that if I had kept this fish on the hook, there would be no way I could have landed it. I was using a four weight rod that day which is considered small for moderate sized fish. Each big fish I did catch became an extreme battle. Some fish were so big I could hardly "pull them" from their line in the current. It wasn't unusual to look at me that day with my rod nearly bent in half. That's part of the challenge I enjoy though, as spin fisherman have their ultralights, I had my four weight.

         Mason and I regrouped. He wanted to fish a hole so I kicked around in the water for a few. It wasnt long before I could hear splashing downstream. Closer inspection, ten to fifteen rainbows all having a good time near some redds. I walked even closer and began thinking of ways to approach in a stealthy manner. I ended up waiting for Mason so he could get in on the fun. Besides, this is the exact spot I wrote previously about having learned a life lesson in fly fishing, maybe this could teach him an invaluable lesson as well. I have a short pep talk and let him try first. My novice friend casts and casts again until his flies land above the fish. His casts are great and at first the flies land a little short, behind the rainbows. It wasnt long until his line was rolling right through the sweet spot. Sometimes the indicator goes under, Mason sets the hook. He's either hitting bottom causing the strike indicator to go down or the hook is coming out of the fishes mouth. I couldnt help but noticed the power he was putting into the hook set. Its easy to let adrenaline overcome the finesse needed. I even mentioned that he was going to rip the hook right out and I could tell he was getting impatient. Something wasnt right when he didnt hook up after plenty of perfect casts. The fish were still there clear as day, splashing about. Mason brought his line in to inspect his flies. The look on his face when he realized he was fishing with no hooks, only line, and that he had a fish on but set the hook so hard it broke his line, was priceless. Im sure that he learned something here, as I did last year, that will make him a better fisherman (see A Day at Depuys for my lesson learned). Its critical to "feel" on the hook set when fishing for trout. These were heavy trout and Mason was using 5 and 6X tippet which is only two to three pound test line.

         With so many fish under my belt already I headed back to Eva's hut for some lunch. I met Chris when he offered me a local IPA in a green can. By now everyone else was sitting around the table trading flies and cracking beer tops. We were all hooking into fish and it was only noon. I could see out the window all the trout that were moving back up. More and more were splashing around the creek now. It was nice to warm up next to the fire but I was itching for another tug of war with a beastly trout....to be continued!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Bliss: A Perfect Day With Mykiss, Salmo Trutta and Williamsoni


             On a perfect spring, summer, or fall day, one would usually not hesitate to jump in the car and head towards crystal clear waters full of hungry fish. I cannot imagine sporting a t-shirt or light fleece and trudging through refreshingly cool water in the pursuit of my obsession. To sit down next to a near perfect fishing hole with the pleasant feeling of the sun hitting my back and neck sounded heavenly. It's the sinuous, warm breeze often providing a harmonious rhythm along side the undulating tone of water. The creatures that hide themselves while I make haste begin to reveal themselves as I sit motionless near the bank. Mule deer, whitetails, moose, and otters are a few critters that I share these waters with. Even birds and waterfowl, as meager as they seem, will cause me to stop what I'm doing and stare with appreciation. It's days like these that "fishing" may not be why I am out here at all. I might as well leave the pole in the car, but catching a fish would be a nice bonus on such a perfect day.

         This winter feels especially cold, much colder than last year. Cabin fever has set in. I know that fishing follows the same aspects during the winter as my activity outdoors declines. The fish slow down and the fishing isn't worth writing home about if the temperature is below thirty-two degrees. At the first glimpse of a thirty-eight to forty degree day, you can bet that I will be heading towards my escape.

          This particular mid-winter outing was a blessing for not only my sanity but for my overall quality of life. To some, fishing is as I explained previously, a good reason to enjoy the outdoors. But for others, fishing satisfies the soul. Setting out to accomplish the task of reeling in a beautiful specimen from a beautiful, untainted body of water is something we've tried to express in articles for decades. No longer are we fishing for the survival of our families but for sport. A half day jaunt into their world only to succeed in what we set out to do is a very good feeling. Walking in and out of mother nature's world only to catch, photograph, and release trout; leaving no sign or trace except for the digital files I take is a win in my book. On this mild day in January, I found all of this remains true to me and a very blissful experience followed.

         The middle of winter submitted to a wonderful fifty degree day. I was lucky enough to be off of work on this day and I knew just what I was going to do. I arrived at the river around noon. It was nice to leave the jeep without gloves, a mask, or a hat. I didnt care how the fishing was, the day was too perfect to be indoors. I remember having the feeling that I was the only person fishing or perhaps the first person to fish this river since fall of last year. The woods and stream had a remarkable vibe that day. The instant that I stepped into this world something engulfed me, I started to get that feeling deep inside. This wasn't the picture perfect day like I had been dreaming about but it was its own unique blend of pristine serenity and beauty. I had miles of shimmering river that was mine to fish alone, which I generally enjoy. Not to say I dont enjoy fishing with friends, but fishing alone is what I enjoy most. While I made my way to my honey hole, which is about a mile walk around tight bends and through several crossings, I had spooked several mule deer which in return spooked me. Eagles gazed down at me as I passed under their perches. I thought I could toss them a trout and make some friends out here. On this day I was happy to be outside and with all I've seen I could have left happy. Then I started thinking about why I was here. I had the urge to catch fish.

       As simple as the phrase "catch fish" sounds, its really quiet deep. This was no task of simply putting on a lure and casting for fish. I was in predator mode, trout slayer mode. It was such a perfect day, however I had yet to please my urges. If I had brought a partner with me it would've been hard to hide my excitement. Like a bass angler sizing up his competition during a tournament, I too was sizing up my opponent; the river. Many say when it comes to trout fishing, that slower is better. Its taken me two years to focus on this idea. Fishing slow for trout can mean fifty different things. Today, me being slow means walking and moving slow while near water that holds fish. I also vowed to myself to fish each hole with more patience, allowing nearly four times the length of time I would usually fish one spot. My bad habits include making ten casts and moving on to the next hole or run. My theory today was conjured with the idea of catching the most fish possible (have to catch as many as I can). The ideology behind the fishing slow is good for a few reasons; mostly because the trout were still cold and a bit lethargic. Fishing slow gives the trout more time to see and consume my flies. It paid off very well.

          I fished my honey hole harder than I would have during warmer seasons. This spot was like a control in an experiment. If I couldn't take my time and catch fish here, I wasn't going to have much luck anywhere on this river. Normally I will fish with general flies that I know work; san juan worm, girdle bug, leech, eggy, blue midge etc. but this day I managed to retie a few times until I found something that worked. I managed to slow down, be patient, cast, cast, retie, cast, retie, repeat, repeat repeat and it paid off! I landed six trout once I  had figured out what they were eating. The fly of choice by hungry trout happened to be a number twenty-two olive midge nymph. They were going nuts for it! I finally dialed into exactly what they were feeding on.

        During my walk back to the jeep, a small riffle of water quietly flows into a 15x10x3ft pool and catches my eye. A stealthy approach gets me within viewing distance and I see nothing but cold dark water seemingly void of all life through my polarized glasses. Should I keep moving or gamble wasting time on such a small pool? Maybe they were holding tight against the sides. I plan my assault, observing everything about this deep little pocket of water such as how I imagine the bottom to be, possible depth, current, obstructions, fish flashes. First cast into what seemed like a hopeless, lifeless body of water and I get snagged. The snag suddenly turned into the shape of a golden silver torpedo as he started to fight, reflecting light off his sleek body. I was just stoked! I was amazed at how many trout and whitefish were in this small pool or water. Life was literally thriving everywhere. From there on, every hole I stopped at held many, many fish. They were stacked up in these holes which I had fished so hard on my way to the honey hole. The right fly was the game changer it seemed. I took my time and landed a dozen fish and hooked twice as many on my way back.

       While my trail merged with another, I spoke with a fly fisherman who was just getting back from fishing upstream. We exchanged info. In that I learned he hadn't had the great day that I did. The empty hole in my soul was now stuffed with satisfaction of a day well fished. We walked back to our cars together talking about what a great day we had. I showed him what I had used to catch my trout and he was happy to be informed. We had a lot in common I realized in just those few minutes we chatted. We were the few who yearn for such days, and the only ones taking advantage of this particular day. I knew that despite this older gentlemen being skunked, he had just as great of a day as I did. I took a moment to reflect these thoughts. More often than not we're out there alone. It's either a guide with a client or a couple when I see pairs. I love this place because of fly fishing, if not for fly fishing I wouldn't fully experience it. I feel fortunate to have discovered the world of fly fishing and trout in big sky country. Fly fishing has mended with my spirit just like the connection of a mighty trout through a fly rod.          Tight lines all!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Very 101 Dry Fly Discussion, Part 1

Heavy caddis hatch on the Madison River
           Throughout my trout fishing adventure I've learned many things. Like anyone stepping into a new hobby, I wasn't sure how I would respond to the learning process. I was worried I would invest a good amount of time and money into something I would later end up not enjoying. I had the idea that I could always resort to my spinning reel if all else failed. The first few months into my fly fishing odyssey I had a lot of doubt. I was ever so frustrated and I didnt have the patience it seemed to require. Many aspects brought me down such as not catching as many fish, spending more time retying tangled leaders and learning to cast with so many variables. All of these barriers must be experienced before moving onto the next steps . I've got my casting down, I know the basic flies to use and I can read the water to find the fish. I succeeded in the basics without giving up. The days that the few flies I had would not work, would give me a feeling of loss, all the while I was making two hundred casts each day. Even though I may not have been catching the high numbers of fish I had anticipated, I was still getting a lot of important casting practice. It doesn't matter which fly you use if you cant put your line where you want it.

              Now that I have the hardest part behind me I can look forward to the great world that fly fishing is.  I spent so many hours focusing on the basics in that first year that I hadn't had time to remember all the vast possibilities that are out there; dry fly fishing is one of them. I was re-introduced to dry flies by a friend during the summer of '13, and this particular day we had a grand time. We stood in the East Gallatin around five o'clock pm.. The two of us had rigged the usual double nymph style set up and were ready to fish. We noticed a lot of bugs flying around and the fish were rising every so often. My trout stalking accomplice suggested its time to put on a dry fly, and with his many more years experience, I happily obliged. My first cast landed a twelve inch brownie. I positioned my elk hair caddis just along the inside of a small eddie. Within only five feet and in the blink of an eye the trout took my fly. My fishing partner tied on a #16 yellow stimulator and was catching them every third cast. The fish were turned on as a thunderstorm was off in the distance, swirling towards us. A few hours later my company left. I was having such a good time I stayed a couple hours more. I walked back down river and fished the whole section all over again and had great success. I can thank my friend and a tiny little fly called the elk hair caddis for the excellent fishing that day.
Caddisfly clinging near the Gallatin River

        The next few days I reminisced about the top water action I enjoyed so much. It felt like I had a child pulling at my pant leg each day, always on my mind. I was yearning for the dry fly bite again. I hooked into some good fish one evening and did again the next day on the same stretch. I had set myself up for some serious trial and error, learning along the way. I was avidly keeping mental notes on what and where would and wouldn't produce fish. I had probably caught anywhere between fifteen and twenty fish each day and lost twice as many. It seemed the fish were growing ever so aware of what I was throwing and I had to switch through half a dozen or so colors and patterns. The third day my fly of choice was a # 18 olive adams dry fly. I remember seeing a few mayflies on the surface being taken by trout. The caddis out numbered the mayflies 20:1 but fish were eagerly coming to the surface for my adams.

            You may have heard the phrase "matching the hatch" before. Well how important is it to match the hatch? Since this is a 101 article, I am going to keep it simple for now. When it comes to using dry flies, you need to know what insect it represents. Some flies imitate a broad range of flying bugs while others hone in on one specific insect. So besides the shape of the fly, the right color and the right size are also very important. There are a handful of dry fly patterns that will work well on any given day. Chances are, If you happen to have a few of these flies in your box, and the trout are rising, you wont be displeased.

                  Elk Hair Caddis #'s 20-14 dark/tan
                  Parachute Adams #'s 20-14 dark colors, olive, tan
                  Stimulator #20-16 orange
                  Blue Winged Olive #'s 22-18
                  Royal Wulff #'s 22-14
                  Griffiths Gnat #'s 22-14 dry fly/emerger

Adams dry fly, East Gallatin Cutbow
Elk hair caddis, East Gallatin

          As a beginner, like myself, its difficult to look at an insect and know exactly what species it is. There are so many species of flies that hatch and emerge at certain times of the day, it can be very important to understand what the trout are eating during that hour. Its not completely necessary to know, but this ability will give you more options when you're out on the water or the trout are being picky. My general knowledge of dry flies has taught me a few things. The five major insects groups that trout eat are midges, mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and salmonflies. Each one has many different species which vary in size and color. It wouldnt hurt for a beginner fly fisherman to do some research on these five groups and be able to identify them while out in the water. This could mean the difference between putting on an elk hair caddis or a parachute adams. Once the you've found out whats flying around, you can start to look for a pattern that imitates not only the shape, but also the right size and color of whats on the menu. The reward will be worth it!

        The more pressure I put on the fish, the harder they were to catch later. They would no longer come up to eat my peacock elk hair caddis like the first day. Many more days I returned for the hot action and it seemed that the fish had simply seen too many elk hair caddis flies. The general shape of the elk hair caddis is good for imitating all sorts of caddis species. The trout were smart and realized this was no longer meeting their requirements. They were more hesitant to take their time looking at the fly before wolfing it down. Not to say this stretch of heavily hit river will be void of all elk hair caddis action, but the older fish become more finicky and more specific patterns need to be presented. I will add that my friend and I were probably the first to heavily fish this section of river since early winter the previous year. The fish, like I said, were becoming more specific in their needs; This occurs day to day throughout the year. What worked one day wouldn't catch any fish the next, etc. The more flies a person can keep in their vest or bag will increase the odds if that person knows how to use them.