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!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Carpin' the Big Sky

Carping is a rewarding experience
         One day in the middle of summer, 2015, I sat in my home watching Youtube videos of giant brown trout in New Zealand. The conditions at the time left me without many options for good trout fishing and I was getting my kicks through the lens of some lucky guy thousands of miles from me. From bull trout to bonefish, I found myself being sucked into the dark corners of the internet video world; my rear end settling lower and lower into the couch. Inside my body, the energy was high. My mind was seeing things that would make any fisherman overjoyed. I soon felt the urge to head out and find my own world class angling experience, without topping off the gas tank. Then, somewhere along the way in my mindless video surfing, I stumbled upon a video of a man fly fishing for carp. Now I've had my fair share of experience with carp, but mostly by snagging them with a spinning set-up or randomly hooking one in the lip on a jig. Cursing at them for breaking my line, yet secretly wishing I could have another go. However, since moving to Big Sky country, carp have been the furthest thing from my mind. I did a little research on the subject. With a little luck, a full weekend, and a relentless urge to land one of these beasts on a fly rod, I scored big time.

              Carp have often been ignored by sportsman in the United States as they are considered by most a trash fish, for reasons that remain fair enough. It's not uncommon to see them tossed on the bank or hit over the head and left to die. Most of the time this causes more unwanted waste than it saves but gives a feeling of satisfaction to most that do it. Respect for them is growing ever so slightly in the sates. In the Western states, where trout and carp live together, many guiding companies now offer carp trips. The Missouri River is known for its plentiful carp numbers, and word is spreading about how enjoyable it is. In Europe, carping is one of the, if not the most, popular fish to pursue. There's some good reason to that too. It's the same reason I used to wish for one to gulp down my Mr. Twister back in Iowa, they are the Mac Trucks of freshwater fish! These golden beasts often grow well over thirty inches or more and can reach upwards of 40 lbs. Not only are they incredibly fun to catch, they are also surprisingly difficult. One has to fully commit, completely understand the fundamentals, expect failure, and be able to land a fly in a tea-cup at thirty feet, before anticipating a successful attempt. If you ever thought trout were finicky and are ready for the next challenge, carp are for you.

Prehistoric looking
            It's well known that carp generally live about everywhere. It's not hard to find them during the summer if you take the time. Look for large splashes and movement around the shallow western side of the lake, the hotter outside the better. The carp will be in the shallows feeding and sunbathing.  It's important to know whether or not the carp you are looking at are feeding. Feeding or "tailing" carp are very similar to bonefish. Both carp and bonefish feed by shuffling around in the mud with the snouts down and tail up. Its not uncommon to see half a carp sticking out of the water as they root around for anything organic. As omnivores, fly selection is pretty easy. Anything that feels like a crunchy, squishy bug will be held in the mouth long enough to make a hook set. I've noticed that carp will suck in a mouthful of mud or sand, and then blow out, holding on to whatever food it finds. Forget streamers or anything big, colorful, or fast moving. One of the more difficult aspects of carping is how easy they spook. After spending some time with these amazing fish you can see how evolution has taken trout and carp down two completely different paths. Carp have been around for millions and millions of years, they have changed little and still retain many primitive traits. All of these traits in turn allowed the carp to grow to such sizes. Trout may be much newer and more advance by design but the tortoise is winning the race at this point. The large scales on carp protect them from predators whereas trout have very small, delicate scales, we all know how fragile trout can be. Eyesight; we all know trout have excellent vision, including great night-vision. They can see a fly the size of a pinhead flying to them at speeds of fifteen mph or more. Carp also have excellent vision, and its one of the frustrating things you will realize while trying to stalk them. Unless they've got their head in the mud like you would a breakfast burrito , move still, very still. The other couple of extraordinary senses are hearing and sense of smell. It is IMPOSSIBLE to fish for carp in a noisy boat. One bump with an oar and every carp in the area will make a mad dash, sending off a domino effect of chaos throughout the area. This will require another length of time before the next attempt is made. Forget the sunscreen, don't leak oil, and you better wash your hands off after smoking that cigarette. Carp have exceptional sense of smell and can often tell them you're there long before your line is rigged up.

             A good rod and reel set-up is not necessary but will help. I recommend a sturdy 5/6 weight up to an 8 weight, with floating line and a 9 foot leader of 3 or 4x tippet. A good fly pattern to try is Joe Montana's Hybrid Carp Fly. This pattern can be changed up a little to suite your needs, but keep in mind black is always a good color. Avoid bright colors which may scare them off. Foam beetles, drowned hoppers, hare ears, etc all work very well. Weight IS important and highly depends on the conditions at the time. Have on hand non-weight, slightly weighted, and something heavier but not so heavy it causes a big splash. Weight comes down to the depth you're fishing, and how fast you want your fly to land on the bottom. The key is to land your fly right where the carp is headed. Forget blind casting, this is a head-hunting game. If you spot carp actively feeding in the mud, try and land your fly where you think the carp will be in a few seconds. If the monster fish is swimming but not feeding, try a slightly weighted or non-weighted fly and let it gently float at the fish's sight level. A turn of the head in your fly's direction will indicate a take, lift that rod tip up, set the hook and let the ride begin. Carp have soft lips, hook sets are easy even with smaller hooks. Just hope your rod has enough backbone to turn the fish away from cover and obstacles. It's quite a challenge even after you've landed several fish. In my book the common carp has become an icon of epic fishing. I wouldn't take any whiny kids along, forget bringing anyone without a considerable amount of patience, this is for the die-hard fly fishing enthusiast. Thanks for reading! Check below to read about my first day carping in Montana.


         My first hook up with the poor man's Bonefish was a day I will never forget. It was the day I got my butt off the couch and did a little field research on the subject of carp. I didn't know anything besides the little bit of reading I had done earlier. I packed up the raft, two fly rods, a box of flies, and my wiener dog. I knew right where I was going had carp. It was about noon, sunny and eighty-five degrees. I launched and set out across the lake. After paddling around for a little while without a clue what to do next I saw someone with a bow. She was in a bikini and had a cowboy hat on. I figured she wouldn't mind some dork in a boat with a dog coming up to her so I got out and went to ask a few questions. She said she was looking for the carp too but hadn't seen any, then pointed across to the other side of a different lake. "If I had a raft I would go over there" she said. Well, that's good enough for me. So I wished her luck and made my portage across the hundred yards of dry land.

        Soon after reaching the other side of the this lake, I paddled into a shallow cove. Immediately I noticed plumes of mud by the dozens coming up from under and around the raft. I knew exactly at that moment that I'd found them. They were darting outt left and right. I was utterly dumbfounded on what to do. It wasn't until an hour and half later that I realized casting a leech to them from the raft wasn't going to work. Frustrated and over-heated, I ditched the boat and slowly made my way to some splashing on a shallow shelf. Twenty minutes of stalking, there before me were two massive carp circling each other. One was almost black, the other smaller one was a shiny golden color. I watched and watched until I started letting the fly line fly. I hadn't learned that my little leech was too much to spook them off until they both let loose in a wild bid to escape my deadly flailing clump of black marabou. The whole situation was nothing more than muddy waves retreating across my shins and I headed back to rebuttal.
Carp flats, not always pretty

          I tied on a Blue Midge Spinner pattern I like to use for trout on the Gallatin River. It was small and would sink slowly. It was another hour that I noticed more activity near the shallow shelf. I took my shoes off in order to make less disturbances. What felt like an eternity later, wading through stinky muck up to my knees, I had several large silhouettes cruising around twenty-five feet in front of me. The sun was starting to cut my glare making them more difficult to spot. I found the biggest one was the closest to me, and after watching its behavior I started letting line out. Cutting line through the air until I had enough, I made one last motion and set the fly in front of the feeding fish. One pass after the other, my offer was denied. Finally, the big fish managed its way into a little cul de sac of heavy vegetation. This fish was so big that the top third of it's body was just sitting there out of water. I made a few false casts and landed my midge right on top of its nose, between the wall of weeds and its vacuum mouth. I could tell the fish had found something, eagerly digging where my fly slowly fell. I took a shot and set the hook. All hell broke loose. The five inches of water soon became so displaced, I'll call this carp Moses. The powerful creature pushed with its tail so hard it was nearly walking on sand. My tension kept him charging and on and on he went. I saw my backing for the first time as the rocket powered fish sailed passed one hundred feet, halfway into the main lake. My drag screaming while he went airborne, pushing until exhaustion overcame his effort. Every other carp in the area was long gone and a few minutes later I manhandled the big guy into my arms. I walked all the way back to the raft to admire him some more and give a good revive. Still strong he swam away back to the hundreds of others out there.

         It wasn't only the victory I accomplished over landing the magnificent animal but the revelation I experienced while doing so. My thoughts and preconceptions I once had were now replaced with great respect for the golden bone. Since I have managed a few more on each trip. The sheer effort involved has left me contemplating recently and I know they become more aggressive towards small streamers come fall. I may have to make a trip back before the year is over. Tight lines!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Streamer Spotlight: Mark's Muddler

         If you've been fly fishing for more than a year, then you've probably heard of the Muddler Minnow. It is a streamer pattern created back in the 30's to imitate a previous sculpin pattern. The Muddler is a very reliable streamer perfect for about any setting. The fly has been tied in many patterns and colors, usually incorporating the spun-hair head for buoyancy. Wing, tail, and body, materials may vary depending on conditions or the prey imitated. Grasshoppers, leeches, minnows, sculpins, and crayfish can all be resembled with different color and material combinations. This fantastic fly can be swung in the current, brought downstream with a fast retrieve, or slowly twitched and stripped for big numbers and big fish. Time has proven that the Muddler Minnow's design is something potent and special. Working with the basic build, many fly fisherman are fine-tuning this deadly recipe for ever changing environments. One of those fisherman is Mark.

        My friend, roommate, professional kayak fisherman, and up and coming fishing hot-shot Mark Lyon, came up with a solid variation while fishing the streams and rivers of Montana. He deems it the Mark's Muddler and its a keeper. I've used the MM a handful of times, more recently now that I have been focusing on streamer techniques. My first impression, the fly was bulky yet light, had a strong profile and abstract colors. The usual feather wing is replaced with maribou. Mark uses some silver tinsel for a bit of flash along the shank. His pattern in particular is made in olive or purple on a number six hook, but I have tied the MM with a number eight hook for smaller streams and trout. A long, ten to twelve foot leader, of straight mono will help this fly get down deep. The buoyant reindeer hair gives the fly excellent up and down action. Mark trims his Muddlers head to a bullet-like profile, rather than the traditional spherical cut; this lets the MM cut through the water better while finding the right balance in head buoyancy. Mark's Muddler is a good search fly. This pattern resembles juvenile trout or baitfish. When tied in olive and fished along the bottom it looks more like a sculpin.

Marks Muddler
               -Number 6 streamer hook
               -Small gauge lead wire
               -Black dubbing
               -Heavy black thread
               -Reindeer Hair
               -Purple or olive maribou
               -Silver tinsel

           How do you tie Mark's Muddler? Well, I don't have a video yet but I can explain in step by step directions. If you are familiar with tying the Muddler Minnow then it should be easy. Start off by adding small gauge lead wire to the entire hook shank. With some strong black thread, tie in the lead securely. With the thread hanging near the end of the hook shank, tie in some silver tinsel, then tie in a generous amount of maribou for the tail, The maribou will be trimmed, just make sure it is at least two inches long. Now, add black dubbing to your thread and wrap forward. Once you are about 1/4 the distance of the hook shank from the eye stop. Next, wrap your tinsel evenly with spaces up towards the eye. Be sure to wrap the end of the tinsel in well with thread. Take a pair of scissors and cut approximately 1 and 1/4 inches from the maribou tail, this will become the wing of the streamer. The remainder of the tail should be about 1/2 inch. Tie in the cut maribou to where your tinsel stops, with the trimmed ends to the hook. The wing should extend past the tail about 1/4 of an inch. Once your wing is secured, cut a nice little pinch of reindeer hair. There is no need to stack the hair unless you feel the desire, Tie in clumps of reindeer hair until you start to build a nice thick head. The hair will extend as far as the wing, or slightly shorter. Once two or three clumps of hair are tied into the top of the hook shank, forward of the wing, you can do a few over hand knots or whip finish either between the head and wing or behind the eye. Now it's time to trim the Mark's Muddler and give it the bullet-head profile were looking for. If the head is not a solid piece of hair, or seems thin, next time just add more hair. It can take a good amount to get the bullet-head profile correct. I do believe getting a good thick head can be the difference between this fly fishing well or not.

      There you have the first ever write-up of the Mark's Muddler. I do hope this pattern can get out there to the fishing public. I know it will help improve anyone's chances at hooking up, as this is a solid and well proven design. If your are not a dry fly only kinda guy, or want to try throwing streamers, then this pattern will bring joy to you and your rod, and its easy to tie! Get out there, tie on a Mark's Muddler, and thanks for reading! Tight lines everyone -Mike

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Video Blog: Hyalite Creek Experience, Summer 2015

       Here's a video I made of me fishing Hyalite Creek this summer. I fished two different sections. Please be sure to watch it in 480p for the best viewing experience. I would have preferred 1080p but was having issues rendering it at such quality. I hope you enjoy! -Mike

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Restrictions and Closures for SW Montana Rivers and Streams July 2015

Restrictions & Closures

 Beaverhead River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Portions of the Beaverhead River from Anderson Lane to its confluence with the Big Hole River (7/9/2015)
 Big Hole River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Entire Big Hole River, excluding Dickey Bridge to Maiden Rock Fishing Access Site.(7/2/2015)
 Bitterroot River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Bitterroot River from its origin at the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot River to its mouth (7/2/2015)
 Blackfoot River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Blackfoot River from its headwaters to its confluence with the Clark Fork River (7/2/2015
 Clark Fork River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Clark Fork River from its origin at the confluence of Warm Springs and Silver Bow Creeks to the confluence with the Flathead River (7/2/2015)
 East Gallatin River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Entire East Gallatin River from its origin at the confluence of Rocky and Sourdough Creeks to its confluence with the West Gallatin River (7/9/2015)
 Flint Creek
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
From the Highway 1 Bridge near milepost 53 to the mouth (7/2/2015)
 Gallatin River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Lower Gallatin River from Sheds Bridge (Hwy 84) near Four Corners, MT, downstream to its confluence with the Madison River at Three Forks (7/9/2015)
 Jefferson River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Entire Jefferson River (7/2/2015)
 Madison River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Lower Madison River from Ennis Dam to the Missouri River Headwaters. (7/9/2015)
 Ruby River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Portions of the Ruby River from Duncan District Road to its confluence with the Beaverhead River (7/9/2015)
 Shields River
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/10/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
Most of the Shields River from its confluence with Smith Creek downstream to its confluence with the Yellowstone River. (7/9/2015)
 Silver Bow Creek
Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/03/2015 
Mandatory Drought Closure - 2 PM to Midnight
From Blacktail Creek to the mouth where it joins with Warm Springs Creek (7/2/2015)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Kayaking For Trout: Ennis Lake


            I didn't know what to expect when Mark said he wanted to take me out on Ennis Lake. The thought of eighty-five degree rays of sunshine pounding me nonstop had me on the fence. There wasn't much of a breeze nor any trees for shade, temps to climb. I can handle the sun and heat but can the trout? Would they be willing to bite on a day I would typically hit the much colder Gallatin River, or even stay inside until things cooled off? On the other hand it was an opportunity to learn new water and take a ride in a top of the line kayak. Of course I had to go, there was no choice! Lately I have been a pretty avid fly fisherman, however, I was told to bring spinning gear along on this trip as well as fly gear. The hunters would be white Zonkers, Marks Muddler in olive or purple, and gold/silver Vibrax spinners. There would be little to no nymphing or dry fly fishing. It was four o'clock and we were fishing into dark.

        The Montana air was calm when we set out from the launch. The lake was still and looked like glass. I was eager to make the mile long paddle in a vessel I had little experience with. I was pleased to be gliding across timid water and not thrashing through two foot white caps. The kayak was stable and a pleasure to pilot so far. The lake was fairly clear, at times only three to four feet deep. Strands of vegetation rise up from a sandy colored bottom. An occasional submarine would dart out from under me, effortlessly gliding into the deep. I was seeing four and five pounders every hundred paddle strokes. "What was this madness?" I said to myself,  "a lake not full of fifteen inchers?" I beat the temptation to stop and throw a trolling line out as I was eager to find some structure. The paddle in only took twenty minutes. I looked back across the vast space we had so effortlessly conquered. I could tell this  particular location was difficult to get to by foot and impossible to reach by car. I put down my oar and slid quietly across the water. I was taking it all in when I heard Mark's rod clunking against the bottom of his pirogue. The lake was behind me as I was looking at the long and desolate shore. There beyond my left were pieces of land sticking out into the lake, each like long fingers almost anatomically perfect to a human hand. Each finger protected from view narrow strips of tributaries that were dumping cold water into the lake.

Snapshot of the days big brown trout
        Mark and I started throwing spinners to the bank and it wasn't long until we both got on the board with above average fish. I gave standing up and fishing out of the kayak a try. The craft was remarkably stable. I could even kneel down perpendicular to the bow and stern. The way our surroundings looked and the sense of standing gave me a similar sense to that of flats fishing down in the tropics. The advantage I had, getting over the glare angle and being able to see farther away, made whole setting highly gratifying. We both slowly worked our way to an inlet and began fishing all the structure we saw. Fish after fish were averaging seventeen to eighteen inches. It was in one of these inlets that I pulled in my biggest brown to date. Granted, she wasn't caught on a fly rod, but that didn't make anything less exciting nor intense. It was a ten foot cast right next to an undercut bank that instantly led to a fight to remember. As soon as I could close the bail and begin to reel, the water boiled. This fish made a mad dash for me, and then right past to whip the kayak around. Again, after feeling the tension of the line, the huge brown hauled me around once more. There was a dark torpedo rapidly strafing back and forth, fighting for its life. She tried relentlessly to get into the undercut bank but I was stronger. It wasn't but a few moments later and she was in the net briefly before quickly tumbling back into the water. I was baffled by the whole scene, only to be left wishing to have spent a few more moments to admire the size and beauty. I quickly shrugged and began maneuvering deeper into the maze of cuts and braids.

        An hour or so of some of the best trout fishing later and Mark and I began paddling our own ways within this delta-like environment. Knee high, lush green grass dominated any land along with a few short trees and bushes. The grass on the banks dropped off to fist size river rock, that, if not undercut, would slowly taper into the shallow channels. A few islands were here and there making for good structure.  I pulled up behind one of these islands to eat a snack and recharge. I'd flip a spinner through an eddie with a sandwich in my hand and pull in a hog. I could ever so often hear a fish break the surface from Mark's rod as he was a hundred yards down. The wind began to pick up making for some choppy water, which I love to fish so I changed to a Belly Bouncer streamer AKA Zonker. I really knuckled down and tweaked my "swing" technique until I was hauling in the big boys. I stood before a section of current as I was knee deep, cast forty-five degrees downstream, and let the current swing my streamer down. As it rolled through the rocks a flash would be emitted from the lure, resulting in a ferocious, self-setting hit. I'm sure Mark could hear me yelling as my adrenaline took over. Again and again the fish leaped out of the water. The fight went on for a good five minutes. The last fish of the day ended up being a nineteen or twenty inch rainbow on my five weight rod. One of the best fights I can remember. The time was only six-thirty.
Average trout 

       As I was getting ready to head up into the unknown, Mark was paddling my way. The wind was blowing rather hard at this point. As an inexperienced kayaker  and lake fisherman I was unsure how this would play into our day. By the time that thought was over Mark yelled "We've got to get out of here man, sorry to cut your day short but the lake is looking pretty bad". I didn't argue when I looked down and saw two foot rollers pushing against our way home. The earlier calm and friendly lake turned into a grey beast churning and spitting. I knew it would be a rough paddle. I stowed my gear, we put our heads down and pushed back through the winding narrow sections we came through. The moment we got out into the main body I knew we made a good choice getting out before dark. The spray from whitecaps taller than the kayaks felt like a constant rain and not rolling over was a goal. The headwind was so bad that stopping to rest would result in the loss of fifteen feet in a few moments.  I wanted to troll a spinner on the way back but catching a fish would lose me twenty minutes of paddle time.The paddle back took us twice as long and three times the effort.

       The day ended at eight-thirty and overall was one of the best days of fishing I've ever had. We had both quality and quantity in a relatively short period. The rough paddle back was only the toll for an epic day and part of the whole adventure. I will surely get back there but unfortunately the only way to reach it is by kayak or canoe. The kayak, for me, was a whole pleasure within itself. The ability to silently glide into position and remain stealthy while fishing is a great advantage when fishing for trout. Rafts, catamarans, and belly boats are great for rivers or small lakes, but the Predator MX takes it when it comes to paddling long distances with ease. A big thanks to Old Town Canoe, Dave Howlett, and Mark Lyon for making this experience happen. The video of this adventure is below. Tight lines everyone and thanks for reading! -Mike