Sliding into Fall

It’s Labor Day weekend and you know what that means ….. the summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner.  It’s a bitter sweet time of the year.  We few who live under the Big Sky look forward to our falls.  Crisp mornings, cobalt blue afternoon skies, and the kaleidoscope of leaf colors lining our rivers and streams.  It’s a special time of the year, but there is a dark lining on the horizon, winter’s not that far away.  So if you have a hankering to get out and fish …. it’s now officially count down time …. we have about 6 weeks of wonderful and then it will be over for a few months.  As Mr. Wayne would have said ….”We’re burning day light.”

These last few weeks have produced the best grasshopper fishing this po child has seen in about a decade.  Others within the industry annually extol the the multitude of grasshoppers even when they are not really all that thick.  But this year is different.  Has it been a biblical plague of hoppers? ….. well no, I’ve seen denser population explosions, but hand down this summer has been the best hopper fishing in quit some time.

Most of the hot and heavy action has been on the Yellowstone.  It’s a huge river and even though some guides from Bozo, Missoula, and Livingston are still trucking all this way from there home waters, there is more than enough elbow room out there.  And the really good news ….. the mongrel hordes are beginning to subside. The other day we had about 10 miles of river all to ourselves, not a boat in sight all day.  And the fishing? …. PDG ….. pretty damn good.

Mornings continue to be all about the Trico’s ( which are beginning to fade from the scene) and nymphs hung under your favorite biggish dry fly.  If the nymphs aren’t lighting it up, go with a couple mid-sized dry flies ….. purple hazes followed by ants or Beatles (John, Ringo, Paul or George would do).  You just might get a serious surprise by fishing something different than others have been chucking.  Afternoon has been hopper-iferous.  The all out hopper blitz of a couple weeks ago is fading.  It takes a little more diligence to find that special spot.  The other day I took a side channel on the Jelly, that frankly I was not at all sure I’d be able to float through.  I was looking for one of those areas where most (smart folks) do not venture.  Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice and thus we did.  Fishing for large trout is somewhat similar to playing the market.  To those who take the big risk comes either the bigger rewards or total bankruptcy.  After we eventually emerged from the unknown, we felt like trout millionaires.  Man that was fun and productive.  If I could have drug the boat upstream for a half mile, we would have done it again, and again, and again ….. sometimes that’s exactly what it takes to turn a good day into one that you think of during the cold winds of winter ….. yes, it was that good.

In the category of upcoming events …. I’ll keep it short and sweet.  Hoppers will still work until they don’t.  As the weather cools, so does the hopper action.  My advice is to pick the right day(s) to go.  This next week to 10 days is supposed to be pretty hot and windy …. yes, those are the right days.  The streamer bit is starting to pick up, but if the skies stay cobalt blue and not gun metal gray, then streamers will not be a huge factor.  The nastier the day, the better the streamer striping.  And finally, the itty-bitty dries will become increasingly important over the next month or so.  Baetis will soon be on the menu and there are other smallish mayflies that will be the ticket(s).  The real key to success …… keep your eyes open and don’t get locked into any single methodology.  There’s a reason folks have invented about 10,000 fly patterns and it’s not just marketing.

PS …. I’d like to thank all the kick butt older fisher-folks with whom I’ve been spending the last few weeks.  These folks can flat out fish and most of them are pretty good at the catching part as well.  But what I’ve truly appreciate, is listening to 70 to 85 year olds’ continually referring to me as a puck kid, wet behind the ears, just entering puberty, and all that sort of smack talk.  Most days as I record the State required license data, the ALS numbers serve as a stark reality check that most of my clients were born after I graduated from high school and the University of Montana.  Thus, senior ribbing gives me hope.  If you don’t stop moving, you don’t lock up.  Having a passion is essential.



The Real Deal and the nearly Real Deal


Hopper caught fatty


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Dog Daze Done?

Well let’s hope so.  Yes, it has been hotter than the hubs of Hades throughout the land of the Big Sky.  Blue bird skies with nary a cloud in site until late afternoon on most days have produced Chamber of Commerce days which are all rather lovely, unless you are fishing for the wary trout who really do not like those types of conditions.  Couple that with the continuation of rubber boat traffic jams sporting Missoula, Bozeman, and Livingston license plates and it quickly becomes obvious that adjustments are in order.  And so we have.  Early is good and the crack of dawn is even better.  Out of the way hiddy holes are really where it’s at.

The good news is that some of the traffic is headed to the Jelly which is reported to have wonderful hopper and stonefly dry fly fishing.  Apparently the fish are damn near jumping in the boat, or so I’ve read….. I’d be happy to draw some folks a map of where they should go …… but I digress.

Cutting to the fishing chase, not a lot has changed since I last checked in.  The big dogs continue to be double nymphs, down and dirty and I do mean way down.  The other day I had folks in a mondo honey hole which usually hold some nice fish.   We methodically fished and probed the entire hole over the course of 30 minutes.  We yarded up numerous small trout and lots of white fish.  No fatty trout were encountered until I started adding split shot, first a little and eventually more than that.  And yes, it did make a difference.  Charlie hooked a pig and the entire thing was apparently captured on video which I may be able to get my hands on.  A nice gent by the name of Dave (from Billings) and his son had parked in the same hole after we had started to cover the water.  When the hoop’n and holler’n started, they whipped out their phone video thingie and the party was on.  Charlie confided that was the largest fish he has ever caught on the Stillwater, in over 50 years of fishing it.  Thus in the end, it was all about the depth of presentation and a little persistence.  Remember that, it’s not like the old days out there when any ol’ dry fly would catch a fish.

And speaking of dries ….., from my view, damn little interest has been shown.  I know that is not what you want to hear, but it is the truth.  If you want to fish dry, the most productive dries have been the smaller stuff, like #16 – 18’s.  But frankly, that has a lot to do with the caliber of angler that has been chucking them.  Yes, we have been fishing chubbies, and golden stone parachutes, and Cabes and all that jazz.  And yes you can and will catch some fish, but based on my observations, the dries, especially the big dries, are not really the hot ticket item.  Although a gent who has been throwing those itty-bitty dries caught a 21-22″ brown on the upper the other day (didn’t get a picture of that one either, maybe it’s all fake news).  Byron indicated that was the largest brown he has ever caught on the Stillwater in over 60 years of fishing it….. so life ain’t all bad.

Coming attractions include, reduced numbers of anglers (school starting), shorter cooler days, and browns that within the next few weeks will begin to develop serious attitude problems….. fall is not that far away.  In fact, it’s rather sobering to think that in 5 or 6 weeks, we’ll likely see some snow.  It’s usually a mid-September thing and much anticipated because that’s when the fishing can really get nuts.

But I’m not thinking that far ahead.  I’m going to enjoy what little of summer we have left.  And don’t forget, the Yellowstone is supposed to be red hot …. hoppers, hoppers, and more hoppers …. or so the story goes …. better get out there when you can.


MD with one of many


Let’s take care of our spotted buddies …. water getting warm


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Late July and ….

Regional streams and rivers remain uncharacteristically high ….  successful fly fishing is still pretty much a float and stop game.  And although the wading is “iffy” to down right dangerous, over all fishing is pretty darn good.  It’s even better for fisher-folks with skills.

As of late, the Stillwater has been in full blown dry fly mode.  When the fish are actively surface feeding, they seem to prefer the afternoon hatch of #16 chocolate caddis.  There are still some fish gobbling PMD’s earlier in the day, but frankly the PMD’s are headed out the door.  And of course, there are those great big golden stoneflies.  I’ve been seeing a random few adults cruising across the river, but the majority of the fish have been keyed on nymphs which are currently migrating toward hatching structure along the river banks.  Pockets, eddies, and deep troughs along the bank have been the ticket for some time now.  Fish must tuck into a current break of some sort since the current speeds are mighty high for this time of the year.  Holding waters come and go quickly, fishing up front and not dragging your gear behind is essential.  And you’d better be able to mend that line now, not later.  When conditions have allowed, the streamer fishing has been freek’n outstanding.

And now one of our Public Service Announcements.  If you want to fish in a rubber regatta, you should focus on floating the upper river.  Our seasonal friends and neighbors from Missoula to Ennis to the Boze-zone have migrated eastward, reportedly in search of less crowded waters.  Which we used to have.  It’s unfortunate but part of the new reality of summers on our larger rivers.  So, I’ve been modifying my game plan to avoid the mongrel hordes.  Modification of start times and river segments can make the difference.  I generally really like people, but I damn sure don’t want to see a a village when I’m fishing and I’d like you to enjoy a real Montana experience

One of Many, up against the bank

One of Many, up against the bank


Dry fly eater

.  Just be aware, smart, and respectful and all will work out, that goes for me as well.

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