Missoula, Montana Fishing Report for the week of 4/8/2018
Another week of big dry flies and big trout in Missoula!
Monday was a cold and snowy one in western Montana. I was on the Bitterroot again with return anglers Pete and Tim, and we added another boat for Tim’s son, Matt. With the weather we decided to meet late and fish the afternoon bite instead of suffering through a frigid morning. We launched just north of Hamilton with fairly decent weather. I had Matt and Tim in my boat to start the day and Tim got us started with a solid cuttbow on the dry in the first run we fished. In the next few spots Matt had a couple eats that didn’t connect before the guys doubled up in a nice bucket. The trout were looking up well in certain spots and Matt stuck a really nice bow off a deep bank. It wasn’t long after that when a bitter cold snow storm descended on us. Both boats hunkered down to stay warm as it moved through. It lasted about a half hour and as it was breaking up we made an angler switch and I had Pete in the boat. We struck out on the first few runs so I stopped to make a fly change. That was all we needed and Pete raised 3 in the next run boating one. He tagged another in the next run down and then hauled a nice brown trout out of a bunch of woody debris. After that we worked through a long side channel that produced a number of nice cuttbows and rainbows. Once we were back in the main river the wind was blowing again and it was getting cold. Still, there were fish looking up and Pete hooked up in the last several runs we fished to the boat ramp. He landed on last cuttbow in the final spot to cap off the day. The weather was certainly a challenge today but we had a lot of fun with Pete, Tim, and Matt and put some great dry fly trout in the net.
Tuesday I was out with local anglers, Jim and Nancy, on the upper Bitterroot. The weather was a lot nicer today when we launched around noon. We started with single dry flies and when the first several runs didn’t produce a look we stopped for a fly change. That didn’t help in the next few runs so we took a break for lunch. Finally Nancy connected with a nice cutthroat just a couple runs into the afternoon. We hoped that was a sign of things to come, but it was still tough enough that I eventually rigged Jim with a dry/dropper. He stuck a good cutthroat in a nice run on the dropper and then Nancy had a great visual eat from a 16″ brown tight to a rock. She followed that up with a rainbow on top and that convinced us to go straight dry flies again. The fish were looking up a little, but we still had to work for it all day. There weren’t many naturals on the water and we saw few rising trout. I changed flies all afternoon and we would string together 2 or 3 fish and then go through a couple of runs with nothing. Toward the very end of the day it seemed to get a little more consistent. Jim had a nice stretch with a double dry rig and Nancy pulled some good fish out tight to structure. It ended up being a decent day of fishing with some hard fighting trout. We had to contend with bright sun, a little rise in river levels, and not many bugs.
What a difference a day make! Wednesday I was out with local angler, Jim and Mike and we put in where I took out yesterday. It wasn’t 2 minutes after the boat was in the water that we had the first eat. Unfortunately it was on Jim’s fly as both he and I were looking upstream into a side channel. Fortunately Mike was watching from the back of the boat to let us both know that we missed it. The fish were looking up right out of the gate today, and I think we had 6 in the boat in the first half mile between Jim and Mike’s houses. There were solid eats in most of the runs and then Mike hooked a monster. I watched his dry fly land upside down, and as he was twitching it to make it right a huge brown trout cartwheeled on the fly. The eat and the set both looked a little hinky but the line came tight and I started to imagine the photos of this massive brown. It wasn’t meant to be though as the fly came free only a few seconds later. It was an awesome eat from a spectacular fish and we had a few laughs about that one. Not long after that I started to see a bunch of big March Browns on the water and we found an inside bend with a bunch of rising fish. We did some wade fishing in that spot and stuck several nice fish. With all the mayflies I rigged Jim up with a double dry fly set-up and he stuck a few on the mayfly, but surprisingly most of the fish were more than happy to eat a big skwala so we clipped off the second fly and stayed single dry. Once the mayflies showed up the fishing went off the charts. I couldn’t even tell you how many doubles we had although I do remember at least 3 doubles in one single run. At one point on an inside bend Mike asked that we just move on because he was tired of catching fish in the same spot. And then Jim reeled up his line and laid his rod down because he said it just wasn’t good karma to catch this many fish. That’s when you know it’s good, when one angler doesn’t want to catch more and the other stops completely for karma purposes. And these guys have been around the block and seen some great fishing before. It was all you could ask for in a day of fishing. The weather was perfect for this time of year, lost of bugs, and no other boat traffic. The quality of fish was excellent too. Mostly cuttbows, cutts, and rainbows with a few browns mixed in that ranged from 14-17″ all day long. Today was the kind of fishing you dream about, all on dry flies and all day long
Thursday was the first day of what is simply know as the “Skwala”, a two day event among mostly local anglers with fishing, good dinners, and commradiere to kick off another season in the Bitterroot valley. The tradition dates back over 20 years and is always memorable. For day one I was paired up with Doug and Bob on a stretch of river just downstream from Hamilton. We started off with single dry flies and had the first fish to the boat in less than 10 minutes. Then we took a side channel that I haven’t been down yet this year and that paid off with a couple eats up top and a few more nice fish a little further down including a fat 19″ rainbow the Doug landed. For the most part it was steady action with fish looking up in most of the likely spots. One of the highlights was getting out of the boat and wade fishing a side channel that Doug was keen on. Bob stuck the first fish in there before Doug tagged the next 3. The best was a gorgeous 20″ rainbow. As the afternoon progressed we saw more and more bugs and the fishing only improved. There were a fair number of rising fish and most of those would eat a well presented skwala. The best fish of the day was one that we saw rise behind the boat. I rowed back up to get a better angle and after a couple casts Bob had a big mouth suck down the dry. It was a good brown and Bob had fight the fish aggressively because of all the wood in the water. He executed well and put a stunning 21″ brown in the net. We had one double in the afternoon and several near doubles with a bunch of really nice fish. Most of the fish we saw today were in the 15-17″ range with a few smaller ones and a trio of big ones. It was a great day on the middle river,.
Friday I was fortunate to be back out with Bob and Doug again. Unfortunately the deck was stacked against us. It rained for most of the night and then I woke up to over an inch of new snow in the boat. River levels were on the rise and cold temps on tap for the day. Still, we suited up and launched on an upper Bitterroot beat for the last day of the Skwala. Doug is pretty much a dry fly only guy so despite the conditions I rigged him up with a single dry while I set Bob up with a dry/dropper rig. The first bank produced a nice rainbow for Bob on the dropper which gave me some hope for the day. There wasn’t any action after that for several runs so we stopped for an early lunch. In the afternoon it was still tough, but Doug did manage to raise two fish to his dry in one run and landed the second fish. A couple runs after that Bob connected with his dry and then followed it up with a brown trout on the dropper just downstream. There was a little life in the river, but nothing compared to yesterday, and it was still cold out. Around 2:30 I convinced the guys to fish one more run where Bob stuck another on the dropper and then they were both ready to head out, get warm and watch the Masters. The fishing the previous days had been so good that I couldn’t blame them for wanting to cut it short,. We pushed to the take out and made it an early day. I had a great time the last two days with Bob and Doug and was sorry the conditions didn’t cooperate for them today.
We have had a solid month of stable river conditions and are just now seeing our first real bump in flows. I hope it only lasts a day or two as we are just starting to see the big mayflies and the Clark Fork has come to life too. Overall it was a solid week of fishing with a couple of spectacular days, a couple good ones, and one with challenging conditions. The trout will be shuffled a little after the weekend bump and there should be some big ones on the prowl in the week ahead!
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