How things have changed
Found an old box of photos in the shop mostly fish pictures from the 90's and early 2000's. Brought back memories of fishing as a kid in giant oversized neoprene waders with click and pawl reels. You just got really hot and clammy midday and went for a swim to cool down. I never remember having anything clothing, boots, or waders that actually fit you'd just roll up the sleeves and hit the river draped in heavy cotton or some fabric that didn't breath at all. Still had a blast fishing but was very uncomfortabler at times.
Winter Fishing in Montana
Winter fishing can really be one of the best ways to enjoy Montana's waters in a calm and quiet atmosphere. The last two days have dropped a solid base of snow around Bozeman and that's enough to get us thinking about getting prepared to enjoy the next few months of cold weather angling. There are so many great options to get your trout fix around here during the cold season some people like winter fishing better than the Summertime.
End of the season? Nope...
“When does the fishing season end around these parts?” I get this question on almost a daily basis here at the shop. Truth is, catch and release trout fishing is a year-round endeavor for a lot of local fishy folk. Sure our ‘busy season’ is that May through September time frame, but winter fishing in Southwest Montana can provide some of the most productive adventurous trips of the year.
Breathe new life into packages of rabbit strips
Rabbit fur is a very versatile material for tying flies. It is a staple in many popular trout patterns such as the sculpzilla or my favorite, the copper zonker. Unfortunately, the way small packs of rabbit fur are packaged smashes down the fur and leather strips. This leads to a tangled mess that is hard to work with.
Luckily, there is a quick five-minute solution that will transform the rabbit strips back to the original pre-packaged condition. Simply boil some water and utilize the steam created to re-fluff the rabbit. Use a pair of tongs to hold the rabbit strips in path of the steam. Occasionally brush the fur back in one direction and pull on the leather to encourage the fur and hide back to the original position. Be careful not to leave the fur in the steam to the point where it is dripping wet with condensation.
We all get the streamer bug pretty hard in the Fall and with all the chases and aggraessive grabs really whats not to like about it? The trend in the last few years amongst streamer guys is using the biggest fly possible to target the biggest fish in the river. Now there is nothing wrong with that and the pay off can result in a monster trout but sometimes it pays off to focus on the smaller size streamers as well.
The Moose of the Madison
One of my favorite animals in Montana is the Moose. They're just so big and ungainly looking you can't help but like them. They're also incredibly ornery. I love to see them out on the river, but you do have to be careful. An angry moose could really ruin your day.
Everyone here at the shop has seen a lot of moose this year. There's been a couple of them hanging out in Valley Garden on the Upper Madison all summer long. We've seen them on the Lower Madison, up by Varney on the Upper, I even saw one on the Yellowstone last month.
Here's a few of them we've seen this year:
Last winter Peter and I went a little crazy with the color blue. We tied lots and lots of streamers with it, nymphs with it, I even tied a couple dry flies with it. We had all kinds of blue materials in the shop on the tying wall. Some people thought we were crazy. We sure didn't.
Blue is one of those colors you don't see too much of outside of the steelhead market. Will it work for trout flies? Sure, why not. Everyone thought that purple was just a fad and a crazy color that couldn't possibly catch fish. But people tied flies in it and sure enough it stuck around. Today everyone knows about the Purple Haze. There aren't any bugs that come to mind off the top of my head that are purple. What makes it work so well?
My personal theory is that fishing colors that trout don't see all the time really makes a difference. Purple worked so well when it first came out partly because no one was fishing purple flies. If you look in fly bins at a Western trout focused shop, you likely won't see much blue. That's one of the reasons I tied a lot of flies in it.
While it may not be officially fall yet, it sure feels like it in town. The light has that fall-ish quality to it and even the air feels more crisp and fresh. The past few days we've seen our first real "fall" storm move through the area too. Temps dropped down into the 30s and 40s and it rained for a couple days. This muddied up the Yellowstone and the Gallatin, but it also put some of the first snow of the year in the mountains...
Fall gets a lot of people around here thinking about bugling elk, flushing grouse, but most importantly big, healthy, angry brown trout. As the browns start their spawning season they become incredibly aggresive and will chase down a streamer pattern with abandon. Streamer fishing gets the blood pumping and fall is the best time of year for it. Break out the 8-wt, sink tips, and big flies.
Fall also offers some of the best dry fly fishing of the year. The Blue Wing Olives are thick in most places and can be just great. For years, this has been my personal favorite hatch. My dad and I would always go to the Firehole River in YNP and fish the Baetis for a few days. The fish weren't huge, but it was always a lot of fun. In a lot of places you can bring an 8-wt for streamers and a 4 or 5-wt for dries and keep yourself busy all day long.
Guide Season recap
Getting into the late Summer season we start to see less crowds on the river, big fish, and my favorite small mayfly's tricos, psuedos, and baetis. It has been an absolutely incredible season on Montana's waters with great fishing, great people, and great times. It's easy to let it all fly by in a blur but towards the end of the season when i get a day off it's nice to reflect on what i've seen/learned this year.
Earlier this year we were all worried about how the summer was going to treat us. Snow pack was low and temps were high, which usually means a pretty lean summer. While most of the area rivers have been lower and warmer than "normal", a cooler and wetter July and August have really helped a lot in maintaining fishable levels.
We even had Hoot Owl Fishing Closures on the Lower Madison, Jefferson, Lower Gallatin, and a couple other local waters. Due to some cooler nights which have in turn lowered the water temps, these restrictions have been lifted! There are still some places in the state closed, but nothing we normally fish out of Bozeman. Things are coming into shape pretty well.
Late August is generally kind of a slower period for fishing. The hatches slack off and the water conditions make fish wary. But that doesn't mean that fishing isn't any good. Some of the largest fish we've seen caught this year have been in the past couple of weeks. Here are a few examples: