Bitterroot Fishing Report-Late May

Chris_Rockhold bitterroot river guidesMay is often a tough month to fish Montana: high water, unpredictable weather, hatch envy, etc.  Most years this holds true, as rivers just become straight up unfishable for a couple weeks with dirty water and logs coming down the pipe.  This year has been quite a bit milder on river flows due to a warm winter and fairly low snow pack, making the usual barrage of runoff merely a swell in the lower river valley for a spell.

bitterroot river guidesSo what that boils down to is that fishing has been essentially uninterrupted during this runoff.  Fishing is consistent on most reaches of the Bitterroot, Big Hole, and Missouri right now, and I don’t foresee anymore huge snowpack fluctuations affecting flows for this season.  With that water consistency has come some fine fishing and bug hatches to match.  Low water years, as we’re seeing right now, will bring epic hatches to the rivers: lower water allows consistent flows and more solar energy to warm huge populations of insects at one time, rather than high water years which have fluctuating levels and temps causing trickling hatches through a long period.  Our Salmonfly hatch should be a wall banger this season with no floods on the horizon in mid-June.

bitterroot river guidesThe rivers are prime and fishing is good right now, if one knows where to look and how to pull it off.  We do.  Though the dry fly is still a bit away to truly turn the corner on the season, we’re finding good fish eating nymphs and buggers throughout the river systems very consistently, with a bit of dry fly opportunity in the afternoons.  Trips are already running strong and summer is quickly approaching with Salmon bugs and Goldens on the horizon; get in touch with us before we’re slammed for the season, and we’ll be seeing you on the river.  JF

Fire on the Mountain

big hole brown, wise river montanaLong distance runner, what you standin’ there for?  Get up get out, get out of the door.  Your playin’ cold music on the barroom floor. Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core.  There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town, Takes a whole pail of water just to cool him down.  Fire!  Fire on the mountain!  Fly fishing and the Dead go hand in hand.  Nothing to fire up the browns, or especially the Steel, with a little Jerry and Bob.  Fishing the Big Hole recently with the “Boys”-Chris, Stu, Greg, and the legendary Gartho- we found some inspiration through Jerry’s music to power onward through the cold and stick with the plan to find some good fish.

big hole brown, wise river montanaWith a predicted high temp of 48 degrees, and that weatherman was spot on, our crew of five ran about eight miles of the most famous stretches on the Big Hole.  Tough fishing in the morning was inevitable with the temp so low, so we just kept on plugging away in the likely runs until things started to turn our way.  Sometime around one o’clock, ol’ Jerry started smiling our way and the Big Hole went from a desolate wasteland to a lights out fishery with Baetis and March Browns exploding off the water.  The trout began to rise, making for solid dry fly takes, and our nymphs were inhaled just as quickly, bringing up multiple browns in the 18 inch class.  Greg, our newbie guest on this excursion, showed us veterans how it is done by hanging fish on every turn.  When the river was on a lull, Greg just kept plugging away patiently, pulling big browns from seemingly endless lies.

big hole brown, wise river montana The Big Hole is on right now.  Our Bitterroot is fluctuating quite a bit with runoff, making for tricky fishing, while the Big Hole remains unfazed.  The higher elevation of that river keeps runoff at bay much longer than the Bitterroot, keeping water flows to a minimum.  Any of you fishing with us during the months of May and early June have quite a good shot at hitting the Big Hole for early season prime time.  Big browns are on the prowl, and the water is perfect.  Hatch times are around one o’clock and wrap up around four for chasing the dry fly.  Nymphs are always a good option, just ask Greg.  See you all again on the water.

Tablerock Lake, Missouri

tablerock lake largemouth bassBack to my roots.  A last minute decision sent me packing back to the homeland to chase largemouth bass on Tablerock Lake with my Dad.  His good friend Sam had to cancel on the annual trip this year, so the old man was thinking of going by his lonesome anyway, just to get away and enjoy the outdoors and lake life.  Well, being the good son I am and not wanting Dad to go it alone, I less than slyly suggested he help me-meaning buy me- with a plane ticket so I could come down a fish with him.

tablerock lake missouriDad’s a great sport, and fell for the ploy hook line and sinker, setting up a killer fishing adventure for us based out of Lunker Landing in Shell Knob, Missouri.  Located on the northern bank of the King’s River arm of Tablerock Lake, Lunker Landing’s accomodations are comfortable; small town friendly; and steps away from the boat slip. Walking down to the water at sunrise, we see the mist rising off the lake, hear the blue jays’ sharp cries of the day, smell the green and lush scents of the oak forest, and spot local largemouth guarding spawning beds in the shallows near the docks.

tablerock lake bassWhich get us into the fishing.  Late April/early May is prime time for the largemouth’s pre-spawn here on Tablerock: clean water and a warming 61 to 65 degree water temp brings the fish up from deeper water and into the spawning regions of the lake.  Protected coves, gravel beaches falling to dropoffs, and woody banks were our focus for finding bass staged up before the spawn.  With Dad Fitzpatrick’s lifetime of knowledge of Tablerock and a steady foot on the trolling motor, we found feeding fish in all his favorite haunts.

tablerock lake bassFor three days we worked up and down Tablerock, usually fishing the nearby King river arm but also travelling down past the James river and into the White.   Our usual tactic is a spin rod with a plastic worm rigged Texas style with a bullet weight, which is cast to the bank and retrieved slowly-and I mean S-L-O-W- back to the boat. Jigging plastics in deep timber proved effective as well, especially later in the mornings and afternoons when the bass moved deeper to escape the bright angle of the sun.  The take is subtle, and one must be very patient to let the fish take the bait, but once a good bass locks on the line starts to move and the tug gets heavy, you give her the mustard!  Every fish we stuck came straight up and taildanced with fury, throwing their heads with open mouths and flared gills.

flyfishing tablerock largemouth bassOn the final day of our trip, I had yet to stick a bass on a fly rod.  Deep holding fish are tough on the fly, and the shallow spawners weren’t interested in my quick moving Clousers or crawdad imitations.  Trolling along a gravel beach early in the morning, a few bass finally showed themselves chasing shad minnows near the bank.  Big smacks to the surface and minnows hurling erratically showed me a target some fifty feet away, so with a quick rod switch (the XP #9 was rigged and ready from day one) and a long double haul, I airmailed a Montana tied frog pattern within a couple feet of the last explosion.  One twitch and it was lights out for that poor frog.  With a huge gulp and boil, said frog vanished and up came a flaring pissed off largey, hooked on a 9 foot 9 weight Sage.

flyfishing tablerock largemouth bassOur week flew by too quickly: just when I was adjusting to nightly ribeyes and cocktails at noon, I had to hop on a plane back to Montana.  This trip reminds me how much I love warmwater fishing, and the bucket mouthed largemouths that inhabit those waters.  Our Montana rivers and lakes hold bass as well, down in their lower stretches where temps allow these fish to exist.  When the time is right this summer, we’ll certainly pay a visit or two to some of these haunts, throwing plastics and stripping topwater flies to fish rarely targeted by Montana folk.  Back to my roots, full circl