Five Rivers in Nine Days- Spring Fishing in Montana
As a school teacher in Livingston, Montana, I am lucky to have a spring break vacation every year to look forward to. This year our break was a whopping 11 days; it was awesome. We had from March 23rd to April 2nd off. I love my job as a Special Education teacher... but I was ready to have some time on the water and be out of reception for a little while. Being a fishing guide, I spend a lot of time on the river, much of it spent guiding, not fishing myself. This is especially true during the summer months. I do still get out to toss a line during prime-time, but rarely get to spend the entire day fishing. This happens during the shoulder seasons... I was pumped.
1. MISSOURI RIVER- Craig, Montana
Early Saturday morning, March 24th, Molly, Lady, and I headed up to the Missouri River to meet some great friends from Missoula, fish our brains out, and enjoy some "warm" weather. The Missouri River is a world famous trout fishery. There are a few sections anglers can target trout on the "MO," but the most famous stretch is down stream of Holter Dam to the town of Cascade, Montana. The trout-town of Craig is what you should google search.
Craig is about 7 miles down stream of Holter Dam, has three fly-shops, and two bars. It was late MArch, So Joe's BAr was the only watering hole open. WE met our dear friends, Joe, Erica, Jess, and Kevin (also known as "Thug-Life"... but that is another story). In total we had 6 anglers, 3 dogs, 2 boats, and a whole lot of beers on ice. The Missouri River is a Tail water: It flows out fromm a Dam. The dam provides consistent water clarity, and it does not get nearly as impacted from high water during runoff. The water temp was about 37 degrees, still cold, but fishable. The main method of fishing was nymphing... Sow bugs, sow bugs... and oh, yea... Sow Bugs. OUr standard rig was a Chech Nymph to a sow bug, about 7-8 feet from the indicator. The fishing was pretty awesome.
2. DePuy Spring Creek- Livingston, Montana
After fishing the Missouri for 4 days, I decided it would be a good idea to shower and head back to the home waters around Livingston. DePuy Spring Creek is about 3 miles miles in length and was stacked with fish. It is a tributary of the Yellowstone and its' confluence is just south of town. Depuy is a private access fishery that costs 40 bucks per rod until Mid April. They offer limited "Winter Passes" for access to fish the entire winter season (mid-October to mid-April). I bought my winter pass back in July and was excited to get a few more days in before the pass expired and the rates hike back up to 80 bucks a day (but still totally worth the cover charge). I fished the spring creek on WEdnesday to 28th for a full day. The weather was gorgeous. There were a few fish rising in spots to Beatis, but the sow bug (size 18) was the ticket , again.
Our weather has been inconsistent, at best, here in Livingston. It is that time of year;however, when the Rainbows and cutbows start to spawn. Depuy does a great job at alerting anglers to the most prominent REdds . Redds are areas in the river where trout are currently spawning and laying eggs. If these spots are impacted, the eggs could be affected. REdds are generally easy to spot because they are on very shiny patches where trout have removed the moss from the rocks. On Depuy, the main REdd is the width of the river, about 100 yards long, and covered with at least 100 fish. The water is very shallow. How many fish can you spot in the picture above? Look for the dark spots... There were still lots of trout to target who were not in the act of Spawning. 6x tippet is basically required for success on the creek. This makes the fight a fight. The weather was amazing. I had to leave LAdy in my truck because dogs are not allowed, but she enjoyed the sun and occasional walk in between fishing spots. On Depuy it is best to find a spot and stay there a while. The fish are moving in and out, so the angler does not have to constantly move up or down stream.
3. The Yellowstone River- Big Timber, Montana
I was lucky to get a day fishing with one of my best friends, Buddy, on the Yellowstone River, our home water. The Yellowstone's headwaters are located in the most remote section of the lower 48 states known as the Thorofare area, south of Yellowstone Lake in Northern Wyoming (Robbins, 2010).You can float the Yellowstone river to target Trout from Gardiner, MT to downstream of Columbus, MT- about 100 miles of free flowing, cold water. We chose to fish a stretch East of livingston near Big TImber. We put our boat in at "Grey Bear" boat ramp and floated to "Otter Creek." This can be a terrific stretch in the spring because the water temp is a little warmer. Our weather has been a mixed bag as of late. The sun was out... but so was the wind. We put on the river at about 11am. We were hoping to spot some pods of risers to Beatis, but the wind generally kept the bugs away and the fish low in the water column. When we found spots that were out of the wind, we sometimes spotted the random riser, but nothing consistent. The water was a little muddy and off color-an after taste of the previous days warmer temps. We were the only boat on that sectin of river. The catching was slow, but he fishing was excellent. LAdy and Zora (pictured above) spent time trading spots on the cooler and eventually settled on sharing the top of the Yeti. We stripped some streamers, but mainly caught a buzz and shared laughs. WE talked about the upcoming season, clearer/warmer water, lost some flies, but had a great day-nonetheless. One really nice aspect of the float we chose that day is the fact that the "Otter Creek" boat ramp is located just down stream of the confluence of the Boulder River and the Yellowstone, right in the heart of Big Timber, Montana.
4. The Boulder River-Big Timber, Montana
The Boulder is an amazingly clear tributary of the Yellowstone. After spending about 7 hours fighting the wind on the big river, Buddy and I were looking forward to casting a line in some smaller water. Buddy went with the dry, a size 16 Purple Haze. As we anchored the boat, I did not see any rising fish, so I tied on the "Boulder Special," a small Rock Worm with a Pheasant Tail dropped off of the back. I walked upstream to the first little riffle/run, cast... Fish-on! A beautiful little Rainbow Trout chomped the worm. Although the Boulder is a floatable river at times, it is now low enough that we could cross it at almost any spot. The dogs were happy to stretch their legs, and Buddy and I both were happy to wade around out of the wind. We spent the last hours of day light casting to rising trout in the last pool before it flows into the Yellowstone. We had so much fun that I forgot to take any pictures.
5. The Beaverhead River- Dillon, Montana
Wanting to get away and relax a little during the tail end of Spring Break, Molly and I reserved a cabin at Elkhorn Hot Springs near Polaris, Montana. We left Friday morning when the weather was beautiful in Livingston. Roughly a 3 hour drive, we took our time and stopped by the Beaverhead Brewery in Dillon which was on the way. The drafts were cold and the building kind of reminded me of Katabatic Brewery here in Livingston because it had high ceilings and a modern touch.
Heading out on highway 15, we took a right toward Polaris. No cellphone service, almost no buildings or houses... it was a gorgeous drive. Looking out over the vast, open, western landscape, Molly said, "This must be what the Dixie Chicks were talking about.... Wide open spaces." We both laughed, and I agreed. Elkhorn is one of our more rustic hot springs in Montana, located right next to Maverick Mountain- a very small ski resort. We had dinner, soaked, and enjoyed the our time together.
Saturday morning we woke up and headed to fish the Beaverhead River, the last Spring Break tail water. The Beaverhead is like a tiny Missouri River. Starting at the Clark CAnyon DAm, the Beaverhead runs north "to the community of Twin Bridges, where it merges first with the Ruby and then with the Big HOle to form the Jefferson" (Robbins, 2010, P. 138). It is loaded with trout. The temperature outside was around 30 degrees... Back in Livingston, we got 6 inches of snow! The Beaverhead has some unique winter regulations: from the Dam to about 3.8 miles down stream the river is closed until the third Saturday in May. Molly went for a run, I fished with Lady, and everyone had a great day. Again, sow bugs were the flavor of choice.
Easter Sunday- Yellowstone River Float
Then it snowed... a lot
I love living in Montana and getting to fish so many waters that are within driving distance of Livingston. This truly is a special place. Furthermore, getting the chance to fish with dear friends is why I love this sport. I love sharing the experiences fishing offers with good people. It has been a few days back at school, now. LAdy likes my fishing gig better than my teaching gig. It is great to see my students again, but... there are only 7 Mondays left until full-on fishing season. We have some of our first guided trips of the year coming up in the next two weeks. I can't wait. See you on the River.
Robbins, C. (2010). Flyfisher's guide to montana. Belgrade, MT: Wilderness Adventures Press.