Category Archives: Big Hole

Legends

I cut my teeth guiding the Big Hole River 20 years ago, just a young kid out of Kansas looking for adventure and a job.  Wandering into the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, Montana, I was lucky enough to land a guide position at one of the most prominent fishing lodges in the nation.  One of the top guides there, Wayne Clayton, took me under his wing and selflessly taught me so many lessons applicable to this day to my profession.  There are many other veteran guides that I owe homage to: David, Stewart, DJ, Jeffrey, Slim; but Wayne is a teacher we have all learned from, start to finish.

Wayneo, Obie Wayne, has ran this river for nearly 40 years, along with most every other trout stream in Montana.  Wondering what’s happening on Depuy’s Spring creek in June? Ask Wayne.  Are the tricos hatching on the Missouri yet?  Consult Wayne.  How many steelhead run up the Kispiox in BC during the B run?  Wayne again.  With a deep chortle and knowing smile, he digs deep into that intellect he has built chasing fins around North America, and is all too happy to share his knowledge and experiences in a way that only Wayne can deliver.

Pull up a seat by the fire or down on a river’s edge under the shade of the narrow leafed cottonwoods, Wayne’s stories transcend time and place and take you in the moment of the tale, whether swinging a deep bucket on the Bulkley for steelhead or casting Pseudocleons to sipping Rainbows on the Mo back in the grease water.  He’s been there, lived it, and it’s as clear today as it was thirty years ago when those casts left his powerful right hand.  This river guide is timeless, a familiar friendly face on all these rivers we call home.

Project Healing Waters

bitterroot river guidesOff to another valley and a brand new adventure, these three days found me on the Big Hole river guiding a Project Healing Waters trip for the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River.  For those that don’t know about this program, it is for veterans of our armed forces to give them a chance to experience the outdoors and heal from years on our front lines.  These guys are the real deal, having served our country valiantly and unselfishly in foreign lands far away from family and friends, and definitely a long ways from blue ribbon trout water.

bitterroot river guidesWill and Randy were my troops, and they ate up all the lessons I could throw at them for our trip.  More comfortable with an M16 or an M1 Abrams tank than a fly rod, we had to slowly build up confidence and technique with the fishing to get these guys up to speed.  Backcasts, line control, mending, setting fish, fighting fish, and a myriad of other subjects were addressed on our daily floats as we cruised many miles of the famous Big Hole river.

bitterroot river guidesBy our third day, these boys could chuck a streamer or drop a double nymph set into any bucket on the river, finding good fish at will rather than by luck.  I took them down the Dewey canyon and partway through the Melrose canyon, some of the hardest and quickest water on that river.  Using those previous two days of instructions and beatings to our advantage, this quick water was filled with willing fish and the casts were on target and fished proper.  With solid technique, fish came to hand readily and snag ups and screw ups were minimal, the three of us having a blast and talking hunting, fishing, war games, and how to properly demolish an enemy railroad.  Good shit!

project healing watersThank you to our veterans and active service members for all that you’ve done for this great country, here and overseas.  These guys are regular Joes, just like you and me, but have taken an oath to defend our country and gone through some serious shit because of that oath.  Whether you support our country’s decisions as per warfare or not, these men and women have selflessly upheld the values we Americans take way to easily for granted, and they deserve our honor and respect, and maybe even a stud brown trout or Big Hole sunrise sometimes!  Thanks guys…  Jed

Big Hole mid June

bitterroot river guides big holeIt’s been a great week on the Big Hole for the mid June happenings: Salmonflies and Goldens rushed through the river and belted off tremendous hatches, making for excellent fishing throughout the week.  Some days were pretty slammed with boats-I must have seen 60 last Saturday on Divide to Melrose-but there’s plenty of good fishing for those in the know.  Most boats are playing Hank Williams Jr. on a D battery boom box and chucking Rapalas and spoons so really no threat there.  Just smile and wave and hope they chuck you a beer while we get down to business with the sneaky dry flies.

bitterroot river guides big holeI ran this week for the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, guiding new guests to the lodge and showing them the best of the river.  We fished approximately 60 miles of the Big Hole: from the upper water at East Bank to the lower end at the Notch Bottom, the river entirely different at each end.  The week started strong on Salmonflies and Goldens, but eventually I had to resort to the sneaky stuff to really find the fish.

bitterroot river guides big holeSometimes our hatches get a bit played out, to say the least.  Guides start hucking Salmon bugs weeks before the hatch-I am guilty-and the fish are pretty much hook shy by the time the ol’ hatch comes around.  Well, throw it while you can, and when it’s not working, go smaller.  Then smaller again.  Until you start finding bugs the fish will take vigorously, as well as searching out water not being hit heavily.  There’s a bit of guide knowledge not to be taken lightly!  Look where people are NOT fishing, or at least not fishing well.  Heavy water, strong insides, deep under willows, and back channels are all places not overfished.  Keep searching; the fish are feeding somewhere on something you have in your flybox!

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.

Early Season Wrap Up

Bitterroot RainbowWhat a great Skwala and March Brown season we’ve had here in the Bitterroot Valley!  Our weather and river levels remained perfect from the first week of March until this last week of April, and the bugs and fish responded with solid daily hatches and heavy topwater feeding.  Can’t say I threw any nymphs this whole season.

Bitterroot River GUidesWhich is probably about to change, as the Bitterroot is starting to bump up with the coming of May.  Soon the Skwalas will fade away from the spotlight, and caddis will replace our coveted stoneflies.  As the Bitterroot rises, fishing can be much less consistent, and downright tough if the river has just bumped any significant amount.  Nymphing and streamers become our new staple to deal with the heavy flows; trout hunker down and feed subsurface on all the food blasting through the water column.

Bitterroot River GUidesSo thank you to all the brave souls who fished the early hatches with Bitterroot River Guides.  We saw tremendous fishing this year, and we were able to pull off every trip on a single dry fly.  Each day had high points where the fishing was red hot, especially around two o’clock on the mayfly hatch, and the Skwalas hatched consistently throughout every day I was on the river, bringing up good fish.

Bitterroot River GUidesWe’ll see how runoff shapes up this year: it’s not looking like a whopper snowpack so we should be throwing a line through the whole season.  The Missouri is fishing excellent right now, and will continue to just get better as summertime approaches.  Being controlled by Holter dam, the Mo keeps in good shape throughout runoff with Blue Wings and Caddis hatching profusely.  The Big Hole also fishes well through the runoff, mainly the upper third of the river, as this is the time to hunt big browns with streamers.  Get in touch with us and let’s go fishing!

Big Hole Salmon Fly Time

big hole brownThe time is a’coming around again: Salmonflies on the rivers and the fish are looking up!  We’ve been dragging nymphs and buggers for an eternity it seems; Skwala season is long behind us along with the gentle stream flows that occur that time of year.  The rivers are ripping along at a good spring clip and the water is perfect for the almighty giant of the summer’s bugs.  Get ready folks, this could be one hell of a year out there for the Salmonfly!

big hole brownThis weekend found me on the Big Hole running a guided float with long time brethren: many years we’ve spent chasing brown trout together on that river.  My troops fished very well, a bit out of control at times chucking one last shot in the willows, but hey, it’s that time of year and one must pay to play.  Good casts and drifts brought up solid fish to the fly, not all day, but enough to keep us interested while the action ebbed and flowed throughout the float.  Eventually the fishing got downright smoking hot, with big browns chomping hard in all the right spots.  Make your cast and mend equals fish on!

big hole brownOur second day of fishing took us intentionally far far away from the Salmon fly madness on the popular water.  Day one was too good to try and replicate, so our group toured seldom fished haunts deep in the lower river valley.  Always beautiful scenery but a roll of the dice on the fishing, we threw the book at ’em while taking in the solitude and challenge of the lower river.  We found the right setup eventually, and continued to lay into a great day of fishing with the river all to ourselves.  So here’s a big thanks to this group from Seattle: seven years now I’ve had the pleasure of guiding them through the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River.  See you next time fellas!

Big Hole on the Rise

While the Bitterroot River is up and pretty much unfishable, we took a drive over Lost Trail Pass to search out some fishy water on the upper Big Hole.  Unlike many freestone rivers, when the Big Hole is up it remains quite fishable on its upper reaches.  With meadows and rolling pine hills surrounding the river for the upper forty miles or so, the runoff comes peacefully down the drainage until the eventual canyons at Wise River and Divide.

bitterroot river guides big hole montana-4Pulling up early in the morning after a dawn departure from the flooded Bitterroot, we were pretty stoked to see the river meandering along just like always.  The tea colored waters had risen a foot in the last few days, but we only knew from looking at the USGS hydrograph as the change was almost imperceptible to the eye.

bitterroot river guides big hole montana-2Buggers, streamers, and nymph rigs were the choice of the day; little dry fly activity was expected though March Browns hatched well in the afternoon, bringing up a few little risers.  We found good consistent fishing from noon onward, almost entirely on nymphs.  The streamer game just never played for us even though we gave it our best for the sixteen miles we floated.  Some recent photos have us jonesing for a big brown, and I mean a big boy like the one our Hamilton High School principle just caught.  Fish like this one will keep you coming back to the Big Hole.

bitterroot river guides big hole montana