Well, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies. Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles. When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.
Then there’s these guys. Hatch be damned. Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing. These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe. That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer: Streamers. Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear, sink tipped seven weight. Oh Yeah.
Streamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it. Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm: short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down. Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred. Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout. Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all. Keep hucking.
The river’s up and showing the signs of what 170% of snowpack looks like around here: the usual lazy runs and obvious holes are cooking along with at least double last years flows, making for tricky fishing and oaring to get the job done. Two days of guiding recently put us hard at it, searching the inside turns and back eddies for soft water, looking for risers in protected channels. With the first good March Brown hatch I’ve witnessed this year on the Bitterroot, we finally found fish consistently rising in back channels and mellow inside corners on the local hatch. With Skwalas and Nemouras popping at the same time period, mid afternoon, some areas fished pretty hot on the dry, whichever we fished. When the dries died out and the rain started falling, we made her play as best as possible. Big stonefly nymphs on a deep drop proved the most reliable bobber setup. Many miles of river were just too fast to get a decent drift, but with some good casting and elbow grease at the oars, there were plenty of hungry fish to feed if you know what to look for.
Chasing the goat, as we like to refer to it. Or more accurately, a plan that has turned futile that once held so much promise. Kinda like our plan to nail a bunch of big fish on the lower Bitterroot Saturday, April 13 on streamers, until our gorgeous morning turned into a northern winter blitzkrieg around mid afternoon. With easily forty mile per hour sustained gales, we rowed due north right into the punishment for hours on this long stretch of river. The fishing pretty much sucked, between the wind and the bumped up river flows, we caught few fish, and my boat was even handed a royal skunking. Always optimistic, it was a good workout for when the river really gets big, and will make those marginal dry fly days seem outstanding compared to that crap. We hustled it back to Blacksmith Brewing in Stevensville, a beacon of light, and toasted Cutthroat IPAs to another day of chasing the goat.
Time’s a’come and gone for the early, easy water on the Bitterroot, and pretty much most of Montana for that matter. We’ve seen our fair share of bugs and had some smokin’ days on dries out there, but the big snowpack we’ve accumulated this winter is starting to roll off the mountains like we knew it eventually would. The weather is cooling off which will lock up the flows, and also produced one hell of a Baetis hatch today from Stevi to Florence, and clean this river up to start fishing stellar again.