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.
The 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!
This 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!
Our 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!
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.
Pulling 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.
Buggers, 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.