Where are the Fish? – Captain’s Column (7.23.15)
By angelamontana

Posted: July 23, 2015

Last week’s cooler temperatures and moisture did wonders for the rivers in Western Montana. Hoot owl restrictions are still in effect for select rivers and with the warmer temperatures schedule for this week they will most likely remain. The one exception to those rivers near Missoula is Rock Creek. Carolyn Persico from the Rock Creek Fisherman Mercantile had this recommendation when fishing the Creek, “In the mornings, I’d recommend a goddard caddis with a CDC caddis emerger trailing behind it.  The CDC in particular has been very effective lately, as it sits under the surface of the water and is a much bigger draw for fish.  If it’s overcast, replace your caddis with PMD patterns, or you can try the attractor patterns as well.  When in doubt, go for a pure nymph rig by fishing a big stonefly pattern with a Copper John or San Juan worm trailing behind it”.

Lake anglers you can catch some great fishing in July on Flathead Lake. The whitefish bite has not happened yet but reports coming out of the lake say that some whitefish are being caught. “I think we will know in the next week or so on the whitefish”, said Dick Zimmer from Zimmer Tackle. Anglers that have caught whitefish report that they are full of the young of the year perch that seem to be in abundance on Flathead Lake this summer. “Because the perch population is up the perch fry which initiate the Lake Whitefish bite are abundant.  The fishermen who have been catching them report their bellies are full of small perch”, Zimmer explained in an e-mail. Zimmer is still confident that we will have a good whitefish bite as the pattern that he has seen for this time of the year is normal. “When the perch hatch they begin swimming indiscriminately all over the lake.  About mid-July they begin to gather.  At this particular period, lake trout fishermen have good success trolling 25 to 35 feet below the surface in deep water, over 200 feet.  Then they begin to move shoreward toward the end of July”.

It is at that time when the perch get into 30-35 feet of water when the whitefish bite is the best. In the past anglers that have done well catching whitefish will then catch greater numbers in 40-50 feet of water as they feed on the perch in shallower depths. Why are the perch and whitefish in shallower water? Zimmer explains, “Because fish are uncomfortable with a quick change in water temperature they’ll bunch up just under the thermocline.  This time of year that will be between 45 and 55 feet.  Because the whitefish are a cold water species they are comfortable in that cold water on the lower side of this thermal layer where the perch have concentrated”. Jigs imitating the perch will give the best results.  Because these small fish are translucent, their background will determine their color so most places at this depth there are low lying dark green weeds so a dark green lure and/or fly are a good place to start.  Depending on condition, lures that are lighter colored and even flashy may also be effective.

Elmo Bay, Big Arm Bay, the narrow stretch between Cromwell Island and the shore,  the bays on the North west side of Wildhorse Island areas have all been home to some good perch fishing. If there is a whitefish bite, there is a good chance that it will happen where perch are being caught.