High Water Season: Captain’s Column 3.24.17
By angelamontana

Posted: March 23, 2017

Lakes and reservoirs around Montana are slowly beginning to rid themselves of their ice and fishing on the open water has begun. Last Saturday the temperature hit a high of 75 degrees in Helena. That type of weather will go a long way melting ice especially of it is accompanied by a little wind to help break up the ice a little more. There already have been reports of some very good trout fishing from anglers that are putting in at the Gates of the Mountains boat ramp on Holter Reservoir. Ross Tate from Missoula reported that pretty much anything that they used caught trout, “there must have been at least 20 boats the day we fished Holter a little over a week ago and it seemed like everybody was catching fish using jigs or spoons”. So it won’t be long before the reservoirs over by Helena will all have open water.

The local rivers in Western Montana are running high and muddy as spring run-off has begun. The snow pack in most of the river basins in Montana have been blessed with
above average snow water equivalent according to the data collected on the Natural Resources Conservation Services SNOTEL sites as of Monday March 20th. The Bitterroot River Basin is 112 percent of the medium for this time of the year for the snow water equivalent percentage and 121 percent above average for total precipitation. The Flathead River Basin is even better shape with total precipitation running at 135 percent above normal. The upper Clark Fork River basin is 118 and the lower Clark Fork River
basin is even better at 135 percent.

So currently the rivers are running high and the fishing is not so good, but because of the generous snow pack the fishing on rivers in Western Montana in late July and August might be better than normal. That will depend on how fast the snow melts in the next couple of months and into June.

Fort Peck Reservoir water elevation conditions are encouraging. The water elevations on Fort Peck have been consistently around 2234 feet for the past year. When I looked at the US Army Corp of Engineers data for Fort Peck on Monday it showed that the inflow was 17,000 cubic feet per second coming into the reservoir and the outflow, what they
discharge through the dam, was only 5,100 cfs. The water elevation for Fort Peck on Monday was nearing 2236 feet. What this means for anglers is, unless the Corp begins discharging a lot of water downstream this spring and summer causing as major fluctuation in the water elevation, the fishing should be excellent.

When the water elevation remains constant without any major fluctuations the bait fish flourish and when the bait fish are plentiful then the species that target them like salmon, lake trout, walleye, northern pike, and small mouth bass also do well. After all as my good friend Mike Ruggles who is a fish biologist for FWP told me once, “Plenty of water is always the primary ingredient to a healthy fishery”.

(Written by Mark Ward – aka the Captain)