This winter’s snow is still coursing through the veins of the Flathead River system but the surging water is starting to subside, trout are looking to feed, and we are stoked to be back on the big water.
The big river is still, well,… big. At just under 20,000 CFS the big river is bank full but there is enough clarity to justify getting out there and wetting a line. On some days, in some spots, the fishing can be pretty good. The dry fly game is still not quite to the quality that we know and love on the Flathead River but you can still get a few to come up and smash a dry fly. Having a nymph somewhere on your leader setup is probably gonna be your best options to get into trout. Long leaders, split shot, and big flies are standard this time of year. Dust off your bobbers for use in the deeper runs or use a dry-dropper rig for riffles and eddies. When deciding what water to fish, take yourself back to fishing this spring and use early season setups and tactics. Keep an eye out for the slow stuff. I say this all the time but trout are lazy and don’t want to expend any more energy than they have to in order to find a meal. Inside corners, side channels, and eddies are good places to find trout at these water levels.
Be safe out on the big water and make sure life jackets are present in the boat. There was a fatality on the river this week and I have heard of other river rescues that have taken place. The big river is no place to go swimming this time of year. Water temperatures are cold, the currents are strong, and if you flip a boat out there you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.
There have been several species of bugs popping throughout the Flathead drainage. Several varieties of stoneflies, mayflies, and caddis are hatching. PMD’s, parachute mayflies, Yellow sallies, and chubby Chernobyl’s have all caught the attention of trout this week and as the water levels continue to drop, the dry fly bite will only get better. Some bugs to have in your box are Chubby Chernobyl’s, Jakes’s Trigger bellies, Adams of all colors, yellow sallies, elk hare caddis, caddis X, drakes, Patriots, and Kaufman stimulators.
Under the bobber:
According to shop pro Easton Sempf, San Juan worms, Stonefly nymphs such as Pat’s rubber legs, batman stones, pysco princes and twenty incheres, as well as larger mayfly nymphs are the way to get trout to pull your bobber down. The use of split shot is a good option to make sure you are getting down to the depth that the trout are hanging out at.
Streamers are a great option this time of year. Cutthroat are hungry after their annual mating rituals and chucking streamers is a good way to get the attention of larger trout. Sink tips ranging from 150 -350 grains should present the fly to the depth that the trout are holding. Colors to consider are olive, white, yellow, black, or a combination of those colors. Vary your stripping techniques, till you find the cadence that the trout are interested in.
The small water is getting smaller by the day and that means there are lots of small stream options throughout the valley. From what we can tell, the mayfly is still king. We have seen mayflies from as small as #16 to as big as #8. Yellow sallies are becoming more prevalent and the trout are starting to get interested in the pale colored stoneflies that have a distinct red hind end. The dry-dropper techniques has been most productive for us on our guided trips but a lot of anglers are fishing just dries and having a blast.
What worked last week is still working this week in the dry fly department. Green, grey, and chocolate colored drakes in sizes 10-14 have been very effective this week. Also smaller mayfly patterns in a variety of colors have also been used to fool trout. Foam bugs are still getting plenty of attention so don’t shy away from throwing standards such as chubby Chernobyl’s, Jakes Trigger bellies, Amy’s ants, and Terks Terantulas.
Under the bobber:
We have not been fishing under the bobber too much the past week. Most of our nymphing has been through the dry-dropper setup. Specifically, pheasant tails, hares ears, micro mayflies, batman princes, soft hackles, San Juan worms, yellow sally nymphs, and the split back PMD. Fish them unweighted and weighted. Trout are feeding at a variety of depths.
The streamer bite is probably good out there but with the amount of bug activity that we have seen this week on our smaller water, we have not been fishing them. Don’t let that deter you. Give it a try and let us know how you do.
Stillwater fishing has been more miss than hit this this week. The afternoon and evening has been the most productive times. Balanced leeches are still producing the best with a variety of colors eliciting strikes. We have also seen an increase in damsel and dragonflies buzzing around. Stripping or suspending the nymphal form of these bugs has been quite productive in certain lakes. The dry fly bite has improved this week. Its always fun to get em on top when you are out on lakes. Midges, mayflies, and ants have all received attention this week on top. The strip has gotten a few trout and grayling to commit while just letting the dry fly sit has also been productive. Get out there, throw some dries.