My May fishing trips have always brought the unexpected — and this one was no different. And, like usual, this trip offered lessons to tuck away for future fishing trips at this time of year.
Missoula’s Wayne Knudson (Walleye Wayne) and I went over to Fresno Reservoir to try our luck on walleyes last week. Walleye Wayne is my co-host on the Saturday morning Montana Outdoor Radio Show and a darn good walleye fisherman.
After hearing the report from the recent Fresno Challenge walleye tournament, we thought Fresno would be a good bet. The trip would be the first of the year east of the mountains. And we thought we were prepared for the unexpected to happen.
But as most of you know, anything that can go wrong with your boat and equipment, usually does during the first outing of the year. And as you also know, Montana weather in May can also become a factor on how well your fishing trip turns out to be.
Traveling late Sunday afternoon, we both noticed how dry everything looked east of the mountains. As were driving down the highway from Great Falls to Havre , we also noticed how the wind was blowing around 25-30 miles per hour and was kicking top soil up all over the dry fields.
By the time we hit the camping area at Fresno Reservoir Sunday night, it was dark and the wind seemed to be blowing even harder. As we sat in the camper, we could hear and feel the strong east wind rock us all night long.
As the sky began to brighten Monday morning, the wind was still blowing just as hard as it was when we went to sleep. From the campground, looked at the lake and saw it resembled a bowl of chocolate milk — and a rather small bowl at that.
The reservoir was feeling the effects of the lingering drought in the state, too. It was 25 feet below full pool, which is normal for this time of the year.
We tried it anyway. Boat control is important when fishing for walleyes anytime of the year. But in springtime, when the water temperature is below 50 degrees, walleyes need a slow presentation. Therefore, you need to keep the boat going slowly. With the wind blowing as hard as it was, it was just about impossible to drift slow enough to be successful.
Going against the wind seemed to work okay, but when my electric trolling motor batteries ran out of juice two hours into the day, that made it even more difficult to control my 20 and half foot Crestliner with the small outboard kicker motor. The day ended with us fishing at the face of the dam.
We had used quite a few different set-ups that our tackle boxes had to offer and only had one walleye to show for our efforts. Suddenly Walleye Wayne starting to catch some fish. The right set-up was a simple — a red bead place right in front of a nightcrawler. I soon switched to the same offering and started to catch fish, but not as many as Wayne was catching. We did end up with our limit for the day so we would at least have some fresh fish for dinner.
By Tuesday morning, the wind had stopped and the lake was calm, but still very muddy. The air temperature was predicted to be hot 81 degrees for the high. We tuned into the radio to hear the weather forecast and were surprised to hear the high temperature the next day would be a stormy 48 degrees.
With that storm coming into the area the next day, we figured that Tuesday would be great fishing. It wasn’t. In fact, it was not as good as Monday.
Because of the slow fishing on Fresno. we decided to try our luck on Tiber Dam — only about an hour drive from Fresno and on our way back to Missoula.
We hit the road only to hit the storm as well. The air temperature was 81 degrees at 6 p.m. Within 25 minutes, it had dropped to 52 degrees.
By the time we hit Chester, a 35 mile per hour west wind was blowing tumbleweeds across the highway. By the time we reached the Tiber Dam marina, the wind was blowing around 48 miles per hour.
The rain soon followed and we could attest that the storm had indeed arrived.
Wednesday morning, we woke up to an inch of snow on the ground. The wind was still blowing and snow was still streaking the landscape horizontally. Visibility was just 200 yards.
There’d be no fishing here. It was time to head home, if we could make it. The first 20 miles on all-weather gravel ended up being the most challenging. We could only drive 20 miles per hour because of the six-to-12-inches of snow and slush on the roads. Once we hit the highway, it was bare and mostly dry for the four-hour trip home.
What lesson did we learn from all this? Keep your radio tuned to hear weather forecasts. When the radio says there is a major winter storm coming to a lake that you are fishing, believe it. Head for home with plenty of time before it arrives.