Friday, April 20, 2012

Beating Runoff in Montana

I arrived in Bozeman, Montana yesterday afternoon just in time for the kick off of Simms Ice Out. The uniting of guides, outfitters, fly shops and those who wished to be there began at the Rivers Edge Fly Shop. After catching up with old friends over beers and some terrific barbeque we all wandered downtown to catch a speech by the one and only, Coach Bobby Knight. As a speaker myself, and one that’s always trying to improve, a chance to see a real pro was something I wasn’t missing. 

I spent the night at long time friend Jon Yousko’s (JY) house. JY is the Simms Representative for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. JY and I became friends over the years when I ran the fly shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Also crashing at JY’s was one of my Victor buddies, Mike Dawes. Dawes is a partner and guide for WorldCast Anglers in Victor, Idaho (and a permit angler you should know about!). 

Despite a late night, JY, Dawes and I were out the door by 7:30 AM headed to float the very lower Madison River, a section of water that baffles many a good angler on a regular basis. Our choice, one of three given by the host JY, was presented as a risky endeavor. One because it’s been unseasonably warm and the water has been rising fast making river conditions a bit iffy, and the other, because the fish in this area flat out don’t eat some days. With all that said, JY also informed us that when you catch fish, they are often huge. 

Today’s weather forecast was for continued warmth with temperatures in the 70ºs. Accompanying the heat would be strong winds up to 40 mph. That kind of wind gets the attention of all fly fishers. Even so, we were floating down river by 9. 

River conditions were less than perfect and fishing started slow. JY rowed while Dawes and I chucked streamers. The river was up to the edges of its banks and mudding up as we drifted. At starting point visibility was about two feet but as the temperatures rose so did the river and the clarity went away inch by inch. The biggest bummer was that despite the mud, an incredible March Brown hatch occurred but not one fish rose because they probably didn’t know they were floating above. 

The three of us have dealt with such conditions before and the first thing we knew to do was use streamers fish could see. While many anglers jump to streamers with bright colors, realistically that’s not the best choice. White or yellow for instance does not show up as well as you would think in murky water. Believe it or not, dark colors stand out better and black is usually best. Also good are flies with some flashy material in them. Flash throws light around and can be an excellent fish attractor in poor river conditions. I went with two flies, a black streamer and a flashy little kreelex fly. I put the black fly on the bottom (the point) and the flashy fly three to five feet up my straight Fluorocarbon leader as my dropper. My strategic thinking is that my flash fly travels the zone first and wakes up and attracts fish hunting in the mud. Even if the kreelex is too weird looking for a fish to eat it, the black fly comes into the zone and resembles a leech or dark colored sculpin. And wham! Even in chocolate milk colored water I’ve managed to dredge a fish or two when most anglers felt fishing was useless. And by the way, I’m talking more than just trout – this can be very effective on a brown colored smallmouth river in the Midwest. 

The report tonight from most of today’s anglers was of lousy fishing. Most were beaten by the high dirty water and the wind that managed to gust at over 50 mph throughout the region. Many drifters bounced down the banks like broken loose floating cottonwood trees. Wade anglers had it easy; they reeled it in and headed home when it was difficult to keep a fly line on the water. Nonetheless, JY, Dawes and I had decent day. Even though our shoulders feel the pain from rowing against the gale, we landed more than a dozen blue hallowed Madison browns from 15 to 19 inches. We were fortunate. 

Simms Ice Out provided yet another very special presentation tonight. “Ask a Legend” featured a short talk and then questions and answers from well known anglers John Simms, Dave Whitlock and John Gierach. I’ve had the great fortune of spending much time with these fly fishing legends over the years. These guys are true mentors for me and to see how they handled the big crowd was once again a great learning experience. 

No fishing tomorrow. It’s my turn to present. I’ll be talking about how I managed to fly fish the world without much money. This is a new one and the title is “Evolution of a World Traveling Trout Bum”. 


  1. That is an interesting topic Jeff, I myself have wondered if you would ever speak about that and offer tips or something.

  2. I didn't have such, but that's what was asked and I made one up. It wasn't easy as there's so many ways to go about it but the way I went worked nice. Now I have a new show.

  3. I bet a lot of it is just getting to know people, that is how I get to go places, nothing exotic, but good stuff

  4. Glad you enjoyed ICE out. Seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year. Unfortunate that we had record breaking hights that brought the rivers up but good to see you still tagged some nice browns on the Lower with JY.