Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On The Water Again

For some of the purist fly anglers that subscribe to MSJ or only follow this blog, I realize you are probably very indifferent, or perhaps even disgusted, by my walleye and other warmwater activities. Fishing out of a motorized boat, using live bait, often nightcrawlers, may turn your stomach.
Well, right now I am glad I am fairly diverse angler. While I enjoy fly fishing and appreciate the intricacies and the simplicity of the form(see other May blog entries), I grew up fishing walleyes, panfish and pike. The spring fishing season and its preparation, was as much of an event as the first day of pheasant or deer season.
Nostalgia aside, fishing the big reservoirs for 'eyes is practical right now. While the majority of the states' rivers are running high, muddy and some, dangerous, the "lakes" of central and eastern Montana are fishable. Water temps are a little behind schedule, but they are creeping up slowly.
Getting that first bite of the spring is just like a child riding the bike he received from Santa. Despite not experiencing the slight tug of a walleye on our minnow/jig offering for six, seven months, we know exactly what to do. And we are just as excited to feel that sensation as we were last spring, and the spring before that.
Granted, the weather wasn't kind this holiday weekend and I only had one day to fish. With adequate rain gear and good sports along side of me, we made the best of it. And we caught fish.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Opener

Josh and Boges admire a solid Yellowstone cutt.
The MSJ fly fishing columnist, Josh Bergan, and I got out for the MT general fishing season opener on Saturday. We fished Notellum Creek for the large, migratory cutthroat trout that are rumored to be found in the stream. Prior to this trip I'd fished the creek on three separate occasions over the course of two years, not once catching a cutt - I was beginning to think it was all a myth.

Despite the forecast for heavy rain, the long drive, the grizzly warnings and the potential to arrive only to find a muddy creek - Josh and I went through with the trip. We were confident that we had our timing right for this trip - and timing is everything on this stream - but what concerned us was that we were completely at the mercy of whimsical Ma Nature. Fortunately a cold front moved through the state last week, slowing runoff and rendering Notellum Creek fishable, with 2-3 feet of visibility for opening day.

A big cutt, a small stream and the stuff of dreams.
We worked the water thoroughly, employing various nymph rigs and covering a lot of water with gaudy streamers. The first couple of hours didn't turn up any cutts, but I'd spooked what I was sure was a big trout and Josh saw another one break the surface. Josh was the first to hook-up, a solid 18-20" cutt chased down his sculpin imitation - unfortunately an overexcited pup rushed into the water, severely spooking the fish which came unhooked. Fortunately Josh got another shot later in the day, catching two 20 inch cutts in quick succession. I was a little slow to get in on the action, but a few gorgeous grayling helped ease my anxiety throughout the day. Eventually I managed to connect with a very healthy cutthroat, a fish that was the culmination of two years of dreaming and scheming about such a moment on Notellum Creek.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Lodge at Eagle Rock

I hadn't planned to spend back-to-back weekends on the Missouri River, but when the invitation was offered by a lodge to check out their digs and fish for for a day, I jumped at the chance.

The Lodge at Eagle Rock, located on the river in the beautiful Mid-Canyon section of the river is officially open for business after an extensive revitalization. The owners have done things right and started with an excellent management team and staff. Jen Newmack, of Great Falls, is the general manager and her energetic attitude will be a great fit. The fishing side of the business is also in good hands, those of her husband, Jason Newmack of 45 Degrees North Outfitters.

Our trip started with Laura and me meeting Jason for a day of fishing at the boat ramp at 8:30AM. After being rigged with nymphing rigs, we were fishing by 9:30. It was a great day to be on the water and it wasn't long before Laura had the first fish of the day, a decent brown, which Jason said was a bit rare for this stretch of the Missouri. That info would be deemed plausible as it would be the only brown of the day. The rainbows were numerous, however. And healthy. Jason had us into numbers of quality fish throughout the day. Fortunately for me, I don't mind being outfished by my female companion. And I was. I did make sure Laura knew that she had a very significant advantage by being in front of the boat.

We wrapped up our day on the water, anticipating our evening at the lodge. After a quick tour, we kicked back and enjoyed appetizers which were the creation of chef Geoff Langell. That was later followed by a wonderful four course meal, accompanied by great conversation, and a few fish stories. Laura would later comment that I was in my element, as we were enjoying some hockey on television, mixed in with some ping pong and shuffleboard, after a great meal and a great day of fishing. She was right. Thanks a million, Jen, Jason, Geoff and The Lodge at Eagle Rock! - Jay

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mighty Mo and Mom's Day

After weeks of reading Will's fishing reports and waiting in vain for good turkey calling weather, I had to make my own music. I didn't want my first blog entry in weeks months to be about watching playoff hockey or creating better Feng shui in my home.
So, Dave and I met up at the epicenter of the Missouri River- Craig, MT- and pitched camp for the weekend. Sources advised us that we should probably be looking at the Yellowstone and the pending caddis hatch instead. But, we liked the idea of an overlooked Missouri instead this weekend and spending time in Craig is always a nice break. The cell phone reception is just poor enough that you feel like you truly are off the grid. Then again, an excellent dinner and more playoff hockey at Izaak's, kills that argument.
Saturday the fishing was slow to fair; I have yet to have a banner day on the stretch from Holter Dam to the Wolf Creek bridge, and that rut continues. As we drifted closer to Craig, the fishing improved. We were forced to nymph the entire float with only a handful of rises seen all day. While the quantity was average, the quality was great. One 22" bruiser fought like a steelhead and I am still amazed that it was eventually brought to the boat. After a nap, an early supper, Dave and I headed downstream toward the Dearborn, fishing on foot, looking for some rising fish. There were a decent number of baetis appearing at dusk, but nothing to write home about.
Sunday morning we swallowed our pride and went and saw Mark and the guys at Headhunters. Dave was nice enough to offer up my debit card ("oops, I left my wallet in my waders") and asked them to hook us up. They did, gave us a discount for being great guys ("industry stiffs") and Dave was tying on new midge patterns before I had signed my receipt.
It was a beautiful morning and we only shared the river with geese and goslings. The fishing below Craig was looking promising as Dave caught a decent 'bow right off the bat. He credited Headhunters, but I think it was partly due to my excellent boat control and the suggestion to remove the gigantic orange strike indicator for a more subtle black bobber. Regardless, it was a great, albeit short float. Our Sunday morning ride on the Missouri was only three hours long, but then again, I had to get home to see Mom.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gallatin River on Borrowed Time

Fish each day like it's your last.

That's been the mantra in Montana over the past week... runoff is overdue.With runoff will come weeks, months even, of excruciating non-fishing activities.

Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday found me on the Gallatin River, reveling in the good fortune of fishing in May. Mid-day hatches of March browns have been excellent, baetis are coming off in good numbers on overcast afternoons and there are even a few lingering skwala stoneflies. The streamer bite has been productive in late afternoon, and nymphing has been consistent all day.

The river has picked up some color in recent days, but still has 3+ feet of visibility. One only has to glance at the snow laden mountains looming over the river valley to realize that we're fishing on borrowed time - enjoy it while it lasts.