Here we go. Runoff has arrived and with it a bump in flows. Not big enough to push the river out of its banks, but big enough to make you change tactics. The river is currently at 6790CFS (though it could increase by the time you read this) and briefly touched 7K. Inflows at Canyon Ferry are 10,000CFS. Canyon Ferry is 92% full. I’m not going to speculate what will happen, but I doubt we will see really big flows (above 13,000 CFS) below Holter. If we receive a big rain event, it could happen.
Temperatures are moderate so the runoff is pretty stabile in most areas. nearly every gauge I looked at least night was level or dropping slightly. The forecasted highs are to be under 80 through next week, so I expect everything to stay pretty close to where it is right now.
MISSOURI RIVER FISHING
When the first pulse hit 2 days ago, it definitely put a damper on the fishing. I heard mixed reports from most anglers, but some fought through it. Nymphing is the obvious choice when the water is on the rise. Dirty water flies like the San Juan Worm and Clouser Crayfish are coming into play, and you may need to lengthen your leader a bit depending on where you are finding the fish. Our guide staff doesn’t really like this flow much. It’s not high enough to change the game completely, and it’s not low enough for some of the tactics we’ve been using most of the spring. Some spots are fishing different while others are not. A handful of “high water” spots are coming into play. But don’t switch to your 15K tactics yet. Runoff from Little Prickly Pear and the Dearborn are adding some color to the river, but it’s not blown. Streamer guys like this color.
Sticking with the standard BH nymphs will work, but you may want to go up to a #14 or #16 on those mayfly and caddis patterns. The same flies we’ve been recommending for the last month are still in play, but we’re starting to see a few PMD’s out. We typically find that nymph patterns that imitate the front end of a hatch are killers. So try something out of your PMD box.
Speaking of streamers it’s time to hits the banks tight with some big gaudy patterns. Yellow, White and flash are always popular in dirty water. My personal favorite in these conditions and this time of year is olive/white. But you’ll probably need to do a little experimenting until the fish settle down a bit. Did I say Black?
Bugs are hatching, so it’s conceivable that you’ll find some rising fish. If I was committed to the dry fly, I’d probably do two things. 1) Look patiently in side channels, and 2) fish the late afternoon and evening. Pattern selection probably won’t matter that much. Finding fish consistently rising on top will be your biggest battle, especially on sunny days. We often find that high water feeders are focused on emerging bugs, so make sure and have something like the translucent pupa to trail behind you dry.
The whole river is in play, but you should probably keep an eye on the Dearborn is you plan on floating below it. Right now it’s under 600 CFS and dropping slowly. This should have little to no negative impact on fishing. If you’re unfamiliar with the difficult to read nymphing water from Pelican to Cascade, you may want to avoid that float. Nymphing at these flows can be very good down low, but you need to know exactly the line to fish, and the lack of structure, drops and edges makes it very difficult to read.
We are right at the point where wade fishing spots begin to disappear. You can find good, wadeable water above Craig and around Pelican Point on both sides of the river. The Canyon will be difficult in all but a few spots, and those will likely be 1 man only situations. If you have a buddy or two with you, stick to the upper.
If you’re wade fishing be prepared for everything. Nymph fishing could involve unweighted rigs with PMD and Caddis emergers, or deep weighted rigs with a Worm and a Worm. Because you’re moving less than boat anglers, you’re more likely to find a surface feeder, so don’t leave your dries in the truck. Swinging streamers could be a good call, especially very early in the morning.
Most importantly, be careful wading, especially around the bottom of gravelly islands and on steep banks. No fish is worth a swim in waders.
If you don’t have a boat or a friend with one (a near impossibility if you live in Bozeman), we rent drift boats as do the other shops on the river. And if you’re a Veteran or Active Duty Military you can reserve one of our 2 Project Healing Waters Adipose Drift Boats for free. Just call the shop, and thank you for your service!
From what I’m hearing from guides and shops around the state, some of the big freestone rivers are high, but still fishable – barely. Most are too high to be really productive, but you should find some fish and probably will hang a big one. I’m not going to make any specific recommendations because I don’t want to send you on a goose chase, but it’s worth a call to your favorite fly shop on either side of the divide to get the up to date report.
Lakes are another option right now, and most will be fishing very well. High elevations lakes are clear of ice and full of hungry fish. At lower elevations, the water and weather have remained cool so you should find excellent opportunities there as well. Lower elevation fish will be in post-spawn mood, looking to regain weight.
More and more anglers are out chasing Pike and Bass these days, and this is prime time for that. You’ll need to get a little intel then go exploring. Again, with sides of the divide have opportunities that don’t get nearly as much pressure as our famous trout streams.