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Jack C. Mauer has more than a thirty year investment in fishing, floating and wading the waters of western Montana. He is intimately acquainted with the surrounding fisheries and their corresponding ecologies. It is his passion and enthusiasm for the art of fly fishing, a respect and knowledge of trout habitat, and the ability to expertly instruct the technical aspects of fly fishing that clients appreciate as they return to western Montana and Wapiti Waters. Contact Jack at 800-254-5311.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

When is the best time to fish western Montana?

Spring fishing on the upper Bitterroot
This is the question I am most often asked. In my attempt to answer it, I will take a brief look at our seasons chronologically and try to highlight a few of the more memorable fishing moments in an ‘average’ year.

Naturally we will begin with spring. Fish are coming out of a dormant period by mid-March with milder weather and water temperatures. Spring with its predictably unpredictable weather does have its special moments. The Bitterroot, Big Hole, Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Missouri will ‘come in’ at different times from mid-March through May. Naturally extreme weather (too cold OR too warm) can ruin the angling, yet spring has some wonderful hatches. You will see stoneflies; Skwalla and Nemoura, mayflies; March Brown and Blue-winged Olives (BWO), and lastly caddis that can trigger some unbelievable opportunities. Fishing “underneath” with either nymphs or streamers can also be very productive. One must be somewhat of a gambler to fish in the spring. The rewards can be gratifying for the lucky angler who strikes it rich.

Starting in mid-May, rivers will begin to surge as warm, mild weather begins melting the snowpack. A typical run-off will last over a period of about 5 weeks or so depending on the amount of snowpack. However, the craziest streamer and nymph fishing ever has happened between run-off pulses during this time period.

Early summer is probably the most popular time to fish western Montana, right after main run-off events are over, typically around mid-June when river flows decrease and gain clarity. Hatches of salmonflies, golden stones and green drake mayflies make their annual appearance. This can be an especially productive time for the inexperienced angler as trout are hungry, relatively uneducated, and the water is fast and forgiving. One can get away with a little more drag on the surface fly and use heavier tippets and larger patterns. For many of my fisherman, the last 10 days of June and first 10 days of July are the best time to fish. It is difficult to argue as the good hatches, healthy river flows and early summer weather are hard to beat. It is also the time of year that most people are recreating on our area rivers and is to be expected. Wapiti Waters does its best to avoid getting into a crowded fishing scene and having to “compete.”

Eventually the fishing settles down into a mid-summer rhythm, always dependent on weather. The explosive hatches of larger insect species are over and too many days of hot weather really slows down the trout. Mid-summer slides into the so-called ‘dog days’ with morning PMDs spinner falls and the Isoperlid Stoneflies like yellow sallies are about the only aquatic insects out there. However there have been memorable moments in certain river reaches with terrestrial patterns like beetles, ants, grasshoppers and moths. This time period (mid-July through mid-August) is an excellent time to be on the water particularly for the early riser as the morning fishing can be very good. Many Wapiti waters customers prefer this time as area rivers have noticeably less fishing pressure.

Bitterroot in the summer with father and son

At the end of August, longer nights and cooler weather turn on the bugs and the trout. The tiny black curse (trico mayfly) begins to make its appearance and cloud up the morning sky with its mating dance. Once on the water these little bugs give anglers the most challenging as well as rewarding fishing opportunities of the year. The patterns are small; one’s casting must be accurate and soft and hooks sets slow. In other words good technique is usually required. But because the opportunities for finding rising trout are numerous, you can get a lot of practice refining your technique. After a morning of trico fishing, an afternoon of hopper and/or fall drakes is likely to follow. For many dry fly purist, this time period is best as fish can be found rising throughout the day.

Later in September, the above mentioned hatches are followed by BW and mahogany dun mayflies, October caddis and midge swarms that take us right into late-fall. During our fall fishing one can expect to find pretty consistent hatches, sipping trout and fall colors that make this my personal favorite time to fish. This is a quality time particularly for the late riser as afternoon fishing is the norm.

We hope this answers the question about the best time to fish. I don’t like to promise good fishing just because you’re booked, say the first week of July or early September. So much of the fishing depends upon factors we have no control over such as weather and stream flows …but when the fishing is just tough we will always go back to the Robert Traver quote, “I fish because I love to; Because I love the environs where trout are found…” See the entire quote below and Thank you for reading this article.Lower Bitterroot in the fall

No matter what time of year, Wapiti Waters always works hard to find your best fishing.

Robert Traver 1964, (Judge John Voelker 1903-93)

I fish because I love to;
Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly;
Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape;
Because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion;
Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience;
Because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters;
Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness;
Because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there;
Because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid;
And, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant - and not nearly so much fun.

See photos from early spring through late fall in the slideshow below.

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1 comment:

  1. Ah mercy! You guys are making me drool with your words of big bugs and spring/summer waters. Can't wait until the real-time reports start coming in.

    (By the way, I've noticed I can only post comments on your blog from the application Firefox, not Safari. I am an absolute Luddite when it comes to computer technology...)


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