Friday, March 8, 2019

Fishing the vortex's aftermath

It was my birthday on Thursday so a friend reached out to see if I wanted to play hooky and go fishing.

My first reaction was excitement to spend river time with a friend who I don't get out with much anymore. My second reaction was doubt that we'd be able to find fishable water on a week that barely got above zero, including a day that hit -46 degrees. My third reaction was dread - is this even going to be fun? But my fourth reaction was yeah, this'll be good.

Somehow, we did have a few options as there is almost always somewhere to fish in Montana. We could hit a Paradise Valley spring creek, the upper Clark Fork at Warm Springs, maybe the Ruby, and the upper Madison was still flowing.

We decided on the upper Madison, which apparently hadn't seen temperatures quite as cold as elsewhere, and even had reports of dry-fly action. I was ashamed to admit I wasn't even sure if I had any Rubberlegs in my box, which speaks to my fly-fishing zeal this winter.

Driving upstream from Ennis, we watched the truck's thermometer climb a degree every half mile or so until it stopped at 38 degrees at 9:06. Winds were light to medium and the snow was deep - getting to and from the river was a bit of an adventure.

Fishing was excellent - about as good as the upper Madison fishes, according to my fishing-guide buddy. Between the two of us, we probably landed 35 hungry and feisty fish from 12 to 18 inches including one on a dry. I was a bit of an out-of-shape, out-of-practice shit show, but it was a superb, two-moose birthday.

I can't decide if I am grateful to have friends that will drag me out fishing in this weather, or resentful that I could be expected to brave the water after this bullshit weather. But life's too short, as they say, and I've settled on grateful. Very grateful.

So here's to the 2019 Montana fishing season, to friends who are probably a little crazy, and to another trip around the sun with four more crazy seasons. We should have good flows all summer long (despite what my previous post says :)).

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Early birds get the cutts and graylings

*UPDATE 2/23: Nevermind. 

If you think my co-worker Larry is crazy for beginning his mountain-lake exercise regimen in January this year, you might miss this boat this summer.

As predicted by some weather outlets, El Nino has given the Northern Rockies a warm, dry winter. While we are enjoying the mild weather, it has negative implications for our fishing summer.
Here in southwestern Montana, expect an early and brief runoff. Our low snowpack (see below) coupled with expected continued warmth and dryness indicates that relatively little water is in the mountains to melt into streamflow when the mountains thaw in April and May. In good water years, runoff in valley-bottom mainstems can last well into July, but in a year like this, it's not uncommon for it to be over in early June.

It doesn't look too terrible, but these numbers are expected to get worse as we proceed into spring. NOTE: When looking up snowpack data, tis better to use the "snow-water equivalent" snowpack data than the current-year precipitation data. It more accurately reflects the amount of water that will melt into the streams. 

Also expect many rivers to go under Hoot-owl Restrictions by late July/early August. Hoot-owl Restrictions are rules put into place by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks that legally limit when anglers can fish in a given river or drainage. Once announced, the affected rivers are closed from 2pm to midnight. This affects vacation schedules for tourists, income for guides, outfitters and fly shops, and plans for resident anglers. If you plan to fish Montana's famous rivers this summer, consider coming in late June or early July.

But of the most interest to types like me, expect mountain lakes to ice off early and maybe be too warm or dewatered in August and September. Exact timing is always a crapshoot and depends on several factors beyond snowpack and ice thickness, like elevation, sun exposure and amount of tributary inflow. But, I will guess that we will be about two to four weeks ahead of the ice-out schedule from my book. And it could be even earlier. Larry told me that in the El Nino year of 1988 (the year Yellowstone burned badly), mountain wildflowers were said to be in bloom in April, about two months early.

Sawtooth Lake in the East Pioneers near Dillon, Montana. Go early. 
In 2019, don't wait for the date that the lake was great last year. Go early, maybe absurdly so.