Brown Trout on Dries

By perseverance the snail reached the Ark.

Charles Spurgeon

I spent the last two weekends fly fishing the Missouri river. The place was buzzing with anglers. The first weekend was cloudy and cool. The second one sunny. Not surprising the dry-fly angling was better when it was overcast. Trout are more likely to rise in low light. The main hatch: Blue Winged Olives; secondary hatch March Browns.

jet

anotherbrwn

brown trout

A lot of people nymph the river. Many also throw streamers to the banks while drift boating it. The river has such phenomenal insect life that I can’t imagine fishing it any other way than with a dry-fly when the conditions are favorable and the bugs are out. I find that walking the river in search of a few good rising fish is just about as exciting as trying to trick them with a fly. It’s the hunt! Any garage sale or flea market aficionado would understand.

longshot

flat side

dry fly side channel

 

pyrm

Missouri river

On this trip(s) I was trying to spot Brown trout. I eventually located a few good ones feeding in the shallows. I spent most of my time focused on one particular trout as it proved to be a challenging fish, at least for me. I spent more time than I care to say trying to fool it. I spooked it several times and then had to sit for long periods waiting for it to settle down and then reappear. Waiting was easier when my retriever, Brooke, was with me. She’d sit by my side often leaning against me while we watched the water and I’d occupy myself and let time pass by picking hundreds of burrs out of her thick golden coat. Her presence made me a better angler.

first week brw

brown trout

 

brown2 (1)

brown trout

I had hooked that particular trout a week ago but it tugged me around and eventually broke off. This weekend I pulled a fly out of its mouth, and then later “nicked it”. I did eventually land it on a size 18 olive…more perseverance than skill. Late afternoon shadow on the water pulled it out of its lair and it started feeding with more of a rhythm. A fish eating this way is easier to trick.

hatch2

olive hatch

 

goose eggs

perfection

 

bunny

riverside bush bunny

When I tried taking a picture of the trout my camera batteries failed. I did, however, manage to fiddle around and get a few shots. I would have liked to get more. I had spare double AA’s  in my pack but decided to release the fish as it took a fairly long time to land it.

carsnow

late april light snow

 

brown2 (2)

brown trout

 

ist week brw2

brown trout

Here are some trout (brown and a few rainbows) and western landscape pictures. It was nice to spend some long Spring days outside by the river and witness all of the life along it, and be part of it. All trout were caught sight fishing with small dry flies, size 18 olives, in shallow water.

bow2

rainbow trout

 

match

trying to match the hatch

 

crawfish

crawfish

 

river trial

cold afternoon on favorite trail

 

sunrays

warm morning

art bow

rainbow trout

 

Betting on the Missouri!

I didn’t know how many days of fly fishing I’d get before the Polar Vortex caught up to me. Maybe one or two? I was heading south and it was on my tail. The weather report said it was big and ominous. From all the TV and Radio chatter it sounded like the thing had teeth and was chomping its way south. I was glad to be ahead of it. I crossed the border at Sunburst with the Sweet Grass Hills to the east. Then it was two hours of mostly flat, featureless terrain with absolutely no trees. The only sign of life and movement was the constant 80km wind blasting the prairie grass, Oil Jacks pumping away in the distance, and some Pronghorn Antelope on the run. Apparently they had also heard about the incoming vortex.

drkwind

A short while later I knew I was nearing Oilmont. I could smell the gas. It always smells of gas there even when the wind is at gale force. Your lungs tell you that what you’re breathing isn’t good for you. From sweet grass to sour gas all in thirty minutes. I speed up, hold my breath and wonder about the health of the locals. That’s if anyone is alive out there. I always think that if I did meet someone from Oilmont he’d look something like Daniel Day Lewis in the movie: There Will be Blood; and he’d be clenching a bowling pin.

glow reel

rainbow trout

 

Past Oilmont I saw more Pronghorn. They are amazing creatures. It seems they can live where nothing else can. They range from Baja and Sonora Mexico where they wear sombreros all the way into southern Alberta and Saskatchewan where they look smart in their white cowboy hats. They really look like they belong in Africa, somewhere out on the Serengeti. I’ve read they can take intense heat and cold, and can survive where there is almost no water. They are the second fastest land animal. Only the Cheetah stands higher on the podium in a sprint. Stretch out the race a bit and the Pronghorn takes gold…speed plus endurance.

storm sky

After a couple of hours crossing the flats it always feels good to arrive in the town of Great Falls. Seeing trees and buildings after the “big void” is always comforting. I’m always flabbergasted by the number of gambling establishments in this town. It seems every corner on the main commercial strip has a couple of VLT joints. They are attached to gas stations, convenience stores and motels. They have names like Cart Wheel casino, casino Emerald City, Lucky Lil’s and Diamond Lil’s. All of the windows in these establishments, if they have windows, are darkly tinted and have neon signs. The whole scene kind of looks secretive and seedy. And it always seems there are a dozen pick-up trucks parked outside at all times of the day; people hunched over the glowing machines from morning until night. You just know a lot of kids in the region are going to school without lunch money.

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grass trout

missouri river rainbow trout

 

On the south side of Great Falls I always stop at a Barnes and Noble (book store). It has big comfortable couches and is a great place to grab a coffee (in-house Starbucks) and a magazine after four and one half hours on the road. I purchased The Drake fly fishing magazine which sold as advertised for “5 bucks (no tax), $10.00 for bait fisherman”. After a quick break it’s just a 30 minute drive to the town of Craig, my angling destination.

blur big back

Missouri river rainbow

 

On this trip, Craig was a ghost town. Everyone had cleared out. Obviously they had heard a polar vortex was coming. Either that or they had migrated west to fish for Steelhead. The local restaurant was closed. Papa’s Burritos was boarded up. There were a couple of anglers walking around and one stray dog but that’s about it. Two of the three fly shops were open, but empty…no customers, well, except me. It’s a gamble fishing here this late in the season. Everything is weather dependent and November can be a dicey month.

nov mo

missouri river rainbow

 

The high wind made dry-fly angling real challenging. There were tumble weeds rolling in the streets and some even rotating in the river. I managed most of my fish on dries and a few on streamers when the wind completely took over. Someone once told me that, “The wind around here has issues”. How true.

tumbclose (1)

tumble weed

 

tumbclose (2)

tumble weed

 

There were some midges in the morning and tiny olives in the afternoon. There were no large olives this year. I spent most of my time hunting for calm water. I generally had to focus on a 2 or 3 foot wide section of placid water that often existed next to the shoreline/bank. That’s where fish could be spotted rising when there was a bit of a hatch. The rest of the river was often just too choppy. Every once in a while things would calm down and the river briefly became mirror-like and some fish would rise further out. These moments, however, were rare and fleeting. Angling time was also fleeting. Not much daylight at this time of year.

grasshalf

I fooled my best fish, a brown trout, and the only one of the trip, on a beetle. Success on a terrestrial pattern in the second week of November! Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the brown. As I was getting set up to “click, click” he bolted to deep water. He was a good one: fall colors and a hooked jaw. The fish of the trip. I did manage some nice rainbows, many of them sippers. If there are some bugs around and you make a commitment to patiently watch the water in the right spots, you’ll find trout rising on the Missouri. Unlike Lil’s it’s a sure bet.

snowdeck

cold front arrived

 

I got two days in before the polar vortex (cold air) hit. The morning after it was calm and I fished for a few hours and managed to catch a trout in sub-zero (C) weather on a midge dry. Then it was time to head home on the icy roads.

snow calm (1)

side channel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening for Life

midges

I went to a local tail water river two times in the past week feeling hopeful. However, there was no dry-fly action in spite of a lot of Midges being around and even some Blue Wing Olives. I was excited to see drifting mayflies after several months. I guess that’s something only a fly angler appreciates. It’s been a long winter and slow developing spring and water temperatures are still very cool: 38F. Usually at this time of year I can pick up a couple of surface feeding fish late afternoon once the bugs get going. It begins with whitefish rising, then some smaller to mid-sized trout, then when the hatch really gets popping and bugs accumulate, some bigger fish get involved. No such luck. I sat on a section I know well, looking and especially listening for life. On large broad water in bright light and with a lot of reflection, it is often sound that gives a trout’s surface feeding position away. I would catch fewer fish on dries if I was hearing impaired. I looked and listened for a long time then gave my eyes a rest, looked elsewhere, and just listened. Silence. The river never woke up. I plan to return one more time before run-off but I might not get a chance as the last three days have been hot and soon they will open the dam and release enough water to turn the Sahara green. Then I’ll have to wait a month or two for the river to settle down and clear. If things don’t work out locally then Plan B is to jump in the car and make the trip south to the Missouri river for the upcoming long weekend. May is usually a good dry fly month there. I’ll get riverside and listen for life.

dead pheasant wing

soft spot where bugs were collecting

 

eastern slopes snowpack

olive

crocus