the riffles

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a riffle trout

When looking for rising trout I watch the flat water river sections first. That’s where they are easiest to spot. If there is no activity then I search the riffles. Trout in this location are much more challenging to find due to the water being broken and faster. Throw in river glare and spotting can be especially daunting. So I focus on very shallow sections. Often  water just six inches to one foot depth. Large trout feeding sub-surface in very skinny water occasionally break the surface, and therefore make noise and notify you that they are around. Sometimes it’s barely perceptible above the constant sound of the flowing water. But you get good at hearing it. You just have to stay in one place for a while and listen. Large trout in the shallow riffles also push or displace water as they intercept nymphs and emergers, and occasionally rise for a dun. Their feeding can disturb and slightly change the riffle surface pattern. Again, almost imperceptible. You have to concentrate and watch the water to notice. It’s all subtle. You have to observe and concentrate…kind of the key to learning and becoming a better fly angler or really a better anything.

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The trout in these ultra-shallow areas can often be enticed to take a dry-fly or a dangling emerger pattern. On my broad local tailwater river fish hooked in the riffles sometimes have to sprint 40, 50, 60 yards before they get to the main deeper flow. Thrilling first runs. Thrilling stuff.

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simple dangling fly, black wing for glare

Of course an angler can fish the riffles blind by swinging a streamer or prospect with a nymph below a strike indicator, or below a big dry-fly. These can be effective ways to cover these bumpy areas and catch trout.

I find spotting them first before casting, however, requires all of your senses and observation skills, and the practice further develops and hones your angling abilities. A decade ago I would have walked by the riffle stretch I fished this past Sunday afternoon and spotted nothing. It’s the same now as it was then…but now I see (and hear) more.


trout in riffles


Sight fishing Easter Weekend

After a winter of fishing blind with a two handed rod it was a real pleasure to sight fish with a light 4wt rod and dry flies this past weekend. I spent two days walking and wading the Missouri river in Montana. I tossed midges all weekend and on a couple of occasions a small beetle. Most fish were on emergers (bulging the surface). A few could be found eating dries, especially when the wind died down in the flat water sections of the river. Some bulging fish could even be enticed to eat on top; however, many would not. A lot of the midges were clustering in the mid afternoon so cluster fly patterns worked fairly well. A few Blue Winged Olives were out but not many. This hatch should be developing soon which will make the dry fly angling easier. All of the fish below were caught on dries. I spent my time fishing flat, shallow sections; slow wading ankle deep water. Some great fish landed; many more missed. Some humbling moments. Trout fishing doesn’t get much more challenging or better. If you love dry fly fishing you owe it to yourself to one day visit this river.


misty late day leaving the river

bbrown angle

brown trout on dry fly, beetle


beetle fly, chewed


craig, scene


arm tiltfish

rainbow trout on dry fly

fly shop

craig fly shop


shallow side channel


rainbow on dry fly

goose eggs

easter eggs on river island (goose eggs)


rainbow trout on dry fly

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craig, montana


caught on dry fly


horse shoe pit at local fly shop

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side channel

bbrown 2

another pic of brown trout


The Rattler and the Ditch

Confidence is a fickle thing. Here one day, gone tomorrow. One day a baseball pitcher is “nibbling the corners” and striking everyone out, and the next outing he can’t find home plate. He wonders: “What happened…where did it all go?” Angling confidence can also be fleeting. One day you’re finding fish, casting accurately and landing everything, and the next outing you can’t even spot a minnow in your favorite pool, or as they say in some places out west, a “minner”. This past Friday I was on the Missouri river. The Blue Winged Olives were everywhere. It was a perfect Baetis day, overcast and occasional drizzle, and yet I couldn’t find a riser. The bugs were piling up in “tried and true” locations but the trout were illusive. The only explanation in my mind was the high flow rate. It was double what it was last year. May is generally an outstanding dry fly month on the Missouri.

goose eggs

With the high water I was also cut-off from much of the river. For the angler on foot the options were limited. I was prepared for the tough conditions. The Internet reports said the nymphing was good, the streamer fishing improving and the dry fly angling slow. When interpreting a fishing report “slow” means “poor”. I was prepared for “poor” and high flows and therefore had a back up plan. The next day I got up real early and drove further south to fish a spring creek I had heard about with the strange name, Darlington Ditch! I had read it was small water and very shallow. Shallow seemed a perfect alternative to the big flow I had been on. Maybe I could sight fish!

butterf (1) The Ditch runs parallel to the Madison river. From what I understand a dike or levee was built between the river and the creek to protect the ranching/farming valley from flooding when the Madison (big water) is in full run-off. When the dike was built the creek probably got altered a fair amount and straightened-out. And it stayed that way for many years. I found the Ditch. It was small, clear and looked promising. The morning was still, warm and sunny. I was in the beautiful Madison river valley and decided to walk the creek and sight fish.

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the ditch

At the anglers parking area the Ditch looked like it had recently been renovated: a stream restoration project. I figured I’d walk beyond where the work had been done to where it was more natural looking and untouched. After walking a mile or so I climbed the dike and from my elevated point looked further upstream. To my surprise the restoration work went on and on, and on. It looked like the whole creek had been re-shaped. I had spotted some trout so I decided to fish the creek.

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ditch brown

Before casting I took out a new can of spray sunscreen. I had difficulty twisting the top to the On position. It wouldn’t rotate and during my struggle spray shot out with the force and volume of a garden hose set on Jet. It blasted my left eye. I quickly dunked my face in the creek and open my eyes to flush them and continued doing this all morning. Eventually the burning subsided and I became more confident I wasn’t going to go blind.  I managed several trout on dry flies: browns and rainbows. I caught nothing big but the trout were healthy looking and colorful. I have read that the creek can hold some fairly large fish.


the ditch

I wondered how the recent project had affected the trout as clearly a large excavator had done much of the work. The Pools had either been created or dredged and rocks had been placed on outer bends to provide structure. The renovation architects had shaped the creek in ongoing repetitive symmetrical S-curves. I knew some work had been done when I viewed the creek on Google Maps but I didn’t expect it had just happened, probably in the past year. The project had to have been quite intrusive and probably also affected the insect population.


missouri bow

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missouri brown

I have been on a number of rivers that have had sections restored or mitigated: the lower Crowsnest river in southwest Alberta; I was on Nelson spring creek in Paradise Valley the season after it was altered. Restoration companies understand the science of stream improvement and can make a fishery more productive but in my mind they often miss the mark on the aesthetic or artistic part of stream design. Sometimes their creations seem strikingly artificial (obvious) and repetitive. I would think subtle or small alterations could improve trout habitat just as effectively but they often seem to “Go big”. Maybe they need to consider having an artist on board during the early stages of stream re-design to create something more aesthetic and in tune with the landscape. I’m ok with S-curves as most spring creeks meander. What I have some difficulty with is carbon copy S-curve after S-curve going off into infinity. It seems a bit much. That said, I appreciate the work they did on the Ditch and that they felt there was value in doing it. In a couple of seasons I think the Ditch, once nature takes over and it matures, will be a great place to fish for those who love small stream angling. It will also, in its own way, be beautiful. I’ll definitely go back.


missouri bow

After a morning on the Ditch I decided to walk the top of the dike back to my car. While strolling along and taking in the surroundings I heard a terrifying sound that went right through me. It was a fusion of hissing, screeching, buzzing and a rattle. Think of the sound the Raptors made in Jurassic Park. I stopped and turned.  There was a five foot rattlesnake staring at me and coiled. I had just walked by it. A foot more to my right and it would have probably struck me. I’ve seen other rattlesnakes in Montana usually while walking train tracks. This was the closest I had come to one.



I wondered what I would have done if I got bit. Prairie rattlers generally are not lethal unless you are one of the unfortunate ones who react badly to the venom. I’ve survived two scorpion bites in Baja but that is another story. I guess if I was John Wayne I simply would have sucked the venom out of my leg (not advisable), shot the snake and cooked it over an open fire.

Given I was in the middle of nowhere and I’m not John Wayne, I probably would have panicked and driven a break neck speed to the nearest hospital in either Butte or Bozeman… probably Bozeman…better coffee shops. If I made it to the emergency room my skinny body would probably have been transformed into something resembling the Michelin Tire Man with a runny red left eye or one of those characters from the Eddie Murphy movie: the Clumps. Of course, by that time I’d also probably be delirious and singing something like, “Home on the Range”.

The next morning I returned to the Missouri and spent a full day on it. In the afternoon I spotted four good fish rising and connected with them using an emerger pattern. They were selective.

Somehow I got home intact from my adventure. And even though fishing was “slow” I managed some nice trout on dries… “Not a discouraging word was heard…”

side channel

missouri side channel