Friday, June 10, 2011

Blatant Salmonfly Teaser

Well, I figured that since everyone seemed to enjoy the last article that made it into Bozeman Magazine, I'd share my little blurb on Salmonfly Fishing with all of you! Hell, at least it's better than complaining about the weather here in Bozeattle...

The Salmonfly Hatch: More than Myth and Lore…

For many fishermen around the world the famous Montana Salmonfly hatch is as much about myth and lore as it is about actually getting a chance to fish “The Hatch.” Many will spend a lifetime dreaming and reading up on the hatch only to travel thousands of miles to miss it by a few days or a few miles of river. For those of you who have experienced this with utter disappointment, I apologize in advance for the remainder of the article.

For those of us who crazily follow the hatch like a rabid sports fan follows his favorite baseball team all year long, the hatch is much less about myth and lore and is mostly all about getting big fish up on big flies in some of the most heavily fished stretches of river in the state of Montana. If you’re looking for peace, solitude and some alone time with a few trout, then look for another hatch! But if you don’t mind calling in to your favorite fly shop 3 times a day for 2 weeks straight to find out where the bugs are on the Big Hole or Madison or Gallatin or Yellowstone, then well, this is the hatch for you (sorry Missoula, I don’t get too excited about Rock Creek…)

Really, hitting the Salmonfly hatch is all about timing, a little bit of knowledge, and some boots on the ground so to speak – never ever trust that you’re going to hear the exact starting time of the hatch from anyone else. Even the most reliable sources are going to give you yesterday’s news, sometimes you’re going to have to just go with instinct and input and go for it! So with that in mind, there are some things that you can look for in timing your pursuits on most of the big named rivers. Following is my own personal Salmonfly timeline that I use in my fishing pursuits of the Pteronarcys Californica.

The first rivers in the state that will get a good Salmonfly hatch on them will be the rivers around Missoula like Rock Creek, and that’s the best gauging point for when the rest of the hatches will begin popping on the rivers that I like to fish. Once things get going around Missoula you can bet it won’t be too long until the Big Hole starts to see the big helicopters take flight. Using the Big Hole as your barometer you can expect that within a week or so things are going to start on the Lower Madison, and although the hatch isn’t what it used to be on the Lower due to years of siltation and habit degradation you can still get some big fish to come up and suck down a big stonefly dry… Then you can monitor the hatch on the lower stretch of the Madison because once it makes its way up through Beartrap Canyon you can almost count out a week for the bugs to begin crawling out around Ennis. Typically around that same time you can find Salmonflies swarming on the Gallatin in the canyon, which can keep you occupied while you wait for the Upper Madison to get good. Finally the Salmonflies take flight over on the Yellowstone about the time that the Upper Madison is in full swing, usually sometime after July 4th in a typical year. Drought years aside, you will have a tough time finding fishable water for the Salmonfly hatch on the Yellowstone until the hatch gets up by Gardiner, after which it continues on through the Yellowstone in the Park for a couple more weeks. If you’re lucky you can get a Cutthroat to sip a big stone high up on the Yellowstone in the Park in the first week of August, after which you’re going to have to wait for the next year...

With your timeline in hand the next thing that you can do to figure out what’s going on with the hatch is to put some tires on the road and do some fishing and flip some rocks over. Now, this is as good of an excuse to get out of work and head to the river as I get – looking to see where the stonefly nymphs are by flipping some rocks and looking for the big black and brown armored critters. Without getting too scientific there’s a good way to tell if the hatch is close – if you’re flipping rocks 20-30 feet out from the bank, the bugs are a little ways off still from hatching, if you’re flipping over rocks right on the bank and they’re crawling with big stonefly nymphs, then you can bet the hatch is going to pop off in the next few warm days. Since the nymphs start their journey from the middle of the river to the banks you can get some excellent pre-hatch nymph fishing in. Some folks even argue that the nymphing before the hatch is better than fishing the dries themselves. If you like staring at a bright indicator rather than watching a 20” plus brown trout crash a big ‘ol size 4 dryfly, you might need your brain examined, but you can certainly have all the pre dry fly nymphing to yourself because you won’t see me out there.

Finally without giving away all of my secrets I’ll leave you with a few tidbits to chew on before this year’s Salmonfly hatch. If you want the best fishing during the Salmonfly hatch, don’t be afraid to head out early. Everyone will tell you that the bugs don’t get active until the afternoon, but the fish don’t care, they will eat them first thing in the morning, I promise. Fishing behind the hatch by 5 or 6 days can be as productive if not more so than fishing right through the middle of the emergence itself – fish don’t forget what a steak sandwich looks like. Finally, stick with the dry fly, the fishing can be spotty and if you take it off you’ll be assured that the dry fly fishing will get good just as you put that split shot and indicator on!

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