Cold, Wet, and Everything We’ve Been Dreaming Of
It is no question that our Winter here in Montana was quite the let down. Unseasonably warm temps and long dry spells made just about every Montana fly fishing guide worried. However, the past three weeks have been our saving grace. Multiple late season snow storms have brought crucial precipitation to our mountains. Strengthening our snowpack to almost 100% of our average. While this doesn’t necessarily provide ideal fishing weather in May. It is crucial for our waterways in late summer. While this much needed recent moisture is great, don’t stop the rain dances yet. Rain and Snowfall through the rest of May would be ideal in recovering our lakes and headwaters from our drought and provide the best fishing conditions for our peak summer season.
A Bad Time to be a Fair-Weather Fisherman
Unpredictable has been the best way to describe fishing as of late. Inconsistent weather, hefty winds, and low water have made for some tough outings. So what is the right combination that makes for a good day on the water this time of year? It might seem like a complicated question but it’s actually quite simple. A Montana fly fishing guide is normally looking for clouds and overcast this time of year. Sometimes the crappier the weather the better it is out there. Sunny days continue to prove the worst time to be out on the water for many reasons. Predators, sensitive eyes, inability to ambush, and drastic temperature changes are all things that come with the sun. Overcast gives fish cover from predators and enables fish to ambush unsuspecting bugs and baitfish. The best dry fly days have consistently been overcast, above 40 degrees, and low wind. Streamer junkies have done extremely well on rainy/snowy days as well as days where the water temp has reached 49 degrees for multiple hours. This trend will continue until runoff hits here around the last two weeks of May.
BWO’s, March Browns, and Mothers Day Caddis
May is truly one of the special times to be fishing in Montana simply because of the insects. May and July are what I like to call rollover months where there is a giant conglomerate of insect life out on the water. Multiple hatches happen here in May. The upper Madison will see Midges, Blue Wing Olives, March Browns, and multiple species of Caddis. While it is awesome that there is a plethora of food in the water, as an angler it can get tricky to decide just what bug they are eating. There are certain clues that can help you decide what bug to throw. For example splashy eats on the surface most often mean fish are eating emergers. Fish will sometimes track bugs all the way from the bottom of the river, chase em down and eat them right before they emerge causing violent eats. This often times happens with larger bugs such as march browns and caddis. However, midge and bwo emergers can be great bugs in slower pools or waterways. The best way to tell what fish are eating is to just be observant. Too many times people spot a rising fish and immediately want to cast at it. Take your time and observe the fish’s movements. Ask yourself questions, is the fish swinging in and out of a zone or is it consistently rising in one lane? Is it eating aggressively or is it only sipping? What did it eat? At what cadence is it eating in? When stalking fish, asking these questions not only helps you understand trout more but it also enables you to slow down and gives you the necessary information to best present your flies and get more eats.
How to Fish It
In these rollover periods with many different species of insect on the water I normally throw on two separate bugs. I prefer a dry/emerger combo to start. This not only helps me figure out if they are eating emergers or adults, but also what species fish are keying in on that day. When fishing a double dry or a dry/emerger rig a Montana Fly Fishing Guide trick is to have them around ten inches apart. This seems to be the perfect distance between bugs to enable them to not bunch up and separate when mended, yet also allow them to be in the same current line. Often times when placing your bugs too far apart, one of your flies will end up in a different drift which results in dragging your second fly through the feeding lane. It is important that your emerger is acting right in the water. Using products like Henry’s Sinket is a great way to get your emerger below the surface and in the correct column of water.
More Caddis More Problems
One of the largest hatches in terms of quantity of bugs that we receive in Southwest Montana is the Mothers Day Caddis hatch. The bugs from this hatch are the first species of caddis we will receive all year. These bugs are normally small and black in nature. Dark bodied caddis patterns are best throughout this stretch, especially those that have a small slenderer body. There is a weird phenomenon when there are so many bugs on the water. There is sometimes too many natural bugs on the water for your fly to stick out. We often see this on the lower Madison during the peak hatch. One trick Montana Fly Fishing Guides have is, throwing an oversized caddis or something completely different such as a purple haze is a great way for a fish to spot out your fly over the thousands of other flies floating overhead.