Understanding Weather and Big Hole River Flows to Plan Your Montana Fly Fishing Vacation Part I

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For many people, their annual fly fishing trip to fish the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, and Jefferson River in Southwest Montana is the highlight of their year. They need to plan their fly fishing trip months in advance to ensure they can get the time off work, schedule a guided fishing trip with an experienced Montana fly fishing guide, plan their travel, and book a hotel or campground.

A big part of the decision making process is to get information on the river flows of the rivers they plan to visit during their fishing trip, to time their trip for when the river is flowing best and the fishing conditions are optimal. Many people check a particular river’s conditions by visiting a fly shop’s website, where this information is usually kept up to date.

Every spring at the Sunrise Fly Shop we get hundreds of phone calls and inquiries about what we think the Big Hole River flows will be throughout the entire summer so they can plan their Montana fly fishing vacation. As ridiculous as it may sound, we usually have enough data that we can give our clients and customers an answer. No, we don’t claim to be Nostradamus, we just use a number of key indicators and a little bit of logical deduction to produce an educated guess. Never forget, trying to predict long-term weather and river flows is nothing more than an educated guess.

Below are the indicators that we look at, as well as how we use them to help better guess what summertime weather and stream-flows will be in Southwest Montana so people can plan their fly fishing vacation on our local rivers.

• Is it an El Niño or a La Niña year? – El Niño and La Niña years are characterized by variations in the temperature of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. The warming or cooling of the ocean water, known as El Niño and La Niña respectively, has a significant effect on the Pacific coast and the Rocky Mountain region. El Niño accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific, while the cold phase, La Niña, accompanies low air surface pressure in the western Pacific. These climate variations cause extreme weather during the year of the specific cycle. For Southwest Montana and fly fishing in Montana, we typically view El Niño years as years that we can expect to see both lower than average winter snowpack and annual precipitation. As for La Niña it is the exact opposite. During La Niña years we can expect to see higher than average water in most of our southwest Montana rivers.

• What percent of average is the winter snowpack? – A substantial percentage of river-flows in the western United States originate as melting mountain snowpack. Over most of the western United States, winter precipitation in stored in the mountains as snow. This winter snow is accumulated in the mountains as snowpack and stored in the soil as groundwater. This winter snowpack is the primary way in which winter precipitation is stored and transferred to the rivers during Montana’s relatively dry summers. The larger the winter snowpack, generally the larger the spring runoff will be and the higher the summer flows will be. The Big Hole River lies within the Jefferson River Drainage. To monitor the annual snowpack in any of Montana’s major river drainages, take a look at the Montana Snow Precipitation Update Websitehttp://www.wrds.uwyo.edu/wrds/nrcs/updatesur/update-mt.html

• Is the National Weather Service predicting a warm or a cold spring? More and more, computer modeling is helping to advance the science of meteorology. The Nation Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association have created a Climate Prediction Center for the United States. Over the last 5 years, these long-term predictions have proven to be surprisingly accurate. Even though the long-term forecasts are only a general prediction of weather trends, they have helped us to predict upcoming temperature and precipitation patterns. http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

• What is the current river flow? – Rarely does a day go by that we are not asked the question “What is the flow of the Big Hole River today?” We are fortunate enough to have 10 USGS river-flow gauge stations on the Big Hole River that are updated 12 times a day, and a USGS website that we can access to check these updates. These gauge tations show us the current flow and river height. Some gauges even record river temperature. This data on its own is helpful in understanding current river conditions, but because the USGS website uses graphs to chart the flow and gauge-height trends, we are able to know whether a river is on the rise, dropping, or holding steady – all of which are helpful in predicting how a river will fish.http://waterdata.usgs.gov/MT/nwis/current/?type=flow


Big Hole Spring Fling, Fly Fishing Film Tour, RO Nomad, & Anglers Tonic

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We have a bunch of good things happening in the Southwest Montana fly fishing community this week.  You don’t here that often when it is mid February in Montana.   Besides the good news that snow is forecasted to fall all week check out these three great things.

This Friday in Bozeman, the Fly Fishing Film Tour will be at the Emerson Cultural Center.   The show starts at 7:00 pm.  Check out there site to find a show near you.

Before the Fly Fishing Film Tour show we will be checking out the unleashing of the RO Nomad.  This is the new line of drift boats by RO.  We are excited to see the latest and greatest from the finest drift boats and skiffs in the Industry.

Be sure to check out the new redesign of Anglers Tonic.  This is a great site by Greg Thomas that has all the latest fishing stories, drinks of the week, news in the industry and fishing destinations you can’t resist.

Don’t wait too late to plan your Big Hole River spring fishing  Special.  3nights & 2days of fishing for only $500 per person.


Mid Winter Big Hole Snowpack

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The days are finally getting longer and air temperatures are getting a bit warmer.  It has been a rather strange winter here in Southwest Montana.  We have not been pounded by the -20 degree nights and single digit day time highs, which I am not complaining about.  We all know that winter is far from over.  With all the lack of moisture around the country everyone has been asking me how the snowpack is doing in the Big Hole Valley.  Here is the current data that we have on the Montana snowpack.

Currently the Big Hole snowpack is sitting at 88% of normal.  With three more months to gain more snowpack before runoff we are sitting rather well for good water flows this summer.  The Beaverhead River has had excellent water flows this winter to keep the trout habitat healthy for wintering fish.  The Clark Canyon Reservoir, which feeds the Beaverhead River is sitting at 93% full.  It is shaping up to be another banner year on the Big Hole and Beaverhead River.  The above photo is at Salmon Fly fishing Access and the below photo is at Brownes Bridge on the Big Hole River.

It’s time to start thinking about your next Montana fly fishing vacation this spring.  We are running our spring special again!  

3 nights lodging 2 days of guided fishing starting at only $500.00 per person from April 1st – May 15th.  Come on out and fish the first dry fly hatch of the year.