Ice Jam

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The Big Hole River had a few large ice jams break free during the first couple days of April.  In Melrose, the flows jumped from 3000 cfs to nearly 6000 cfs in only an hour.  It was an impressive sight to see all of the ice and debris floating down the river.

On the Upper Big Hole near East Bank, numerous car-sized chunks of ice were deposited on the banks.

As of 5:00 PM on April 3rd, the Big Hole is back down to 2200 cfs and starting to clear.  We will continue to keep you updated as the river comes back into shape.


Understanding Weather and Big Hole River flows to Plan Your Montana Fishing Vacation part II

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Visiting Montana in the spring and summer for a fly fishing trip is something that many fly fishers only do a few times in their life. They want to make sure that their visit to the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River or Jefferson River enables them to not only enjoy the scenery but to also catch fish. Timing their trip to coincide with good weather and river flows is key to helping ensure a phenomenal fly fishing vacation.

But all fly fishers should understand that every time we predict what the weather is going to be like, or what the flows will be, or how much water we will have in the Big Hole River come August, we are making little more than a guess. But with these tools and a basic knowledge of hydrology and meteorology, our guess is definitely an educated one.

With all this said here is our 2012 prediction.  We are currently at about 90% snowpack in the Big Hole Watershed.  We have had a rather warm winter so our low elevation snowpack is very thin.  We predict that our spring fishing will be outstanding since we will not have huge river flow fluctuations in the spring due to low elevation snowmelt.  

Our high elevation runoff typically occurs around May 20th – June 5th.  We should see about an average runoff this year since our snowpack is at 90% of normal.  So this is an excellent year to hit the Salmonflies in June, which typically hatch around June 10th and last till June 25th.  The Big Hole Salmonfly hatch is one that all anglers need to hit in their lifetime and this year should be a good one!  We should have average summer flows due to our 90% snowpack going into spring.  2012 is shaping up to be a great season, especially after coming off of the last 2 above average water flow years, which have our trout healthy and big.

April 1st we will start our  Big Hole River fishing reports, Beaverhead River fishing reports, and Jefferson River flow and fishing reports, Stay in touch and get out and fish in Southwest Montana in 2012.


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 Website

• 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.

• 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.


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.   


The Big Hole River Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch Part II

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Here is what to look for to hit the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the famed Big Hole River.  Typically if you have had a lighter snowpack at low elevations you will have a much better chance at having a good Mother’s Day Caddis hatch.  Freestone Rivers like the Big Hole and Yellowstone are influenced dramatically by snowmelt.  If you have a small runoff from the low elevation snowpack, it will take longer for the rivers to dirty and swell from melting snow.  Another variable you will want to monitor is the actual flow of the river.  If water flows are over 2000c.f.s. at the Melrose gauge, trout will be less likely to rise to caddis on the lower and middle sections than they would at lower flows.  Mother’s Day Caddis will be fishable at high flows when you get above the Wise River on the Big Hole.  A great float for the Mother’s day Caddis is from East bank to Jerry Creek.  This section has low gradient and long slicks and undercut banks to fish caddis.  You will also find swirling back eddies where fish are feeding on the foam lines.  When flows are below 2000c.f.s. at the Melrose gauge the most prolific section with Caddis is the Divide to Melrose section.  In the tail-outs of runs and slow moving willow strewn banks you will find trout eating caddis on the surface. Flies of choice for this hatch on the Big Hole River are #12 tan slick water caddis, #12 tan Caddis Pupa, #12 peacock X Caddis.

On the Big Hole River the caddis can hatch from around May 10th -25th.  Stay in touch with Sunrise Fly Shop 406-835-3474 or to get your latest conditions on the Big Hole River’s Mother’s Day Caddis hatch or tips on planning your next Montana fly fishing vacation.


The Big Hole River Mother’s Day Caddis Part I

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Since we all have cabin fever come mid January in Southwest Montana.  Here is some dreaming to think about for the spring.

The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch gets so thick on rivers like the Big Hole, and Yellowstone that you better keep your mouth closed because caddis will be flying down your throat.  When the caddis come off, it looks like another spring snowstorm during your Montana fly fishing vacation.  The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is the last hatch before runoff clouds our rivers and we wait for Salmonflies.

Spring fishing in Southwest Montana is filled with unpredictable weather that consists of snow, sun, clouds and rain.  The payoff for dealing with the potentially nasty weather is having days when trout eat voraciously on the surface.  As the ice leaves the rivers of Southwest Montana, Skwallas begin to emerge and anglers hit the Big Hole River for this exciting hatch.  After the explosive eats to Skwallas on the surface anglers wait patiently for the rewarding but yet finicky Mother’s Day Caddis hatch.

The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is a bonus hatch for anglers to hit in their lifetime.  This is because the elements that need to be in place for the hatch to occur while the trout are interested to eat on the surface depend on many factors.   These factors include water temperature between 52-55 degrees for an extended period of time, water with at least 2 feet of visibility so the trout can see the caddis on the surface, and consistent water flow.


Small Business Saturday

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The holiday season is here and we wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.  As a small business owner please take advantage of the second annual  Small Business Saturday on November 26th.  Get out in your local community and support the small business that help fuel our economy.  We will be taking phone orders on all the fly fishing products we sell at the Sunrise Fly Shop.  Give us a call anytime 406-835-3474.


Can Guide Freeze be Resolved?

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Sloughs have started to freeze over and you can feel your pulse in your hands. You strip your fly line from your reel as you barely can feel your fingertips but can’t give up the urge to find the next trout taking a streamer.  Fall has slipped into winter in Southwest Montana.  My last day on the Big Hole for the season was November 4th.  Slow stripping and dead drifting streamers was the name of the game to get about 10 browns to eat all day, not bad for November.  With the shop closed for the season, it is now time to think about winter trips, tying flies, elk hunting, and flushing birds before it is time to gear up for 2012.  If you are going to brave the elements and fish in Southwest Montana during our frigid months; here are some tips I have received and am going to try to help prevent guides from freezing.

One of our last clients for the season, Christine Warren heard that spraying Pam oil on your guides prevents icing from occurring.  I have yet to try it but will let you know how it works.  For some great reading from a passionate angler, check out Christine’s blog: and her new book Paddlefish.

Loon Outdoors has come up with a new product to prevent ice from collecting on your guides.  The product is called Stanley’s Ice Off Paste . I am going to compare spray on Pam to Loon’s Ice Off Paste and will report back to you how these products work.  All anglers need to fill their winter trout fix or cabin fever, these products can make the difference in an enjoyable winter fishing experience.


BIg Hole Fishing Report – Fall Hoppers

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Big Hole Fishing Report

Feels like summer here even though it is starting to look like fall.  Cold nights and warm afternoons with high overhead sun has made for tough fishing lately.  We have been doing well nymphing the riffles with Blue Winged olives and swinging small buggers.  For about 2 hours in the afternoon we have had glory hours of hopper fishing.  In fact we have had a few over 20 inches lately on hoppers like this one above which was caught on a 6ft. 3 weight!   More of the same weather on tap for the next few days here.  Looks like the clouds will roll in early next week.