Chasing The Salmonfly Hatch on The Big Hole River

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Every angler waits, and waits, and waits for hatches to occur.  The most famed hatch in Southwest Montana that is worth the wait is the Big Hole River Salmonfly hatch.  It is every anglers dream to throw#4 dry flies to the bank and watch 5 pound browns rise with a vengeance to eat your fly.  This is truly an exciting time to be on the Big Hole River.  Typically as the river is coming down from runoff you have your best dry fly fishing.  Anglers have to be on their game as your boat is rolling down the river and you are trying to get your dry flies as close to the banks and willows as possible to get an eat from a trout.

The Big Hole River Salmonfly hatch typically occurs from June 15th-July1st.  What makes this hatch unique to the Big Hole River is the length of the river it takes place on and the abundance of flies hatching.  You can find this hatch first on the lower river near Glen, then it works it’s way up the river to East bank.  This is about 80 miles of floatable river that this hatch is occurring on.  A lot of people refer to “Chasing the hatch” when they talk about Salmonflies.   You will find guides in the early mornings and late evenings looking for shucks on the willows and bridges to see if Salmonflies hatched during the night.

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Friends In The Industry

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Sunrise Fly Shop is happy to announce the new website for Sheerwater Guide Service.  Owner and operator Karl Jones is an exceptional guide and wooden drift boat builder.  Sheerwater Guide Service operates in Western Montana on the Clark Fork River, Bitterroot River, and Blackfoot River.  Karl also guides for the Sunrise Fly Shop on the Big Hole River and Beaverhead River.  If any of you are looking for an early Spring dry fly fishing fix, contact us for some March Skwala fishing on the Bitterrroot River.  The Bitterroot River starts to fish earlier than our rivers in Southwest Montana due to the valley floor being lower in elevation.  If you are looking to fish in Western Montana, Sheerwater Guide Servicewill take care of all your Western Montana angling needs and your wooden boat building needs at Bitterroot Boat Works.

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January Update

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It is late January and the Montana snowpack is looking good.  Right now the Big Hole River snowpack and Beaverhead River snowpack is sitting at 116% of normal for this date in time.  We have had three years in a row of excellent water conditions throughout the summer.  It is looking like we are going to have another great water year on Southwest Montana Rivers.  Right now the Clark Canyon Reservoir is sitting at 91% full. Winter flows on the Beaverhead River have remained above average which helps keep the fishery healthy.  Last year we saw a great age class of 17-19 inch rainbows in the Beaverhead that were about 3 to 4 pounds.  Look for this age class of trout to be in the 18-20 inch range and up to 5 pounds.  It is going to be a banner year on the Beaverhead and high flows will make for a great late summer hopper season in the Big Hole River.

I am off to the Western Canadian Fly Fishing Exposition in Calgary, Alberta. We will have a booth at the show.  If you are attending the show stop by to check us out.  The Event is January 28th-30th.

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The Elusive Skwala

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Everyone knows the feeling, the itch to experience the first dry fly fishing of the year on Southwest Montana freestone rivers.  The first spring hatch, a.k.a. some of the best dry fly fishing of the year is the Big Hole River Skwala hatch.

The Skwala stonefly makes it’s appearance as spring and the end of winter collide.  On the Big Hole River this is around mid-April.  As the ice breaks free from the freestone rivers and water warms between 45-48 degrees for a consistent period of time, skwalas start to migrate to the banks of the Big Hole River to hatch.  The Skwala is a size #8-#10 stonefly with an olive colored body.  Like most stoneflies, Skwalas crawl onto rocky and brushy banks to hatch.  Unlike most stoneflies though Skwalas rarely fly in the air.  These stoneflies tend to crawl across the water when they lay their eggs.  Skwalas are hard to see in the water as they skitter with there wings closed on the surface.  Trout in the 16 – 22 inch range are taken on the dry fly during this hatch.

Since this is the first hatch of the year with a sizable meal, trout tend to key into Skwalas pretty quickly.  These stoneflies are not in the same abundance on the Big Hole as Golden Stones or Salmonflies on the Big Hole, but there are enough of them to make for some great dry fly fishing.  This is a great time to experience trout feeding with fury, as they eat their first stoneflies of the season.

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Winston Launches new BIIIX Fly Rod

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The new R.L. Winston BIIIX is a rod that every angler must have in their arsenal.  The BIIIX has replaced the number 1 best selling rod from Winston the BIIX.    After fishing the BIIIX I must say it has the feel of the BIIX but has a little more power in the mid section.  I have been able to fish this rod on the Big Hole River in the 9ft. 5weight and found it to have excellent accuracy for long casting situations with large chernobyl’s and also the ability to throw small dries in technical short distance situations.  We have just received our first order of the BIIIX.  These rods have the classic Winston Boron design, with a little more power, which makes it a well rounded fast action rod.  You can check them out on the R.L. Winston website.

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Fishing Access Improvements

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During the fall of 2010, Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks made major improvements to three different fishing access sights on the Big Hole River. Pumphouse, Salmon Fly, and Glen fishing access sights were the recipients of long-overdue improvements and makeovers.

 

At the Powerhouse Fishing Access (more commonly referred to as Silver Bridge) crews installed a new single-wide concrete boat ramp, and expanded and improved the parking area.  This ramp improvement coincides with the removal of the Pumphouse diversion just downstream from the Silverbridge fishing access.

 

Down river at Salmon Fly Fishing Access Site in the town of Melrose, crews installed a concrete boat ramp and improved the parking area for one of the busiest fishing access on the Big Hole River.  Simple improvements such as these have made the Salmon Fly Fishing Access not only a more functional fishing access, but a more aesthetically pleasing one as well.

 

Another twelve miles down river from Melrose, at the Glen Fishing Access Site on the Burma Road, crews also installed a new concrete boat ramp and made improvements to the parking and camping areas. 

 

All of the recent improvements to the fishing access on the Big Hole River will help to make accessing the river a safer endeavor, disperse boat and user traffic, and protect fish and wildlife habitat.

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BIg Hole River: Diversion Dam Replacement

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The Big Hole diversion dam replacement project is complete.  On November 7, 2010 the city and county of Butte-Silver Bow finished the replacement of the 80-year-old diversion dam in the Dewey Canyon of the Big Hole River.  This diversion dam is used for pumping water from the Big Hole River to the city of Butte, Montana for a portion of the cities drinking water.    After nearly a century of existence, the diversion dam is no longer an impediment to fish and boater passage.

The old diversion dam and intake structure was outdated, and structurally failing, which has a threat to the River, and the ability for Butte to get one of their sources of drinking water. Over the years the dam has been the cause for flipping many boats as floaters tried to navigate over the concrete structure.  The new diversion has a rock weir dam, which has a boat and fish passage channel.  The spillway is designed for boater safety.

The completion of the diversion dam on the Big Hole River is a great example of a community working together to improve a structure that benefits all uses.  Silver Bow County now has a better functioning diversion that ensures a source of their drinking water.  Recreationalists now have a safe, unrestricted passage in the river that promotes the health and migration of fish.

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2010 Season Conclusion

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Winter has set into southwest Montana with our first significant snowfall last week. After the snow and cold has pushed us off the river we are finally able to take a deep breath after a fabulous season of fly-fishing.  A short recap of the 2010 season was water, water and more water. Above average flows and steady hatches made for great fishing this season.  The dog days of summer never came this year.  We are in a cycle of great water flows in Southwest Montana.  This was our third year in a row of above average flows in the Big Hole River.  Clark Canyon reservoir above the Beaverhead River will again have above average winter flows, which we saw this summer made a huge difference in the health of the fishery.

We would like to take the time and thank all of the people that made the 2010 season a successful one.  We enjoyed giving advice, hearing big fish stories, and guiding clients with smiling faces.  Look for consistent blog posts this winter on fly-fishing advice, fly-fishing tactics, and stories about the rivers we fish; the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, Madison River, and Jefferson River.

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Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River in Southwest Montana Part II

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Fly Fishing Sections of the Beaverhead River

The upper Beaverhead River, from the Dam to High Bridge, is generally fished with small nymphs.  This isn’t to say that at times there isn’t amazing dry fly fishing, it is that most of the fish caught in this section are on nymphs.  From High Bridge to Barretts, nymphing is still the most successful style of fishing, but more opportunities exist for catching Beaverhead trout on larger dries such as hoppers and crane flies.  Bellow the Barretts’ diversion the number of trout per mile decreases, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities for trophy trout are diminished. 

Hoppers and Streamers

Throwing hoppers in the later part of the summer between Dillon, Anderson Lane and Beaverhead Rock frequently produce trout well in excess of 20 inches.  Streamer fishing is another style of fly fishing that can produce large fish on the Beaverhead River.  Casting streamers under the willow-choked banks in the early hours just after dawn is very successful way to get a trophy Beaverhead Trout to eat.

The Beaverhead River is an impressive fishery with world-class fishing opportunities throughout the entire river.  So whether it’s fishing size 22 trico spinners in The Slick, nymphing the Axel Hole with PMDs or throwing hoppers on the lower river, the Beaverhead has something to offer nearly every angler.  Click here for more information on fly fishing the Beaverhead River.

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Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River in Southwest Montana Part I

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When people think about a fishing vacation in Southwest Montana, their thoughts usually gravitate to fly fishing the Beaverhead River.  The Beaverhead is one of the more prolific and challenging blue ribbon trout rivers that people come from all over the world to fly fish.

This tailwater flows out of Clark Canyon Reservoir and is a small river in size but an enormous river in stature.  With thousands of trout per mile and rarely more than 70 feet from bank to bank, the Beaverhead River is literally stacked with trout.  Big Trout.  The Beaverhead is known for its population of very large Browns and Rainbows, attracting fly fishers from all over.  The Beaverhead’s constant cold-water provided by the reservoir’s outflow, coupled with the generally silt-free nature of the water and stable summertime flows create an ideal habitat for aquatic insects.  This phenomenal insect habitat produces millions of bugs, which translates to prolific hatches throughout the summer.

When fly fishing the Beaverhead, you encounter a meandering river that creates countless holes and buckets, which provide ideal holding-water for trout.  A fly fishing angler should have no difficulty in finding trout on the Beaverhead–the challenge comes in hooking and landing these strong and energetic trout.  First, you must pick the right fly to imitate the hatch.  With so many natural insects in the water column, it is essential that you pick a pattern that closely matches what the tout are keyed in on.  Second, you need to have great presentation with your fly.  Whether you are nymphing or throwing dries, a good drift dramatically improves your chances of hooking one of these fish.  Finally, once you have hooked a trout, fighting them in the fast water and tight quarters is no easy task.  A fish landed on the Beaverhead is a well earned fish.

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