Missoula Fishing Report 5/30

Fly Fishing Report Brought To You By Our Missoula Fly Fishing Guides And Fly Shop Staff.

Enjoy and Good Luck!

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot river flows bumped up in the last few days and is starting to level off. The fishing has been decent with nymphs and streamers, with a few fish coming up for dries. Focus your time nymphing inside seems and soft water. We expect some Golden Stones to show up in the next few weeks and Salmon Flies on the upper stretch.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips for each hatch

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot river has been fishing good for this time of year with good clarity and flows. We’ve spotted a few Salmonflies on the lower end, but not many and not enough to get the fish to focus on the dries yet. There’s lots of the nymphs moving around under the water and moving closer to the bank in preparation to start hatching, so be prepared with large stonefly nymphs on the inside seems and softer water.
The streamer fishing has also been really good with good water temps and clarity improving, so bust out those sinking lines and dredge deep for some big fish.
We expect next week to be game on for dries if the warmer weather forecast stays true.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Clark Fork River

The Clark Fork river fishing has been good lately with fish eating dries, nymphs and streamers. The flows bumped over the last few days, but has since leveled off and we expect the fishing to be good again in the coming week. We haven’t seen much for big bugs yet, but that’s also right around the corner like the rest of our rivers.
The streamer and nymph fishing has been the most consistent and should be your go to until we start seeing more adult bugs hatching.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Rock Creek

Rock Creek fishing has been decent lately with the Salmonfly hatch starting. The big bugs have already started to hatch on the lower end and should continue to move up as the warmer weather moves in next week.
There’s tons of Salmonfly nymphs moving to the bank, which is making the nymph fishing very productive with big stonefly nymphs.
Be ready for the Salmonfly madness to kick into gear in the coming week.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

June/July Hatches

Click any photo below to find out more information on each individual hatch. Includes life cycle, best fly patterns, helpful tips and where to find these hatches in your Western Montana fly fishing adventure.

New Hoot Owl Restrictions

Here in the shop, we have been receiving several questions about the recent “Hoot-Owl” restrictions on the upper Bitterroot. These restrictions require anglers to be off the water from the hours between 2 P.M. and midnight. Most of us have become accustomed to the restrictions that Montana FWP imposes to protect our fisheries during periods of low flow and high-water temperatures.

These new restrictions only affect a few stretches around Missoula as most hoot owl temperature requirements stay the same as they have been in the past. FWP is working towards a goal of protecting native Cutthroat in certain high priority sections of streams.

In most situations, FWP will apply Hoot Owl restrictions when temps are over 73 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 consecutive days. Measured flows may also be a factor in determining when to restrict afternoon and evening fishing. Unfortunately, these restrictions have become all too common in the past 10 to 15 years. Anglers have come to utilize the USGS current conditions webpage to track flows and temps. Anglers have become accustomed to looking for the 73-degree mark.

That’s why the recent restrictions on the Bitterroot have raised a lot of questions. The temps have not reached 73. In August of 2022 FWP decided to set different Hoot Owl triggering temps for streams with high populations of native cutthroat. In short, there are a few streams that restrictions will be triggered by three days over 66 degrees. As far as we know, the Bitterroot and North Fork of the Blackfoot are the streams in the western district that Hoot Owl will be triggered by the 66-degree threshold. You can read about the reasoning for treating cutthroat streams differently here.

In addition, FWP has changed the way that they lift Hoot Owl restrictions. In the past, Hoot Owl was lifted September 15th. There is no longer an arbitrary date. FWP will now use temperature and flow to determine when restrictions are lifted. A few days of cooler temps will not trigger lifting Hoot Owl restrictions avoiding situations where restrictions are implemented and lifted and then implemented again.

As always, if you are not sure if the water you are headed to is under Hoot Owl restrictions or not, stop by the shop. We will have the latest closures and restrictions posted.

The Tale of the Fly Rod Handle

This is so nerdy you won’t be able to stand it!

One of the more enjoyable things I get to do in a fly shop is look at rod handles. We see more broken rods than we care to, and with rod carriers allowing the reel to be stored on the rod, we get the handle on a few anglers when we spool up a new line, or shift lines from reel to reel.

Very few items of tackle can tell the tale that a cork rod handle can tell.

Not a fly box. They essentially look the same through their lifetime. They might acquire a scratch or two, but don’t really carry any depth.

Same with zingers, nippers, forceps.

Maybe an anglers boots, maybe. But sun-drying in the back of a pickup will prematurely age the best of equipment.

Or an old school vest, but so few use that conveyance, including me. They’re clutter traps, too hot and too heavy. Well, mine’s heavy. I can load a vest down with irrelevant gear, flies and gadgets faster than anyone. Unlike some anglers, I take no joy in being a minimalist. Try as I might, I can’t understand limiting yourself to one fly, or using a Tenkara rod with the classic tiny tackle box. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I’ve accumulated some crap. By the slime on George Harvey’s boots, I’m going to carry it with me, needed or not.

Parenthetical Insertion. As a teenager and young adult, I idolized George Harvey. He was kind, generous, pompous and opinionated. He was the first college accredited professor in fly fishing, and I’m proud to say I’ve taught fly fishing on the university level. Not at George Harvey’s level, but at a university level. He designed the leader style I use 80% of my time on the water, and convinced Buck Metz to go into the dry fly hackle business. When I say By the Slime On George Harvey’s boots, I’m invoking the spirit of a Dry Fly Fisherman. There is no higher calling. His vest was crammed full with flies that he was always very generous with. When I’m wearing a vest, I’m not comfortable till it bulges.

Which is why I don’t wear a vest.

But I digress.

You can’t fake the rod handle.

Look at the handle of your favorite rod. If you’re lucky, it’s got a nice patina of dirt, with some spots of grime rubbed in. Probably some wayward Aquel, or the residue from a quick grab and grin. You recognize the unique color of the mud bank you slipped and fell down, using both hands to keep you from entering the river. I don’t miss felt soles when I think of how many times I entered the river on my ass.

That’s the first five years.

You start to learn about the quality of the cork after the first five years or so. Good cork is hard to come by, and even the best of cork may reveal flaws as it’s being shaped. Rod builders use filler to cover up the minor blemishes that naturally occur. This is when the filler begins to fall out, after 5-7 years of hard use. Some rod handles look like a leopard, with blemish spots abounding. But the tale is being told.

The handle starts to show slight signs of wear, specifically lighter areas of wear where the hand isn’t. Where the hand is normally placed has a darker color than the rest of the handle. Over time, the dirt is more compressed there, as well as put there more often.

Here’s a thought. You know those little pockmarks where the filler came out? You can fill ‘em the next time you slip and fall down a mud bank. At least they’re filled till the handle of your rod gets soaked. I usually give my reel and handle a rinse once every 4 times on the water, while untangling an errant cast from the tip top, or, even worse, casting so badly you put a half hitch between the tip top and the first guide. When you’re working on the tip of the rod, the handle of the rod tends to get wet. The deeper you’re wading, the more likely the dunking is.

Then find another mud bank.

As time goes by and the handle sees more use, the cork starts to get shiny as well. It’s difficult to describe, because how can all that accumulated “patina” shine? It’s the cork being compressed by usage, losing the tiny imperfections and taking on a reflective sheen. It takes a while to get to that point.

I love rod handles. They tell me so much about an angler. My conversations are much different with a clean, or even worse, still wrapped in cellophane handle. PLEASE! It’s not worse if you’re just starting. No one was born with a fly rod in their hand. But please, Please, PLEASE take the cellophane off the handle. It’s so much more comfortable, less slippery, and perhaps most importantly, nothing screams rookie more.

The conversation nerdifies with the tale the handle tells. Depending on patina, we may talk about tapering leaders, the latest flies, river conservation, why on God’s earth are we still using fiberglass in 2022, the difference between Aquel and Gink, and, if the handle has enough wear, and matches the owner, we may grouse about how it was so much better back when we were kids. We’re wrong- we just didn’t know any better. But it’s still a great conversation. I’ve solved the world’s problems several times over in fly shop conversation. It’s a great place to meet free spirits, big wigs, where the high and mighty and the low down, dirty and bad all contend with the same wind.

I’m always fascinated by who’s attracted to fly fishing, and why. I try not to be a navel gazer, but when you’re dealing with the highly stereotypical and un-PC classifications of people as bank presidents and mechanics, and all points in between, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch even a small part of their fly fishing journey. What do they want from this, what are they willing to give it?

The answer is in the rod handle.

This may not get past the editorial board. I try not to, but I judge people by their rod handle. I alluded to it before, and I assure you it’s not what you think.

As I said, you see all kinds in a fly shop. People regale me with stories of multiple 20” fish in a day out of Rock Creek. They talk about how worn out their line is. And I see the handle. 2 year’s wear, tops. It’s a 9’ 5 weight- it’s the go-to rod. I’m not going to question them closely about too much- the information I get will be hackneyed and exaggerated. Inflated and not tempered with experience.

Just like I did when I was trying to master this $#^&?!@ sport. If I caught one, I bumped it to two. Two was a passle. Three and I was over the moon. I memorized Stenonema Canadensis (fat lot of good it did me- they went and changed the classification) and used it in a sentence whenever I could. In short, I was just getting started. As said before, no one gets further without getting started.

The handle of my rod was worn then, but it wasn’t my doing. I was using the same rod my father learned with, and he deserves much of the credit for the patina.

It wasn’t hard to tell I wasn’t the only dirtier of that handle. You get so you can tell, you know.

The next handle I see is an IM6 Winston. It’s so worn, the cork has slightly shrank and the glue between the rings is visible. It’s so dirty it’s actually been rinsed off. On purpose! Not sanded, just rinsed, so the last few layers are diminished, and you can see the filler spots with a little more clarity. But it’s not clean, like a toddler in the bath. They’ve gotten wet, but getting to the base layer is too much work.

If you look closely, you see wear marks on the reel seat as well.

They’re of a certain age, the age when you had to spend $400 on a fly rod to get one that was any good. $400!!! That’s a lot of money. They did it once, they did it right, and no amount of hype, advertising, peer pressure or Google ads is making them change their mind.

That’s written on a ringed handle. The moisture is disappearing from the cork. Lots of sunshine. Lots of rain. Lots of use makes a handle look that way. You don’t see many of those.

So you ask, hows your fishing been? They might tell you they “took more than a couple, less than a few”. When you ask how big, it’s always maybe one over 15”.

I wish I’d videoed this exchange. An older customer is leaving the shop, and on the way out the door, I said, “Have good fishing.” He stopped, turned and looked at me. Formed his thoughts. Looked at me, completely deadpan. Said this, “You know, I used to go to Rock Creek as a young man. Fish all day, come home with a 16” trout, a couple 12’s and three or four 8-9” long. People thought I was a pretty good fisherman. But in these days of catch and release, I’m not sure I’m so good anymore.” And he walked out the door.

To this day, I don’t know if he was joking, if he was serious.

I do remember reading somewhere that a fish story without photographic evidence is just that, a story. Probably fictional.

When I was teenager, my youngest brother was fascinated by the size of fish. He had a Zebco De-Liar (the secret is in the name) which was a combination scale and tape measure. If you caught a fish when he was near, he measured its length.

You know what I learned from that? There’s a hell of a big difference between 14” and 16”, and 18” and 20”. Fish get bigger geometrically, they’re not just longer, they’re BIGGER. Like a lot. It was stunning (and annoying) how few 20” trout I caught. 20 inches is the trout benchmark. It’s tradition. They all looked like 20”ers, until that #@$%?)! De-Liar. 15.5”.

It was close.

Three years ago I had the chance to float the Clark Fork with John Gould, long time Missoula guide (and our rival so don’t go calling him! But we’d hire him in an instant!!!) and the 11 year old kid of a childhood friend. The childhood friend is a doctor AND intelligent, and his son Franco is frighteningly smart. The fishing was slow (Truth is, I was brutally hungover. Barely functioned till mid afternoon, and by then it was too hot) and John had the 11 year old in the front of the boat, and 7’ deep. He would catch a fish, and ask John how big it was. “14”, maybe and a half” This happened for 3-4 fish, and finally Franco says to John, “Yesterday, the other guide said those fish were bigger.”

I say this jestingly, but we’re lucky we didn’t crash the boat. John and I were laughing so hard. After a long, hard guffaw, John says. “I call ‘em as I see ‘em. Been doing this a long time.” So Franco rummages around in his vest, or John provides one, I don’t know, but a tape measure appears. Turns out John’s dead accurate on ACTUAL length.

Not fisherman’s length.

The De-Liar took most of that out. To quote Ed Zern, “Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it.”

When the ringed handle extends by saying they had a good day on the Bitterroot, I do my part and extend the conversation. What were you using? Any clouds? Where were you?

The handle tells me that any answers I get will be useful, but the last one is the important one.

Ya soften ‘em up before going for the gusto.

Parenthetical Insertion. NEVER tell a fly shop employee where you had good fishing, any further than “the upper Bitterroot” or “the middle of Rock Creek.” Because while we’re not actually trying to stick it to you, we’re happy to have a different answer! So within a day, we’ll reuse that info at least once, and over 3 days, twice.

But not more than that.

I’ve been in destination fly shops in New England and in Missoula. The number one question is “Where do I go fishing.” With all that entails.

When I worked in North Conway at a fly shop, we shared a building with Dick Stewart while he wrote his book series, Flies For Bass/Trout/Saltwater/Atlantic Salmon/Steelhead. Sharing a building means you get some of your flies in books. Thanks, Dick and Farrow. Dick had been the previous owner of the fly shop, and one day while chatting, he said he had a fly shop fantasy.

He had mentally picked the traditionally biggest, best time of the year, the Siphlonorus hatch. In the past, the shop had made over 100 walk-in sales in a day when the hatch was strong. Dick said at least half asked where the best place to fish was.

His fantasy? Send every angler to exactly the same rock. Give them all identical destinations, and then sit back and think about the chaos he’d created!! Cue fiendish laughter.

But we all know what it really would have been. It would have been a disaster on the river. It would have been everyone’s worst nightmare about opening day. 50 anglers in the same area would wreak havoc on the banks, bottom and through the environment.

Would it have ever happened?

Hell no.

Not enough parking spaces.

That idea has sat with me for a long time. That as a person utilizing the resource, I should try and do what I can to protect the resource. So when I’m in the shop, and it’s the first week of April, I’m trying not send every angler to the Bitterroot. Third week of June, and I’m looking for Rock Creek alternatives. We do the same with the fishing reports.

We all know the best Skwala hatch is the Bitterroot, and the best Salmon Fly hatch is Rock Creek. So they attract enough attention on their own. But here’s the thing. You’re in Missoula, there’s 300 miles of floatable river within an hour’s drive. The fishing is good wherever you go round here. No one will be deprived. As a responsible fly shop, we try to spread the usage around. Usually saying it won’t be as crowded. And it isn’t.

Maybe it makes us feel better as we use the resource.

PUBLIC STATEMENT – Find a conservation organization you feel you can support, and support it. I have been involved with conservation for 30 years. While it might not be as dire as the wingnuts would have you believe, it’s amazing what someone will try to do to a river when they think no one is looking. Strong talk is appreciated- money does the work.

Upon re-read, that’s pretty harsh.

But unfortunately accurate.

So find an organization that’s doing the job you would do if not previously engaged, and help them do the job you can’t. That’s not a criticism, it’s life. You do what you can when you can.

Again, so harsh. So true.

But try and put cold water conservation higher on the list.


I’m taking a little longer to spool the reel that came off that partially stained, ringed handle. I’ve been adroitly told his good day was on the lower Bitterroot. He wasn’t floating, so now I’m really interested. I obliquely ask in a couple of ways about firmer location details. I’m politely and deftly directed in different conversational directions.

Once in a while it pays off, and you get PRIMO info.

Did you really think I’m going to tell you?!?!

But knowing he’s been stingy with the locale, he feels honor bound to tell me about the hot fly. I can’t say anything right now, confidential you know, but I now have more than a couple in my box.

The handle had the rings of truth.

And the grime of usage.

The stains of time on the water.

The half cleaned look that says they noticed.

That can’t be faked.

George Kesel

Flat Water Of Clark Fork River

What’s A Good Day on the Water

One of the WORST things I ever did in a fly shop happened in early summer 2000. Yes, I remember the year- surprised I don’t remember the date. A guy came in the shop simply bouncing, telling me he had the best day he ever had on Rock Creek. It was epic! He’d never caught so many fish! He was so excited. I joined in his excitement, and said, “Hey, you must have caught like 40 or 50!

He looks at me and says, “I caught 6”

You can imagine his face. You can imagine how bad I felt. In one sentence, I’d crushed his day. Just crushed it. Still, to this day, I think about that. He’d HAD a good day….until he talked to me. I’m still haunted.

About 2007, I found myself back on the Bighorn in a 7 boat guide trip. I’d fished the Bighorn in the early ‘90’s, and spent two guided days following a huge polypropylene indicator. I caught 50 fish a day. It was terrible. I vowed I would never do that again.

That morning in 2007, the guide introduces himself and says he’d like to take a look at my rod. I said, “Don’t touch my fly rod. Do not put a bobber on my line.” You can imagine the look on his face. He starts to tell me it’s the best way to fish, catch the most fish, etc. I say I don’t care, I don’t care how many fish I catch, do not put a bobber on my line. By this time, every guide in the group is watching this exchange, wondering what it’s going to be like having this @sshole in their boat, and who could blame them. After about 2 more minutes of the same conversation with my guide, including asking him to keep my friend Tom on all the fish, I reach into my wallet and tip the guide $150. In the parking lot, before the boat is wet. He looks at me and says, “I guess I have to believe you.”

I caught 7-8 fish that day, including a smallmouth bass, the guide’s first in that watershed. I was casting my streamer into some REALLY random water! Meanwhile, Tom is hooking up consistently. It must have looked pretty funny, the boat pointed into the bank for Tom, while I’m flipping a streamer behind the boat. Once in a while, I floated a dry fly, fruitlessly, and watched it drift along the bank. It was a great day on the water.

What’s up with that? 50 is terrible, 8 is good? It’s what I wanted on the water. It can’t be any simpler. I like fishing the way I like fishing. That makes a good day on the water.

Take A Kid Fishing!

When the Missoulian Angler fly shop books a guided fly fishing trip, we ask a lot of questions, trying to find out what the guest wants from his/her day on the water. Instruction? A shot at a legit 20” trout? A lot of trout? Only dry flies, or do they want to Euro nymph?

Can we guarantee a big trout, or a lot of fish? No. It’s fishing! But we guarantee our guides, the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, will do everything possible to make the day live up to expectations. We can’t stress this enough- talk to your guide, tell them what you’re looking for in a day. No matter what it might be. Our guides are good, but you’re input makes them better. That information will do a lot to make your day on the water a good day.

My Dad traveled the west for years, alone and being guided. He was happiest tossing a dry and catching fish 8-13” long. It made him happy. One day a guide, who knew my Dad was a “stick” (Guidespeak for a good angler) was floating Dad down a river. He stopped, and said, “George, let’s take a walk.” 45 minutes later, they’ve come to a slough. The guide gets excited, and ties on a little dry. “Cast it just above that log.” So Dad casts just above the log, and a 28” Brown Trout slides out from under the log and starts to rise… but halfway up, decides against, drifts back down and back under the log. “OOOOHHHH, that’s the farthest up he’s ever moved!” groans the guide. And then says, let’s get back to the boat.

About 2 hours, one cast. That was absolutely NOT what my Dad wanted. That was his memory of the day. The guide thought it was a magic chance for a huge Brown on a dry! That was his memory of the day. Straight up miscommunication. Just that simple.

There are anglers who go fishing for the Instagram moment. (Not my Dad!) They’ll walk or float anywhere to take one trout that garners the Big Looks! A day without big is a bad day. A one fish day over 20 inches, and it’s a great day. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s changing the concepts of fly fishing and fly tying. Some is good, some not so good.

We have pictures lining the ceiling beam at the MAngler. What shop doesn’t have a bragging board! Big trout and happy anglers! We get questioned about those pictures all the time. Is that the average size of trout around here? Were they caught this week? And the answer is always no. They got on the wall because of their rarity. But it gives some anglers an inferiority complex, because they’re not catching those trout. Sometimes it crosses my mind to take those pictures down, because it raises expectations and may make an angler’s trip less enjoyable. Not always, but it does happen.

The same happens with magazine articles. In the mid ‘90’s, I worked at a catalog fly shop in New Hampshire, where I spoke with anglers all over the country. I got a call from a man in Texas. He’d just finished reading an article about trout fishing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I’d fished the Housatonic fairly often- the Smallmouth Bass fishing was pretty good. He was asking me about lodging, and when the best time to come for the Housatonic trout fishing.

I was baffled. I barely drove 3 hours to get there, and thought it was a bit of drive for the fishing. I went because one of my best friends lived close by, and I would hang out with him and his Dad (who still remembers me as “the guy who falls in the Housatonic.” It was very slippery, and I was too young to need a wading staff. Hence, falling). I asked the customer why he was even considering coming? He said he’d read the article, and was ready to make the effort for that type of fishing. I zipped out front of the shop, got the magazine, and started to read the article. Hmmm….

I’ve been to exactly ONE place where the fishing was as good as the magazine said, and that was New Zealand. What I was reading about the Housatonic was as close to fiction as you could get, without downright lying. I’m sure what was described happened on one magic day, but it was not anywhere close to what I experienced on that river in my 14-15 times fishing it. Think about magazine articles you’ve read about rivers you’ve fished- was the reality anywhere close to the actual experience?

That’s what I thought.

I told this gentleman about my experience on the Housatonic. I told him he was going to an airport, and standing at a gate. He had a lot of gates to choose from! Missoula. Bozeman. West Yellowstone. Colorado. So many options where I KNEW the fishing was actually good. None of those gates included Hartford, CT. No dis on the Housatonic, but there are better rivers in the United States. Yet someone had written an article about it, and people from away were reading it and believing it. I think he would have had the worst days of fishing there- the reality would never have matched the expectations created.

This dovetails with a fascinating conversation I had with the caretaker of DePuys Spring Creek in Livingston, MT. I found myself on this amazing stream in early August in 2009. I was there with two friends, and there was a fourth rod on the water, but he was gone by noon. My two friends went to their spot and stayed there. I basically had 3 miles of spring creek to myself. It was amazing!

In my wanderings along the river, I saw the caretaker and we started talking. I said how pleased I was to be there when so few where fishing, and he said yes, that’s the new way of fly fishing. When I asked for an explanation of that statement, he told me this.

He’d been the Depuy’s caretaker for 20 years, and had seen a huge change in booking patterns. He said at this point, when the hatch chart said there was a strong hatch, all 16 rods were filled. But when there were no hatches, no one booked a rod. In early August, no hatches, so no anglers. Again, I was baffled. He elaborated, and it has stuck with me.

20 years ago, people came to Montana to fish when they could. They went fishing, and caught some trout. But since The River Ran Through It, a lot of anglers needed a REASON to be there. It wasn’t enough to go fishing, there had to be a reason to go fishing. To come when “nothing” was happening didn’t have enough ROI, it didn’t have punch, not enough to be GOOD. It made me think about my experience in destination fly shops and booking trips, and saw his insight was correct. There are many anglers out there who travel to something. Not to the fishing, but to the expectations of what fishing could be. There needed to be more than just fishing. An event was needed.

I caught about 30 fish that day, all on the surface. Hoppers, ants, beetles, micro caddis and there was even a rusty spinner fall for about 30 minutes. No, the rises didn’t make it look like it was raining. But if you think 30 fish on the surface isn’t a good day, you and I aren’t calibrating our fishing days the same way. The sky was iridescently blue, the mountains so close you thought you could touch them, but so far away. A good cast was rewarded often enough that subsurface never crossed my mind. It was a great day.

When nothing was going on.

Instagram and Facebook. So many magazines about fly fishing. I get it, I’m old and crotchety. I’ve been fly fishing for 49 years, and I was taught that a day on the river is better than a day doing anything else. Sometimes you hit it right, and lite the world on fire. Other days you got your fanny handed to you, and went home smelling of skunk. But it was never about the end result. It was always about the journey.

I feel that’s changed in the last 25 years. Now, it’s less about the process and more about the result. Guides have reported getting in a boat with anglers who have a counter with them. Yes, a finger activated counter. When they caught a trout- not a fish, a trout- the counter was clicked and the event recorded. Next.

Some of those anglers return year after year, and they will definitively let you know they had better fishing 8 years ago. As you speak with them, you find they aren’t enjoying the fishing as much. It didn’t meet their expectations. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve been told that the 25 fish day just wasn’t as good as the 40 fish day they had in the past. I get it. This is their vacation- it needs to be what they want. But every year is different, hell, every day is different.

I get a unique perspective in the shop. I see guides every day, I know how the fishing is. Everyone in the shop does. I know when a 5 fish day is a GOOD day. Here’s a thought. Missoula is blessed with over 300 miles of floatable water an hour’s drive from town. That means everyday, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides have a big decision in front of them. Some days, you make the call and you’re the hero. Some days you’re the goat. It’s all part of the experience. The experience………

I try not to be old and grouchy. Older is actually easier to deal with! We’re lucky enough to be close to a college- I see young, enthusiastic anglers every day. I wish I still had their legs! They go places and do things I used to do, and it makes me happy. It keeps me young. When asked (and often unprompted!) I’ll tell them something I think is important. Sometimes they think it is, sometimes not.

Grouchy is tougher some days. When the going gets tough, some customers get grumpy. Not enough surface action, not enough fish, not enough big fish, too many people. I want to ask them, did you look at the iridescent sky? Did you watch that little cloud form, and then simply fade away across the vast panorama of the mountains? Did you watch a storm move up the valley? Were you aware of the herd of Elk behind you, watching you, wondering what you might be doing in their river? What did you miss in your quest for fish?

We know all the hackneyed phrases. “It’s not called catching, it’s called fishing” and others are bandied about when the conditions go against you. Said with a laugh, but meant with a purpose.

Again, I get it. I used to fish so hard for so long. Nose to the water, complete focus on the cast. Drift. Cast again. Drift. Cast, drift, cast, drift. Next thing I knew, it was dusk. Where did the time go?? It went fishing. And I went with it. Some days hero, some days goat. But always, at the bottom line, I went fishing. And that was good.

To sound like a jackass, I can truthfully say I’ve caught enough fish in my lifetime. I’ve been lucky, and I know it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I go fishing and it’s important to catch fish. It’s not as often as it used to be, but it’s still there. I’ll never lose that. But it makes fishing a lot more peaceful when the day doesn’t always rely on a result. Some days are about the journey, and those are turning into my good days on the water.

Do I tell my customers I went out and caught nothing? Not a chance! I use my father’s stock phrase, “I caught a couple.” Never more, never less. But I do tell them about the eagle’s nest and the circling adult, looking for food for her babies. I think about the play of light across the water, and wonder how many crayfish might be in the shallow rocks I’m walking through. I hope I don’t see a snake, and secretly hope to see a bear…..on the other side of the river! I talk about the ones I didn’t catch, and tell them how I plan to take them later. It always requires a new fly!

Missouri River Guided Fly Fishing Trip

So as you contemplate what a good day on the water is, think about what it is that really matters. Ask yourself if it matters all the time. Think about the things that do matter all the time when you go fishing. And think if you’re giving each day on the water a fair chance. Every day on the water is good- if you have to search a bit deeper to find it that’s OK. And never forget Robert Traver’s words about why go fishing;

“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that people are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
― Robert Traver

And as a final note in this somewhat contained rant, I ask you to look up one of my favorite fishing stories. It’s short, fun and to the point. It defines why we fish, and why the bad days are so important. Because they are!

George Kesel Mssoula Fly Fishing

George Kesel

Hooks Hat Co

Stop Losing and Scratching Sunglasses

I can’t say I’m all that excited to write this blog. The Suncloud Sunglass is an excellent mid priced polarized glass, made by the Smith Company. They’re an excellent value in polarized glasses, and we sell quite a few pairs during the season. Glass lenses and quality frames make the Suncloud our best selling polarized eyeglass.

Our SunCloud sales are going to take a hit when people catch on to Chase Harrison’s Hook Hat system of keeping sunglasses on your head when on the water. Chase had gotten tired of losing his sunglasses on a fairly regular basis, and who could blame him. For those without prescriptions, it’s a very easy thing to do. When not needed, anglers put their sunglasses on the brim of their hat, held on by the pressure of the arms squeezing against the head. Hit a decent seam, or forget and take your hat off, and those glasses are gone to Davy Jones Locker, or at least to the bottom of the river.

Chase began by designing a hat with Velcro sewn onto the cap in strategic places. He paired them with slide on bands of Velcro for the arms of the glasses. Now, the glasses are velcroed to the hat. The Velcro system can be utilized when the glasses are being worn by holding the glasses tight to the face without riding down the bridge of your nose, or when they’re lifted out of the way and resting on the bill of the cap. Bumpy riffles and memory lapses no longer mean the glasses hit the river, as the Velcro holds the glasses to the hat. Chase has a very nice line of hats with the HooksHat logo, and they’ve proven very popular with our angling and recreational floating customers.

But what if the HooksHat isn’t your lucky fishing hat? Chase has solved that as well. He’s taken the main Velcro components and packaged them into a neat, simple pack, allowing you to turn any baseball cap you own into a HooksHat. The kit comes with two pieces of stick on Velcro and two bands for the arm of the glasses. Now you can wear your favorite fishing hat and save your sunglasses at the same time.

If you’re a “hat dunker”, someone who dips their hat in the river on a hot day, you might want to put a few stitches into the stick-on Velcro to keep it in place after repeated dunkings. Take a look at the photo of the HookHats so you can see the correct placement of the Velcro along the rear of the hat.

The Velcro band that encircles the arm of the glasses looks uncomfortable, but it’s not when worn correctly. Keep the Velcro band as far back as you can, and you won’t feel the Velcro when being worn. As an angler who wears prescription glasses, the pupillary distance is affected when the glasses are worn attached to the Velcro, so it may take a moment to adjust to the different focal lengths.

The HookHats saved a lot of glasses last year, and with the addition of the conversion kit to the line, many more glasses are going to be saved. There’s very little more annoying than spacing out and flinging your glasses into the water. Makes the rest of the angling day longer and less efficient, while adding an unexpected cost as well. The HookHats and conversion kit are designed to keep your sunglasses where they should be, on your head.

Sunglass retainer systems like Croakies and chums get the job done but can be very annoying to deal with and doesn’t help the fact that when wearing your sunglasses they tend to ride down the bridge of your nose. Check out Hooks Hat Co. by clicking here and try them for yourself.

Montana Sunset

Angling and Ethics in the summer of 2021

It’s early July in 2021. After a winter of average snow pack, and a long, steady run-off that brought snow down from April 20th on, the freestone rivers of Missoula are feeling the effects.

Hoot Owl restrictions are in place on the Clark Fork River from the confluence of Rock Creek and going east to Warm Springs. The term Hoot Owl is derived from the early 1900’s logging industry, and when in place, there is no fishing on the affected waters from 2:00 PM to Midnight. Hoot Owl hours are put into effect when the water temps rise above 73 degrees for three consecutive days, or the water levels drop below the 5th percentile based on historical data.

Water temperature has a huge effect on cold water fish like trout. Warmer water holds less oxygen, (Trout Biology) which has immediate and obvious effects on trout. It defines where they are, how and when they move, and how they feed. When the water hits 73 degrees, trout are having difficulty finding areas in the river that keep them alive.

The flow levels for the Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River are running anywhere from 50-65% of what they should be at this time of year, and dropping daily in the heat. This pushes trout into fewer and fewer available holding lies. Crowding is extremely stressful to trout. They’re free roaming, and don’t like sharing space with competitors for food and prime lies. Lack of water pushes trout together, adding to the severe conditions brought about by warm water.

With no end of the heat in sight, we expect this situation to continue and intensify in the coming weeks. Paints a rather gloomy yet accurate picture. But it’s not all over, far from it.

The fishing is actually pretty darn good in the morning. At 5:45 am, the air temps are in the low 60’s, and if the wind is blowing, you need a light jacket. A far cry from 5:45 pm! The water has dropped in temps all night, and trout are active in the cool morning. All four Missoula trout rivers are fishing well at that time of day, so you have your pick. The water is staying within acceptable fishing temperatures until about 12:30 -2:00. The water is still warm especially in the upper Clark Fork, lower Clark Fork and lower Bitterroot, however, and there are things anglers can do to help alleviate the rigors brought about by the heat.

As an angler, There are things you can do to help alleviate the stress of high temps and low flows. To start, fishing isn’t so much a matter of where you go, but when you go. Make the effort to rise with the birds. Be on the water early, like 5:30-6:00 am early. Put your 6 hours in and then give the trout a break in the heat.

When you hook a fish, put the screws to it. Fight that fish to the limits of your tackle. Yes, you may lose a few, but the faster you get the fish to hand, the faster it recovers from its exercise. Trout recover faster from a shorter fight. Don’t lengthen the process.

The rivers are warmer near the surface and shore. If you pull a fish from the middle, or the middle and deep, you’re taking that fish from cool water into warmer (less oxygenated) water, while making it fight. A bad combo. If you can avoid that scenario, you should. If you do find yourself bringing a fish from cooler water to warmer water, fight hard. Make sure the fish is capable of swimming away powerfully. If it’s too stressed to swim upright, you’ll need to resuscitate the trout.

The best way to resuscitate is to hold the trout by the “wrist” (juncture of tail and body) and under the belly. Move to the deepest water you can comfortably get to. Face the trout into the current, and get the trout as deep as you can. Gently move the trout forward and backwards, moving it only enough to flare the gills. Depending on the fatigue factor, the trout may give a feeble attempt to flee. Keep resuscitating through the first attempt. Trust us, you’ll know when the fish is well and truly ready to leave! This process can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on the fatigue and fish.

When prospecting for trout, whether wading or floating, self-impose a three fish limit from each hole. The river has crowded the fish together. The trout are easy to find, and once you’ve located one you’ve usually found a few. But the fighting and crowding is very stressful. Limit your time at each hole to give the trout a break. If you come across a pod of risers, go for it. The three fish rule really only applies when you’re fishing the water looking for fish.

Now we go a little deeper. What are the ethics of fishing later into the day when no hoot owl hours are in place, but the water is getting up to 70 degrees. Where do you draw the line? The Missoulian Angler is opening at 6:00 am, to facilitate getting anglers on the water early. Our guides stop fishing when the water temps on their stretch hits 68-69 degrees. They run a dry only for the last hour or so.

Yesterday, we had two anglers in the shop just before closing. They’d just gotten off the water, and said they’d had a great afternoon of wade fishing on the Blackfoot with droppers. One guy said, “We were killing them!” in an excited voice.

All we could think about was how correct that statement was. Bringing a trout up from the cold bottom to the hot surface and then to shore…….. yes, they were killing them all right. We tried a bit of gentle reprimand, a bit of advice for fishing in the hot weather, but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears.

This is not about right now, this is not about being a downer, this is not to deter you from going fishing. What it’s about is how fishing will look in three years. Carrying capacity is a biological term used to describe how many fish a river can support at its worst time. Many fish won’t survive this summer, whether they are fished for or not. When carrying capacity falls, that affects spawning numbers for years to come. In three years, the recruiting class will be lesser than in good water years.

We write this blog to make sure anglers are aware of the ramifications of angling in the heat. What it does to the trout, how it will affect fishing for the next 2-6 years. As a shop, the Missoulian Angler takes the long view of the resources. The rivers are our lifeblood, the trout our business partners. More importantly, river and stream health are a Montana legacy, a legacy worth protecting now for the future generations who live in and travel to Missoula. We get it, it’s a wrench right now. It’s not how you envisioned your fishing day. But a little trout TLC when needed will pay big dividends for the rivers that provide us so much joy, peace and pleasure..