Sunday, June 26, 2011

When things get weird.

Unless you live on a tailwater--even then, only if it's the right one--things are pretty rough in the western fishing biz these days. High water is kicking our collective asses. Missoula guides are just now beginning to even consider touching the far upper ends of drainages like Rock Creek and the Bitterroot, with minor concerns like closed boat ramps and bridges with too little clearance to sneak a raft under taking priority over any thought of whether a trout might get caught or not. The good news is there's still plenty more snow to come, with each sunny day leaving us wondering whether the freestoners will take another jump...or finally start coming down.
Most of us that are lucky enough to still be working following the industry-wide wave of cancellations in the past month are getting pretty tired of driving to the Mo and back, and our comrades who live over there, as friendly and accommodating as they may be, are getting pretty tired of constantly seeing us on their turf. Things got a little heated in front of Izaak's one night last week between a young Missoula guide and a local Missouri guide, and I think everyone around--including those involved--just wanted to go home and be left to their own program. It just reminds me once again how lucky we all are for the most part to be able to spread out and even have our own programs much of the season.

Such is not the case right now. They bumped the now-Almighty Mo another 3,000 cfs in the last 36 hours, making an already big river an absolutely giant one. Yet the series of reservoirs on the Missouri continue to steadily fill, and soon they won't be able to hold back the water any longer. What comes in is what comes out. At 21,500 cfs currently coming out of Holter, Great Falls is nearly underwater already, and there's talk of 26,000. We're all pretty confident she'll still fish just fine at 20,000+, so long as you don't sink, but nobody knows for sure. Even California Island is pretty much underwater, and all the island seams that were producing trout have moved 30 feet one way or another, or simply been swallowed up in a spiral of massive whirlpools and upwellings. Fishy spots (or places to stop) were already few and far between at 18,500. To make things that much peachier, the trout that are still in catchable places are getting absolutely pounded on by the hoards of fishing guides trying to scratch out a living in these conditions. Increasingly selective trout in floodwater conditions, in short. It's not ideal.

On a whirlwind three hour tour of Missoula this morning, I visited three fly shops, two sporting goods stores, and one arts and craft shop in search of materials with which to tie new, different and heavy San Juan worms. As if not weird (desperate) enough, I ran in to one particular friend and fellow guide at every location, both of us looking for the same thing...even though we didn't know what that was. Except for the craft shop; I outsmarted him on that one, and ended up finding some sweet purple kid's necklace cord that will look sick with an orange sparkly pom pom superglued to it...

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how faint it may appear right now. Despite a week of warm weather, both Little Prickly Pear Creek and the Dearborn River, the two main tributaries of the Mo, are dropping steadily. I can see bare ground up on Snowbowl, the local ski hill. That's different. Don't ask me about the bigger mountains. And, one of the outfitters I work for and another guide are floating the upper Creek today, which has finally fallen below 3,500 cfs. That's our cut-off flow at which point we can start (relatively) safely working, and we're optimistic it will stay on the drop. The bugs are there if the weather and water cooperate: I've seen and/or heard of salmonflies, green drakes and goldens on several rivers in the western part of the state already...we just need the water clarity. As for the rest of Big Sky country, by and large the answer is still a resounding "no," and will probably stay that way for a while.

All I know is that it's good to be working, and the trout have to rise again eventually.

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