Small water fishing:
I think it is safe to say that the our local river is a little swollen with water right now. For all of you folks that get a little cranky when you have good fishing weather and you go visit your favorite riffle or inside seam line and it’s under six feet of raging water: It’s okay to be upset. I suggest a little thing called “creekin.” Now, for folks that don’t know what I am talking about when I say “creekin,” I am talking about fishing small bodies of moving water that are generally tributaries to bigger lakes or rivers. Now, some of you are probably mumbling “really?,” and I get it, creeks just are not on the radar of most fisherman in this valley.
Creeks are going to be the first moving water to clear and now that we are past the third Saturday in May in the Western District of FWP fishing regulations, all small streams and creeks that aren’t home to Bull trout spawning habitat are open! Creek fishing opens up a variety of opportunities to get out and explore new waters. We have plenty of creeks in the area, just jump on OnX or Google Earth and you’ll see that every major reservoir, lake, or river in our valley has a series of creeks that feed them. The majority of these do indeed hold fish, just don’t expect to find the big ones there. From what I understand about the creeks in the Flathead Valley, is they generally act as nurseries to juvenile trout that live in these smaller, safer waters until they are sexually mature enough to head out to larger, more food-abundant bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. However, larger, mature trout will move back into these creeks to spawn. (more on this later).
You don’t have to be a world class angler to catch fish in local creeks. Grab a hand full of bushy, robust dry fly patterns and a few generic nymphs and you should be good to go. A size 12 or 14 Parachute Adams or Chubby Chernobyl with and a size 16 Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear nymph is my go to. The trout living in these smaller waters don’t see a lot of fishing pressure and, due to fact that these creeks are so nutrient poor, they also don’t see a lot a big hatches of insects either. This implies that the trout are going to be pretty opportunistic when it comes to a bushy fly floating through a pool.
I would recommend going with the lightest rod in your arsenal. I am a huge fan of fishing a 7.5 ft 3-weight or a 8 ft 4-weight rod for most of the creeks near, or in our valley. Most of our creeks are going to be dense with vegetation around the edges with willows, alders, cottonwoods, furs, larch, and just about any woody debris you can think of. Having a shorter rod will allow you to cast in tight corridors. If all you have is a standard 9 ft 5-weight rod, you might have to augment your casting style slightly but that just makes things more interesting. With a shorter rod, I would also recommend a shorter leader (e.g. 7.5 ft 3-5X). There is generally no need for long presentations or casts so a shorter more compact leader might save you a little time and frustration picking your flies out of the trees lining the creeks.
We all like to catch fish, but we also need to protect them. Spring is spawning season for cutthroat. If you see trout making reds (spawning beds) or a large amount of trout grouped together in small water, don’t fish to them. We need those fish to be viable and reproduce the next generation. If you do come across this, enjoy the beauty of it and move on. As always remember to pack the bear spray. Some of our creeks can have tight corridors making a surprise face to face bear encounter more likely. Be bear safe. Good luck! Mark