It has been a little over two months since the last report. That’s because I have been chasing critters that live outside the water. Now that the freezer has gotten some love, blisters have healed, and winter weather has set in, it is time to head back to the river’s banks.
The people fortunate enough to spend fall months in the valley witnessed the annual trout migration where the majority of the population moved back down to Flathead lake. During this time you couldn’t help but notice the influx of new fish into the lower river. Runs that were fished all summer started to produce fish that were way above average sizes. Trout were caught that left several guides shaking their heads in disbelief at the sheer size of some of the fish in the net. It was not uncommon to break the hallowed 18+ inch mark during this time. As quickly as they showed up, they disappeared. We were left in awe while anticipating their likely return once spring returns to the Flathead Valley.
Now that our water temperatures have dropped into the mid to upper thirties, trout are back to their winter holding water. Look for soft inside corners, nice long pools below riffles, and sections of water where trout have a food source and not a lot of heavy current. Trout know the food source is getting scarce as winter sets in so they are residing where they don’t have to exert a lot of energy. Nymph fishing has been the most productive method for catching lately. Flies such as Pat’s rubber legs, worm patterns, Frenchies, lighting bugs, hot beaded soft hackles, and various colors of zebra midges have all landed fish. As always, adjust your bobbers to roughly 1.5X the depth of the water you are fishing to ensure that you aren’t missing any strikes. Some of the eats lately have been pretty subtle, and having a lot of unnecessary slack will hinder your strike detection. Make sure you have enough weight in your nymph set-up to get low in the water column. Don’t be afraid to bottom bounce occasionally through the run.
With the right ambient temperatures you might find yourself in pretty decent dry fly fishing. Midges and other small dry flies have been spotted in certain areas lower in the main river according to some fishy people that have stopped by the flyshop. If you are willing to put in the time to find these small hatches, you might find yourself in the only dry fly game in town. Make sure you taper down to the appropriate size tippet (4X-6X) to ensure you don’t spook these timid risers.
Stripping small streamers along drops and confluences has also produced some really nice trout to hand. Lately, I have been fishing small light colored streamers on a 150 grain sink tip and on floating lines. This particular method hasn’t produced a lot of action but has resulted in some of the best sized fish to hand. If nothing else, it is a good way to keep warm on those blustery winter days.
With the trout moving down towards the lake we have started to supplement our angling with Lake Superior Whitefish and the occasional pod of Kokanee when the opportunity arises. These fish don’t show up in large numbers but it’s quite fun to try and target these fish with our “gin clear” water and multi colored river bed. Heavily weighted nymphs with a bright bead or collar have been producing consistently for Kokanee. Nymphs such as Frenchies, squirmed worms, and, hot beaded rubber legs are a few flies that have worked well.
Whatever your preferred fish type or method, it is still always worth your time spent out on the water. So, dress appropriately and bring your bobbers, friends, and a warm beverage. But, most importantly, have fun out there! – Mark