tomkaz

Missoula Montana - 30June to 05July - trip report

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On 7/3/2020 at 4:28 PM, Don E said:

Great thread and pics. I’m In Montana now, Great Falls. Visiting new born grandson, and my son is getting ready to deploy (USAF) next week. Not much time to fish, but we’ll get some in. Planning to fish in Missoula when he gets back I the spring . Reading and learning 

Check out the Bitterroot confluence of East & West Forks from Connor Cutoff to the Angler's Roost-- it's a majestic float & a little further south is fantastic & assessable wet wading from the Connor south to Painted Rocks. It's worth getting a little away from Missoula!

 

Have more nuggets about the West Fork if interested. 

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Day 4, Saturday - July 4th, busy water day so we put in way up on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. Our guide chose this float believing that it would have far less traffic given it being a difficult row. And he was right as we only saw a few other boats for most of the day.Before and after hitting the water we had to pass through a Montana  FWP for a verbal and visual inspection to assure no contaminants on the boat ( zebra mussels, milfoil, etc.)

 

Same tactic as prior days, dry-dropper with Chubby Chernobyl and one of several nymphs, but mostly the jig bead head Prince. This river was also flowing fast, but not as fast as the East Fork given this is a tailwater. Most fish were taken from the slow water along the banks, drop offs, cuts, seams and other transition features. Long stretches of flat water were not productive. 

 

Fishing much more productive with more than 50 trout brought to the net. Cutthroat made up 70% of the total with rainbows most of the balance. I did complete a second Western Grand Slam getting those three and a sole brookie to complete the slam. Sizes ran from 5” to 16-17” and an average of 11”. No big fish today, nor any bull trout. 


Our guide is a hunter and offered us his own venison meat sticks. He butchers the deer and has a commercial firm make the sticks. Very tasty with just enough heat to be real. 

 

One negative was my son hurting his wrist. He broke it last summer and has a floating bone chip that needs to be surgically removed. His wrist has been bothering him due to the repetitive motion and the contact between the bottom the reel seat and the area of the break. During a piss break, he slipped and fell on his butt, putting pressure on the bad wrist. He continued to fish but sat back and relaxed for the last 90 minutes. He will need surgery in the not too distant future. 

 

Non-fishing highlight was a rain squall that turned into pea-sized hail.

 

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Edited by tomkaz

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On 6/30/2020 at 11:11 AM, tomkaz said:

Missoula specifically? Float or wade? 

Missoula or Whitefish.

 

Never floated, so I'd love to try it.

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4 hours ago, Kbetts said:

Missoula or Whitefish.

 

Never floated, so I'd love to try it.

Covers plenty of water. Does not allow you to work a single fish for half an hour, but will give you far more shots at rising fish. In 2016, it was all targeting rising fish on slower flows. This time it was almost all blind casting into all the likely places trout would hold in these higher, faster flows. Eddies, seams, calm water in front of and behind rocks and obstructions, up on the bank along the exposed willow roots. Any foam line, just like with dry flies, except 90% of the fish were taken on the dropper nymph. And 90% of the 90% were on jig bead head princes. 

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4 hours ago, titleguy said:

They call that weather " turning western on ya"...   Looks like a great trip.

On previous trips, I have had the temperature drop 20* when the rain comes in, but only rain. This was hail and my guide called it about three minutes before it started. Without real rain jackets, hypothermia would have been a risk. We had rain pants in a bag but did not pull them out since it looked like it would be a quick event, and it was. 

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Only ever trout fished CO.  Everything was hopper patters.  Hopefully  a light crappie bite is like catching a nymph trout under a floater.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

Day 5, Sunday - Given this was our last day I was hoping it would be memorable, and it was. Given the choice of several floats, I decided to return to the East Fork of the Bitterroot, where we floated on Day 2. With water levels dropping, we figured the more productive water would be better than earlier. I made the choice of picking action over size of fish. We could have sought out some bigguns, but with my son's wrist still whacked, I decided to keep it simpler. 

 

Same drill, Chernobyl with a bead head Prince dropper, 2X tippet at the dry and 36” of 4X down to the nymph. These fish are not necessarily leader shy and the heavier lines make pulling flies out of trees a bit easier. As it was, we probably went through 50 nymphs and a half dozen Chernobyls over the five days. Thankfully, our guide was good natured and only made me feel his ire for a couple dozen of those losses. 

 

First fish was taken at the put-in before the anchor was up, a cuttie of about 14”. Within 50’ of put-in, we doubled up with two cutts in the 10” range. Did the lower water turn on the fish, finally? 

 

Given the 18” photo rule, we don’t have many photos since all the fish but one were under that limit. I figure the average on the day was 12-14” with many 4-6” dinks and more than a few in the 14-16” range. 

 

For a change, I had the front seat. Unfortunately, my son's wrist hurt and he put the rod down aftershock brought 9 or 10 fish to the net. As he busted my balls, he said he didn’t want to outfish the old man from the back seat. He fished after lunch but mostly looked around, took some photos and took advantage of having a viable internet connection. 

 

We really did not count how many fish we brought to the net, or had "pro-released" at the side of the raft. I set a hook pretty hard and had multiple occasions where a dink (4-6”) came flying out of the water and hit or nearly hit me or the guide. 

 

It was a pretty epic day with some runs yields a fish on every second or third cast, some on consecutive casts. This was in a particularly fast run a couple hundred yards long and we must have passed dozens of fish as the raft drifted by while we were netting and releasing the last fish. With fast water and rapids, it is impossible to stop the raft against the bank. 

 

In the end, we are confident that 100+ trout came to the net or released themselves within net distance of the gunnels. Son managed about 20 total, I had the rest. Beyond those hooked were the many dozens of rises tot he dry or nymph hits where we did not connect. Sunday was the best dry fly day, but the majority of the fish hit the prince nymph. 

 

By the end of the day, my shoulder was dead. I had been doing shoulder exercises for several weeks and I kept the impingement pain under control with Aleive and Motrin. That said, it is still reminding me that I am not 40 anymore. 

 

It was an epic day to end an excellent trip. My son says he had a great time and he said he would like to do it again, "especially if we can find some of those big Instagram trout". He wasn’t being ungrateful, I had just suggested a 20”+ was possible and that didn’t happen. 

 

But seriously, given how high the water was running after the 100%+ snowpack and rains as we were flying in, the fishing exceeded my dampened expectations. 

 

If anyone is interested in a Do and Don't packing list based on a dozen trips to the mountains, let me know and I will post it. Possibly as a separate discussion so others can chime in with their own Do and Don't suggestions.

 

 

Edited by tomkaz

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Areas we had to hit to get the trout are marked in red below. Those who have fished such runs know all about this as it is the same everywhere water moves that fast. Mending was critical, both up and downstream, to extend the fly's hover time in the key spots. Even a second or two was enough as the cutties are very quick to react given their adaptations to fast moving waters. Be quick or don’t eat which makes them eager and a joy to catch. 

 

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Below are two of the bigger "washing machines". The one in the middle of this run has a slow area behind it into which you had to get a fly, mend and see if a few seconds would bring a trout to either fly. It worked more often than you think. But it is the type on the right side that was more productive. Two ways to handle that, cast upstream and let your fly flow around or cast directly into the calm water in back. We had several fish sitting in the hydraulic cushion ahead of the rock take a fly, but more often it was behind that was productive. In the case above, there was about 15-20 feet of calm water behind and I got a nice cuttie on the first cast behind it. Mending was critical as a downstream mend kept the fly line out of the fast current and extended the flies time in the zone. 

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this shore angler was essentially dappling

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sounds like a great trip for the fishing and more important time with your son. Great memories for sure. I for one would love to know what you packed in the way of clothes, rods, housing and setting up guides. Some day, I plan on doing such a thing.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

Day 5, addendum - Strangest moment of the trip, a calf made an unexpected visit to our raft. 

 

We were coming around a bend when we saw the cows hanging out near one of the bank stabilization cars. My son had just asked the guide if cows can cross the river and he said “Sure, if it is not too deep or too swift.” 

 

Back in the 1960s, someone thought it would be a good idea to use junked cars as bank stabilization devices. I will post some photos later but that is the background.  

 

When we first saw the cattle, my son asked the guide if cows can cross the river and he said “Sure, if it is not too deep or too swift.” 

 

As we came up on them hear the car, I thought it would make a good photo. However, by the time I pulled my DSLR out we were past the group of cows but the guide pulled over and dropped anchor for a minute. 
 

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As fate would have it, mom decided that then was the moment for she and calf to make a crossing right upstream of us. 


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All goes well until the calf loses its footing and starts to drift downstream. 

 

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It knew enough that our side was shallower so it turned around and swam back, right to the side of the boat. Amazing. It stood there for about 30 seconds trying to get its bearings. 

 

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Then, because I laid my rod over the bow with a loop of fly line hanging off, the calf decided to scoot that way and put its head right in the loop of line. Thankfully, my Loomis GLX (circa 2000) did not snap before the 4X tippet did. 

 

Last we saw, the calf was hanging out with what we presumed to be it’s father on the near bank. He had been giving us the stink eye the whole time so we pulled up the anchor and got back to fishing.

 

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Edited by tomkaz

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6 mins ago, jerseystriper said:

sounds like a great trip for the fishing and more important time with your son. Great memories for sure. I for one would love to know what you packed in the way of clothes, rods, housing and setting up guides. Some day, I plan on doing such a thing.

At Salt Lake City airport with three hours to kill before flight to Boston. Then I fly to Lauderdale getting there around 11am, long travel day. Thanks Covid. 

I will post a response is another separate discussion shortly. 

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