Remember the month of June? Back when you took a drive along the Big Hole River and you’d see parking lots at Fishing Access Sites full to overflowing? When you could sit on the bank of the river and watch drift boats and rubber rafts floating down the river in an endless parade of anglers, guides, and recreational floaters?
That seems like ancient history right now. The river is mostly deserted, except for the occasional boat floating down river. The crowds are gone.
The crowds may be gone, but the fish are still there and they’re hungry.
Back in June, during high water, floating might be the best way to catch trout on a river. It certainly makes a river a lot more accessible, when wading is all but impossible except along the fringes of the shoreline.
Right now, wading anglers have the advantage, and I count myself as primarily a wade angler, even if I have a small pontoon boat for floating the river.
When wading, we may not be able to work miles of river, but we can work our way up a hundred yards of riffle and cast our flies to actively feeding trout and probably have more action than we’d have in a ten-mile float.
Timing is everything, though.
The major insect hatch right now is tricos, the tiny mayfly that daily emerges by the millions and comes back to the river in clouds of bugs as it completes its life cycle in that final phase of mating and reproduction. It usually happens sometime around 10 a.m. to noon.
On my most recent outing I approached a run on the lower Big Hole River and fish were rising all along the water’s surface. I first thought that it might be mostly whitefish that were causing all the commotion, but on my first cast I hooked a nice brown trout. For the next hour I had continuous action, catching and releasing a dozen fish, about half of which were browns and the rest were whitefish.
Then, after taking a short break to tie a new tippet on my leader, I waded back into the river, but the excitement was over. There were still a few risers but the feeding frenzy was over.
Another great time to be fly-fishing right now is the evening, especially the last hour before sunset.
My favorite fly for evening fly-fishing is the soft-hackle wet fly, an old-fashioned fly brought back to modern favor by an old friend, Sylvester Nemes, the late author of several books on fly-fishing, mostly about soft-hackle flies.
It’s the ultimate in easy fishing. You cast the fly across the current of the river and let it drift downstream, swinging across the current. Strikes can happen at any moment in the drift, including when the fly is straight downstream. The fly is mostly in the surface film of the water and if you’re watching the chances are you’ll see the rise. But, you’ll do just as well looking around and daydreaming; when the trout take the fly they’ll let you know. They hit hard and often go on long runs across the river.
I often recall a riverside conversation I had with a couple that had been fishing in early evening and were quitting because the trout weren’t coming up to their dry flies. I suggested to them that they should try a soft-hackle wet fly, as the action was just about to get hot. They declined the suggestion. “We’re dry-fly purists; we like to see the fish rise.”
I do, as well, though I’ve learned over the years that we have a lot more angling action if we’re open to more options.
The fish are also open to those different options. One of the fish I caught last weekend during the trico hatch had two flies in its jaw. One, the dry fly I had cast to it, and the other a soft-hackled wet fly that I’d lost the night before when it broke off when I was trying to release it.