Home Waters – the Big Hole River

The Big Hole River of southwestern Montana. Not always easy fishing, but always beautiful.

After a long runoff season that kept me off the river, along with a few weeks of travel, it felt good to head for the Big Hole River, my home water and favorite fishing destination. The prospect that the outing might coincide with the salmonfly hatch made it all the more interesting.

My preparations for an early morning start were complicated when I couldn’t find the fly box that I use just for the oversized stonefly imitations of the season. Before I could relax and put my feet up that evening I had to tie up a few of my fake salmonflies. Fortunately, it often seems that the bigger the fly the easier and faster it is to tie. It’s the complicated little bugs that take more time.

When we get to the Big Hole River and see a continual line of drift boats coming down the river, working the same stretch of shoreline, you can guess it’s salmonfly time. When 9 out of 10 boats have a red tag, indicating a guide is at the oars, you know it’s salmonfly time.

I don’t have a problem with this. This is the time of year when floating the river with an expert at the oars is the best way to fish the river, whether that expert is a professional or a next-door neighbor.

I have a one-person pontoon boat that I use to float the Big Hole, though I’m not inclined to do so until the water goes down some more. I’ll work the edges of the water and any wading I do will be where I can see the bottom of the river.

On this outing, that was mainly in one spot where a good-sized sandbar creates some shallow water.

As it happened, the salmonfly hatch hadn’t started on the upper Big Hole River. That didn’t mean the fish weren’t eating. I managed to catch two fish on the outing, a big rocky mountain whitefish that put up a good fight, and a brown trout, that took the same fly, a golden stone nymph imitation.

The timing was interesting. As one of those drift boats floated into view, one of the anglers caught and released a fish, and the other angler, within seconds, was hooked up. I caught my two fish within minutes after the drift boat had action. Was it coincidence, or was this a confluence of water and light conditions that made the fish start feeding? That’s a good, if unanswerable, question.

The day after this outing, the rains started and after four days of almost constant rain, the river was blown out again.

It looks like I’m going to miss the salmonfly hatch this year. I exercise a lot of caution when I venture into the Big Hole River this time of year and this period of caution is going to last longer than usual.

On the bright side, those soaking rains of mid-June have probably put the fire season off for several more weeks, and if we get some rain in July we might avoid it altogether.

We do know that these things can change in a hurry, especially if we get hot, dry weather when we get into July. About all we can do is follow the example of the President who says, regarding almost topic or question, “We’ll see what happens.”

And that’s as close as I care to get to the national political situation this week before we celebrate the founding of this nation.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the rain. Here in this semi-arid part of the West, precipitation is always good. It isn’t always convenient for planning outdoor activities, but my lawn is staying green without any help on my part, and my garden is growing, and it’ll soon get into high gear when we get warmer temperatures. For now, the tomatoes, peppers, and other bedding plants I put in before the rains started are looking happy and healthy.

Still, I’m looking forward to better fishing one of these days.

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