Surviving Runoff – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Surviving Runoff

At the beginning of April, I took a weekend trip to Forks, Washington with my sister and husband to celebrate my birthday and chase wild steelhead. I was happy to have landed five beautiful, ocean fresh, chrome fish on the trip. I was even more delighted that my sister caught her first steelhead on her first cast! Who does that?!? When I returned to Montana from my birthday bash, I was thirsty to get out on the rivers around Montana for some spectacular pre-runoff fishing and not have to wear eight layers of warmth. I quickly discovered that the sweet gap of excellent fishing between winter and spring runoff did not show its beautiful face in Montana this year.

Like many Montana fly fisherman, the feeling of anxiety set in as the desperate search to find fishable water in wretched conditions became a straining challenge. Constantly checking river flows, calling friends, talking to local fly shop buddies, and stalking fellow Instagram angler’s posts, with hopes to helping me make a sound decision on where to potentially have a successful and fun fishing day. Two primary bodies of water that echoed promising fishing flowed through my head: tail waters and spring creeks.

Having returned from Washington, two of my girlfriends and I got up early on a Sunday to beat the rush of anglers to the river banks below Hauser Dam. Neither of my lady friends had fished the dam before and I had never fished it from the shore. It was a new experience for all! I know for a fact that the “Land of the Giants” absolutely produces giants, so I was hoping to show my friends a great day of fishing. After a mile hike down river, completely overdressed, out of shape, and sweating, we found soft and slower water along the bank. We continuously caught beautiful rainbows of great size all day long. In addition to having a spectacular day of fishing, one of my girlfriends broke her personal largest rainbow record, which made the trip for me. We celebrated our awesome day of fishing with Applebee’s in Helena and then got home to Bozeman and slept like rocks.

Early May, I fished my favorite fishery in Montana, DePuy spring creek in Paradise Valley. I have never fished DePuy in the spring, so I was eager to see if it compared to its incredible late summer and fall fishing. Besides my friend’s labrador swimming in almost all my fishing holes, I would say that fishing was a 2.5 on a 5 scale. The two best fishing locations of the spring creek were unfishable. The water was too low to fish the upper part and the lower part was closed to protect spawning rainbows. This forced me to explore more of the spring creek, where I discovered a few new holes that produced many fish but they lacked in size. I do not see myself returning to DePuy spring creek until later in the season when the daily “pay to play” rate is cheaper.

Towards the end of May, I had to make a business run that brought me to fish the Upper Madison river after my meeting. The Madison is a tailwater created in Yellowstone National Park, where the Gibbon and Firehole converge. The best stretch to fish is from Quake Lake to Ennis. I fished the shallow “wade section only,” which spans 13 miles of the Madison. The river was very swift but clear, the scenery was stunning, and the best part was that there wasn’t another fisherman in sight. I caught brown trout after brown trout until the sun went down, then drove home with big smile on my face, smelling like a fish, with a tired dog in my backseat. I must have been there at the right time, because fishing was as good as it gets for spring runoff in Montana.

If you do your research and play your cards right, Montana spring runoff is not all that bad. There are a few diamonds in the rough and some obstacles that wouldn’t usually be present, but if you are willing to venture outside of your comfortable fishing location and try a new place, it could lead you to some of your best days on the water. Every spring is different in Montana. I am content with the fish that I have caught and the experiences that I have gained thus far during this spring’s runoff. The best news is that flows are on the drop around the state!

Written By: Whitney Garret