When the sun finally decides to warm the winter landscape and the ice cycles begin to drip, it is time. It is time to grab a fly rod and head to a mountain trout stream in anticipation of the snow-run-off season. There is no predicting the exact days, no time to schedule vacation, so when it occurs you must simply go. Why? Fishing guides call it “the gorge” or perhaps they have some fancy term for fish biting like hell when the water is rising quickly but the simple fact is, the fishing can be down right awesome. We have all heard tales of fish biting right before a big storm, but in this case trout often bite right before the rivers and creeks turn to chocolate milk and stay that way for weeks.
I witnessed the effects of snow melt first hand one early spring day in Montana on a guided fly fishing trip on the Yellowstone River. My brother and I booked this time of year not because of the water, but because of the cheaper off-season prices. The first day at the put-in, I stuck a stick at the water’s edge to mark the level. The fishing was slow but it did not much matter to two hillbillies on their first western float trip. After fishing, the guide asked us where we wanted to fish the following day. We decided to opt for the same section because of the ease of access and how close it was to our cabin.
When we returned the following morning, the stick was under water. I again placed another stick at the waters edge for a reference. The water was still running green but rising. Being an old smallmouth fishing guide, the rising waters excited me. The guide was not real thrilled at the heavy current, which means his day of rowing would be harder if he intended to keep the boat in casting distance to the target. The fishing was again slow and we were off the water several hours earlier due to the fast moving current. The guide dropped us off at our cabin and told us that in his opinion the fishing was done for the week.
My brother and I decided we had not had enough fishing. The day was still early afternoon so we drove to the put-in and the second stick was under water. Since the current was heavy we decided not to try and wade it, we would simply cast from the bank. In a matter of two hours, we caught more trout than we had in two days worth of float fishing. There was not a fisherman anywhere in sight—we had the famed Yellowstone to ourselves. The water was rising fast and quickly becoming dirty, but the fish didn’t seem to mind and neither did we.
We simply hit the gorging fishing with heavy flies bouncing along the bottom of the river. If the drifting fly was even close to a trout, the trout would react with a simple gulp and lay along the bottom surprised as hell there was a hook attached to the fly. The trout’s bellies were swollen with food and we were witnessing a true feeding frenzy.
After that incredible experience, I always watch the forecast and wait for the winter snow melt. My gear is ready and all I have packed is several streamer flies, plenty of weights, and heavy-duty strike indicators. When the creeks begin to rise, I want to be there. Besides, it is too wet to plant.