07 April 2008

Signs of Spring: Trout Fishing on the Jefferson River

I missed the window of warm weather in early March when the trout were biting and you could stand hip deep in the water without freezing your ass off. Since then, the skiing has been (and is) good, but I can't help looking at the calendar. April? And I haven't been fishing yet?

One recent morning RTD and I hiked around Big Butte near my home in Walkerville. The male bluebirds have been around for a week or two, but now the females are back too. Here's a male staking out his territory and calling for a mate:

The red shafted flickers are back, too. They nest around Butte and, once the chicks are fledged out, begin moving upward in elevation. They seem to follow the receding snow up into the Alpine country, and by early July they will be all the way to treeline. Here's one drumming away on a telephone pole to stake out his territory:

Blue bird day and the promise of a warm afternoon. Time to go trout fishing. I drove over to the Jefferson River. It's a little further (35 miles) than my homewater on the Big Hole (25 miles), but the Jeff is also lower elevation (the Big Hole is one of its tributaries) and therefore warmer. When I arrived about 2 p.m. it was warm (upper 50s deg F) and sunny--short sleeve weather. But I'd hardly walked to the river and rigged up than a cloudy cold front blew in. Still, a beautiful place. Upstream to a sandbar where the mating geese congregate:

And down (note the snow and shelf ice along the river):

The trout were feeding. Lots of rainbows at the head of the pool where the riffles entered water about two feet deep. The brown trout were generally just below them, in two to three feet of water. This was a catch and release day for rainbows (which may not be killed on the Jeff; in my experience, you catch about two rainbows for every brown), but it was a "hook 'em and cook 'em" day for browns. Here's a perfect meal for the grill--five wild, firm- and orange-fleshed browns from 12" to 16":

After just two hours, the temperature had plummeted and I was getting cold. It was hard to keep my hat on in the gusting wind. Well, that and I was satiated with trout fishing and catching.


Lou said...

As an Ex-Montanan living in Ohio, I wqas surprised to see the first picture was of a bird on a wire!

I think you're taking the river for granted.

Pat Munday said...

Hi Lou, there are lots of wires and poles around Big Butte (a big park right on the edge of Butte)--the birds sit on them as well as on the pines etc.

You're right, I probably do take the Jeff for granted. It's heavily dewatered in the summer, though a great spring trout fishery. Not many anglers, though. It's close to home, but not a great river by Montana standards.

My true love is the Big Hole, a major trib of the Jeff. And the Big Hole is even closer.