05 August 2008

Big Hole River: red hot trout fishing, spruce moth hatch

As Al Lefor will attest, the Big Hole River near Butte, Montana, is fishing red hot these days. This morning there was an abundance of Spruce Moths coming down to get a sip and ending up getting 'et, numerous large Caddis popping out of the riffles, and swarms of May Fly Duns. Fish rising all around. Browns, 'bows, cutts, and whitefish all stacked up together at the head of the pool/riffles/pocket water where I fished.

Wow. It just doesn't get any better than this. Plus, virtually no one else on the water. Al went by with a couple of sports--all had big grins on their faces! And just as I was leaving, another guide boat drifted by, but by the looks of things the sport couldn't cast to save his life and the guide was not smiling. So it goes, I guess.

I was late getting on the water and, watching all those fish rising, my hands were shaking as I tied on some tippet and a tan Stimulator (a reasonably good Spruce Fly imitation). One big trout across the river -- with too much fast & complex water in between to get a decent drag-free drift -- had a back as broad as a muskrat, and was just slurping in every drowned moth that came by its rock. That big fish slurped all morning, reminding me that no matter how good the fishing is, there's always "just one more" you ain't gonna get.

I'm pretty sure there are several local species of Spruce Moth. I say this because the moths this morning were shorter and more blunt than some I've seen in past years:

At first, I had some refusals and short strikes. Often this is because of a bad drift. There was a stiff wind blowing down river that made good casting and mending a little tricky for a so-so caster like me. My solution was to lengthen my tippet and go from 4X to 5X. The trade off was breaking off two large trout that I could not handle in the fast water. But still, a number of brown trout, rainbow trout, and one fat native (westslope cutthroat trout; the first pic below) came to hand:

Late morning I thought it was slowing down as the Spruce Moth flight tapered off. But after a short lull, there were more trout than ever rising to everthing on the water. Several smaller (10 inch?) rainbows in a fast riffle just upstream were leaping two feet or more out of the water after large caddis flies. Just for fun, I tried switching back and forth between a Stimulator and Elk Hair Caddis. The hooking percentage was higher with the Caddis, but I had far more strikes -- and larger fish -- on the Stimulator. Go figure how a creature with a brain the size of a dried pea can be so damned discriminating.

Well, almost time to go. First I needed to catch two more fat trout (rainbow trout, as it turned out) for supper tonight, and RTD & I called it a morning. And one nice mountain whitefish for my friend Howard who just loves them:

If you're new on the Big Hole River, be sure and check in with Al and Art at Great Divide Outfitters--they will have the flies and advice you need to catch fish. Tight lines!


troutbirder said...

One more great Montana hatch I missed. I did tie some spruce moths but never got to use them. Once on the Gallatin I (without the right flies) saw Robins acting like swallows catching spruce moths over the water.

EcoRover said...

The spruce moth flight is not a big event every year on most local rivers, but on the Big Hole River it's fairly dependable. They are slow, clumsy fliers and so birds of all kinds can be Flycatcher for a Day (though I confess I've not seen Robins do this!).

If you are able to get out this way the first week of August some year, give me a shout.

A friend tied some special patterns years ago that were dynamite, but since those gave out I make do with Elk Hair Caddis and Stimlators. I don't know why Stimulators trigger more strikes than EHCs, since the body profile isn't right for the stubby moth. Fish see things we don't.