Spring has long been a season of dread for Montanans. A season of change. The skiers and snowboarders grasp at every last flake of snow before the runs dry up. The snowmobilers begin to grease the tracks and put the covers over the sleds for another season. And the ice fishers put the augers away and ice tents folded for a long spell in the closet until next winter. But the kayakers and fly fisherman rejoice. With the snowmelt comes the movement of both water and fish. And with the coinciding of the ski storage, the fly rod sits patiently next to them in the closet, wagging their tales for the chance of finally getting cast on the waters recently skied weeks prior.
Though summer may take the cake for prime fly fishing with dry fly action, warm days, and sunburned infused smiles, Spring has days of both cold and overcast for the swung streamers as well as the 70 degree sunny days for the blue-winged olives and early caddis.
Now the first day of Spring is March 19, and with anyone who has lived in Montana long enough knows the age-old saying of, “There are two seasons in Montana, winter, and July.” So with this ethos, snow will continue to fall well into April, and the muddied waters of runoff don’t typically show their chocolaty milk face until late April. But that being said, there is a solid month of low and clear conditions on your local watering hole with eager trout just as excited as you are that the days are slowly beginning to change.
With the slow trickle of runoff beginning, worm patterns, larvae, and the typical winter fly patterns will hold firm for most of early Spring. The rainbows begin to spawn and the egg patterns also become apparent in April. With this, however, please be sure to watch for the spawning Redds as the last thing an angler needs to do is step where trout are breeding.
Come late April when the rivers do blow out, don’t think the fishing has stopped. Add a slightly longer leader and a bit of weight and get those flies down faster as the water is deeper. Be safe as the waters can rise rapidly and without warning, depending on where you are fishing. Waterdata.usgs.gov has most stream flows throughout the state. So be advised before you wade your favorite stream and be knowledgeable about air temperatures and potential runoff heights. Fish will hold close to the banks and are still eating throughout the runoff until summer.
The lakes will begin to break their ice coverage if they haven’t already, and trout will start to look up to the first of the flying insects as well as the pre-emerged. They have been locked under the ice for the last couple of months and will be eager to check out what is going on near the surface. Check out your local fly shop to see which patterns to use for your nearby lake or pond.
Spring, to me, is an exciting time as you can still combine your favorite winter activities while getting a taste of your summer ones. Yes, the lifts in Montana are closed, so what better time to hit the river than now? The solitude of the water bouncing down the boulders and peace of nature during this hectic time is a remedy of therapy irreplaceable to any prescription from a shrink. Get away from the media and get away from everyone in the depths of Montana’s wilderness and enjoy the change of the season with fly rod in hand!