I just got back from a mediocre trip to the St. Joe in Idaho, the Bitteroot in Montana, and the CDA on the way home. All pretty meh fishing. I head back to Montana this Sunday for another crack at Rock Creek and the Salmon Flies just popped there.
Let’s talk about the Yak. I’m 42 guide days into the season. Fishing has been a solid 7 out of 10. Little funky, but all in all, it’s pretty normal. As we move into summer things get a little more fucky. We have no snowpack left. Under 40%, which is drought level conditions as we move into June. Our reservoirs are less than 85% across the board. This means lower than normal flows, warmer than normal water temps, and am August. That’s gonna be hot and warm and potentially hard on our wild trout.
We’ve been through this before in 2015. With recent news from places like the Big Hole and southwest Montana with massive decreases in fish populations due to a multitude of issues, including warm water temps, we can see similar issues rising here in Washington. This means being strategic with fishing in order to limit the impact on the resource as things warm up.
I will not guide or fish when water temps reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish mortality is 30% or higher after 2 minutes of stress typically at those temps, and that’s not cool. August, we will see water temps get that high. We see those temps on normal water years low water years it’s a definite. Which means hoot owl regs. We’ve been on mandatory hoot owl 2 times in the past 9 years. And other years many guides and shops do it voluntarily. It’s important to make sure these fish are taken care of during these kinds of events. The resource and fishery depend on our actions.
What does this mean for June and July? It means water temps will be 50 to 60 degrees, and water flows will be lower than average. Probably 75 to 80 percent of normal. Normal summer flows are around 4000 cfs in the Lower Canyon and 3600 to 3800 in the upper river. I predict those will settle around 3200 cfsto 3600 cfs in the upper river, and hopefully 3800 in the LC. Water temps will definitely be warm by late July if that’s the case. Looking back at previous similar years, it seems likely.
Trout metabolism is at its peak in the 50 to 60 degree range. We can have a really good time fishing in the next 6 to 8 weeks while making sure the fish are well taken care of during the process. As a guide, I do this a few ways, and the industry as a whole on the western rivers is moving towards these trends.
I use 3X and bigger for dries for leaders and tippet. It’s about 10lbs test. I use longer leaders to compensate for the thicker tippet and will use fluorocarbon tippet to help. The big dries will float it.
This means we are also able to put the rod to the fish and land them quickly. I use a more downstream approach with the angles of presentation. Coupled with longer and stronger leaders, we are able to get good presentations on the lines trout are feeding on. At 20 to 30 feet, when the trout is hooked, we are able to play them down ricer and alongside the boat against the current. This helps us get the fish higher in the water column quicker and allows me to close the gap with the boat and downstream rowing or side rowing into the fish. The trout can then be landed quickly over the side of the boat. I can release the fish with a longer handled net without it ever leaving the water. It is typically released back into faster cooler water, which allows the fish to find the bottom, rest, and breath to recooperate quickly. I don’t take pictures of fish typically in the summer. Its rare, and they are usually in the net once we hit June. You want fish out of water photos, you book spring and late fall when the fish can handle it.
I land fish in 3 to 5 minutes or less. Sometimes, we get good enough at it it’s less than 2 minutes. And we go for numbers, and the LDR or Long Distance Release is encouraged with many fish after a decent fight of a minute or two for experienced anglers. If fish take longer or take the battle to the angler, and it’s just not coming to the net, and we break 3 minutes… I might and will make you break that fish off or give it slack. I might even move the boat to help it out. It’s just how it is. It’s how I make sure the next angler has trout, but more importantly, the trout has a higher chance of recovery.
Data on trout mortality is readily available. And I take it very seriously as I make my livelihood off of these wild animals. My life revolves around fly fishing. It’s every day of the year. If you’re going to take, you must do so respectfully and give back in as many ways as you can. It’s an inner mantra instilled in me from my mentors and 2 decades of spending time on water and outside. We do whatever we can to make sure trout are interacted with respectfully and with care. Despite all that hooting and hollering, that’s what’s happening in the background.
As we get to those warmer water temps, I will be pivoting the program to warm water species, stillwater, alpine lakes, and other states potentially. I’m stoked for June and July fishing, and educating anglers on how to fish respectfully during summer conditions is a key part of guiding. Setting the example and being a steward for the watersheds, fish, and fly fishing in general is part of the program. Switching things up and giving the fish a break is part of that process.
The fishing is going to be great for the next 8 weeks. There are lots of dates open, and I am stressing to get them in early as things get warmer. This trend of warmer lower water is going to be across the western fisheries this season in general. August is going to be a different story. And I’ll know more each day we get into June, but it’s looking low and warm anglers. Get ready to chase Ditch Pickles, carp snucklers, blue gill little babies, some high mountain trout, and maybe a new river somewhere in a new state.
I hope to see you riverside the next 8 weeks, and maybe lakeside in August anglers.