Photos: From Skunked in BC to an Embarassment of Riches in Montana

Written by: John McKinnie, Lone Mountain Ranch

Five days of this without success can take it out of a guy.
All photos by John McKinnie

It was our final day of Steelhead fishing in British Columbia, and Josh and I walked the river banks back to the truck; not much was said and both of us were overwhelmed by frustration. After five full days of hard fishing, we had come up empty-handed and had not been able to put a steelhead in the net. We had covered miles of river banks, thrown thousands of Spey casts, swung our flies through fishy looking runs and riffles. Even though I had heard that this is very common story from steelhead trips, I still found myself looking for the silver lining around the dark cloud of being skunked.

Despite the lack of steelhead, the trip to BC was not without its pleasures.

I have always preached that there is a lot more to fly-fishing than actually catching fish, and I began to reflect on this as we were leaving the Kitamat River that day. First, we had explored some amazing country and fished on some of the most beautiful rivers that I have seen. Next, this was my first experience with a two-handed Spey rod and I had learned how to fish those big rivers and that migratory fish from the ocean are totally different from the trout that I know and love. In the end, this experience renewed my appreciation for the amazing trout fishing that we have all around southwestern Montana, and it has motivated me to plan another steelhead trip and give it another shot.

Back home, the Yellowstone offered stunning views and plenty of dry-fly-eating trout.

Returning to Montana, I have been welcomed back by the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, the general opening of the Montana and Yellowstone National Park fishing seasons, and the beginnings of the spring run-off. The Mother’s Day caddis, or black caddis, is our first prolific hatch of the summer season. Over the last couple of weeks, the hatch has been strong on the lower sections of the Madison River and on the stretches of the Yellowstone River close to Livingston. Even as the water was starting to get high and off-color on the Yellowstone last week, hungry rainbows and browns were still looking up for caddisflies.

Maggie shows off a sweet Yellowstone brown that ate a caddisfly imitation.

As we are beginning to see the run-off kick into high gear, we are fortunate that we still have great fishing options close to the ranch. With the opening of the general Montana fishing season last weekend, we now have access to the small streams and tributaries around the area, as well as the upper stretches of the Madison River. The Madison and small streams, such as Grayling or Duck Creek, provide great early-season fishing, as these trout are stocking up on calories after the long winter. Next, we are excited that the fishing season in Yellowstone National Park begins this Saturday! Fishing on all the rivers near the West Entrance (Madison, Gibbon, Firehole) should be great. We are anticipating early-season hatches of caddisflies and lots of stoneflies—yellow Sallies, golden stones and the fabled salmonfly. With our summer opening day right around the corner, there is a lot to be excited about at the ranch and the fishing season!

John McKinnie is the Fly-Fishing Manager at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana.

Abundance of insects keeps the trout looking up, even when the water starts to rise.

One thought on “Photos: From Skunked in BC to an Embarassment of Riches in Montana”

  1. I can identify with how you feel. I began fishing for steelhead in various coastal waters in British Columbia a few years ago. Like you, my first experience with a Spey rod took place in northen B.C. on a major tributary of the Skeena. I was far more worried about grizzly bears than not catching a steelhead. Fortunately, I did not have to confront an ursa and amazingly did manage to land two steelhead. Beginners luck I guess. During the past winter run fishery I only managed two hook ups. One came off. One broke off. Nothing for the table although my fishing partner served up some steelhead that I helped to land as we watched the Super Bowl together. You have to pace yourself if you decide to target steelhead. Otherwise,…well,…I guess you’re left with a lot of frustration. There’s always the scenery. There’s always the company of a good friend or two. There’s always the exercise and fresh air. And, there’s always next time. Yes, next time! When is it that we are going? I can hardly wait. My number has to come up sooner or later. And then I’ll be an expert.

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