This past week I was up in Missoula on business and of course had my fly rod and gear just in case I had time to hit anyone of the amazing waters there. I did have my heart set on fly fishing Rock Creek in Montana due to the fact that over the past year or so I have planned to fish it a few times, and for one reason or another couldn’t.
After getting done what I needed to get done on Wednesday I woke up Thursday morning with plans to hit the river with my friends Robby Farnes (check out his new blog Hunt and Tell), Matt Visser and Jeff Thomas. The night before it rained a bit but not so much as to make me think that it would continue through the night. However, when I woke up there was about 3 inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down. The snow didn’t worry me at all, I was more worried that my friends would not want to brave the snow and cold to fish for a few hours. Yes, Yes, Yes I know they are good old Montana boys but you just never know if people want to stand in ice cold water at 8 in the morning with thick heavy snow falling.
We ended up getting to the river about 9ish and got geared up and set out. I had seen pictures of the river before and had heard my friends talk about it many times but when I saw it for myself it was much bigger than I expected. I fish the Provo River so much and after seeing the pictures of Rock Creek I imagined it being very similar in size and water flow but it was almost twice as big.
It is always fun fishing somewhere I have never fished. The whole time while arriving to the river and getting ready was asking myself what to expect, what kind of flies to use, what the water levels will be like and where the fish will be holding. As I was making my way to the first hole I answered that last question by:
- “Fish will be holding in the same type of water they are always in.”
- “I need to look for structure, water current speed and deeper runs.”
I do know that in the winter most fish want to conserve energy and most likely would be holding up in the deeper runs, and most likely towards the tail end of those runs. So, that is what I looked for immediately.
Now to address the second question that I asked myself. I knew my friends were mostly dry fly fisherman and didn’t have a ton of experience nymphing which is what we had to do due the weather conditions. Again, trying to compare the Provo River to Montana rivers I know that the bug sizes up there are bigger than what I usually see in Utah, especially in the winter, so I started with a two rig set up; two different types of Copper Johns both size 16. The first run we fished I hooked up two fish but didn’t land them and immediately knew that we were in for a good day.
For the next two hours I scouted out a few more long runs and had great success with my setup. As we made are way up stream there was a point when I remembered something that I always do even when fishing the Provo River, which is, explore the aquatic life to see that the fish are eating. The water was absolutely frigged so I convinced Rob to stick his arm in the water to pull up some of rocks. What I found was awesome. We saw some larger size Mayfly nymphs along with a large Stonefly looking nymph that had green on the underside of its body. This greenish bug was about one and half inches long. Now I wish I knew more about entomology so I knew what this bug really was, but regardless it was a cool looking bug. Instantly I suggested to the fellas we switch up our set ups to a large Stonefly and size 16 or 14 Pheasant Tails and fish the same runs on the way back down the river. I was kicking myself that I didn’t remember to do this when we first set foot on the river, but better late than never.
We changed our flies and I was excited to see if what in my mind I knew should work, would work. The first spot we hit I saw a shallow ledge that dropped off to about three feet. The water was perfect and I thought, “this is where the fish will be and we might hook up some nicer size fish if we can get our flies down to them.” On my rig I had the Pheasant Tail and on my first cast hooked up a smaller rainbow. Rob was next and he had on the larger Stonefly pattern. BAM!! Another fish on which was the biggest of the day. After that we decided to take turns pulling the fish out of the hole. Matt was next and instantly hooked into a nice size brown.
I finally got another turn and on my first cast I had on what was the brightest most colorful Cutthroat I had ever seen. I have caught bigger Cutthroat before but never that brilliant. As I was playing the fish in I couldn’t help and think back to my experience last year fishing on the Upper Blackfoot River Idaho and how I had landed the biggest Cutthroat and possible the biggest trout of my life and never got any pictures because of the line broke and it got away. I was praying that I would land this fish just to take a few pictures. As I was coaxing him towards the bank, my knot failed and the fish swam off. Those that know me well can imagine what came out of my mouth at that moment. I couldn’t believe that the last two super nice Cutthroats I had hooked into didn’t want their picture taken, WHY DO THEY HATE THE CAMERA? Needless to say we killed it in that hole pulling out some nice Rainbow and Browns mostly on the Stonefly nymph.
After fishing that hole out, we decided to call it a day. As we headed back to the car I couldn’t help think about days like this when you are fishing an unknown water with tough conditions and it seems like everything is stacked against you. You finally figure it out; what fish are feeding on where they are, and you kill it. Days like this are incredibly rewarding and that is what makes this sport mean so much to me.