Monday, May 23, 2016

Spring has arrived

Bryan Allison  Steinmetz Outfitters

Spring is here for real in Montana. Not only has it arrived, but it feels like summer is bearing down at an overwhelming speed.  Things are green.  Fly shops are all open and buzzing with activity.  My favorite jigs always seem to be sold out. It rained the other day and I never saw even one snow flake in it.  The white is fading from the mountains.

And the trout are eating everything. You can expect to catch them on nearly any forage and at any position within the water column.  They are gorging on bugs, emphatically chasing minnows, and eating crayfish like candy.  I cleaned a couple rainbows for the grill with my kids the other day that were bulging with crawdads.

It's a great time of year to fish throughout all daylight hours - lots of action, not too hot, not too cold, not too grassy, willing surface feeders, and the big browns haven't yet faded into the nocturnal routine.  Take your pick of how to target and what to target.

On a recent float I saw other drift boats doing everything from nymphing to dries and streamers to wet flies. Everyone was catching fish. What didn't I see?  No one was reaching into the depths.

Sometimes I get fixated on looking for big browns along structure (okay, a LOT of the time).  And to me, the best way to reach them is to jig.  On this float I was drifting with a friend who I hadn't fished with before.  Gabe was perfectly happy to focus on jigging and see what it is I do when in that mode.  And honestly, I get a kick out of doing stuff that no one else is doing. Spinning gear may be taboo on fisheries dominated by the fly fishing industry, but to me the techniques, skill, and even the equipment itself can be just as artful.  And I sure don't mind the bonus of being about the only boat to reach fish along the bottom of 20-foot holes....

Soon after we slipped the Stealthcraft into the river Gabe boated the first fish while going through the motions of the technique I was describing.  It was a small brown taken from rocky shoreline structure, right where it was supposed to be.  I nailed one a short distance later and we were both on the board.

We targeted the vertical walls and deep runs.  We pulled up alongside rock outcrops and held in place as best I could in the swirls and currents - essentially the opposite side from a typical drift boat approach.  It's difficult to stay put when choosing to fish the edge the current is skirting, and often you can't get close enough to the vertical rock without the oars hitting the wall and becoming the obstacle that keeps you from making it into the narrow band of slacker water - an electric motor is key in my opinion. If you ever order a Stealthcraft (which you should), wire it for one.  This shouldn't even be a second thought.

The biggest fish of the day came  as we hugged one of these rock walls. I was working the electric motor to keep the boat from tumbling out of position.  We were occupying a sliver of relatively quiet water against the rock as the bulk of the river roared by a few feet away. The upwelling eddy currents along the seam were doing their best to push the boat ever outward and into the main stream.  We'd moved along this wall slowly, had lost position a few times and returned. I felt like we'd made good casts, but I wasn't convinced I'd achieved the drift needed to reach depth along the rock.  I lined myself up for a cast once more - trolling motor tiller in one hand and rod in the other. The drift traveled just right, staying against the rock.  When I felt like it was in the zone I began to work the jig, being careful not to lose any of the depth I'd just gained.  When the fish took it was immediately apparent that it was the one I was looking for.  At one point it peeled enough drag to move up along the wall and turn a corner, forcing me to swing the boat out into the current to avoid raking the line on the rock.  It was a relief when the net slipped under his 25 golden inches.

As the day went on, we targeted deep runs.  We pulled over at heads of plunging holes and jigged the first few feet of deep water beneath the shelf where the current is still rocketing over the surface like a force field - a spot that holds lots of fish but requires ample weight to reach.

We picked up rainbows in the open stretches and browns against the structure.  The day was certainly a success.  It wasn't the sort of day where you can do everything wrong and still catch fish - we had to work for the ones we got.  But the fish were obviously happy it was spring.

And it's not long now till it's hoppers by day and mice by night.....  with a jig rod handy in the rack of course.


  1. Great Blog Brian, I'll be out in July, makes me want to bring a few Spro-Jigs with me.


  2. Awesome! And Thanks! Definitely let me know when ( I’d be curious to know what your plans are. I’ll be happy to point you, or row you, in the right direction….. jig rods and fly rods are always side-by-side in my rod rack. I haven’t fished Spro-jigs before, but we have a local jig company here in Helena that produces a similar product: Glass Minnows by Kit’s Tackle (

  3. Wow! What a great day you pulled off! I haven’t been on the water in years; not since my son was quite a bit younger. I did deep-sea fishing but I would take him out on the back channels along the bay to catch some flounder. Looks like you had a good day. Makes me want to jump back out there myself.

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