Summer storms are a staple in Southwest Montana and provide amazing displays of Mother Nature’s true force. Unfortunately, they often turn our rivers into muddy messes and ruin the fishing for days at a time. What most people don’t realize is that these drastic shifts in weather provide new fishing opportunities and give rivers a needed rest during the hot and busy summer months. So next time you’re on the river and spot a storm front approaching, don’t row to the takeout; put on the rain jacket, change up your patterns and catch some fish.
Fishing ahead of a storm system can be productive as well as nerve-wracking as you never know when heavy winds or rain will hit. These systems are also nerve-wracking for fish as their swim bladder is affected by changing barometric pressure, and predatory fish use this to their advantage. A dropping pressure system often is one of the best times to target bigger fish. These predators intuitively know that baitfish will have issues controlling their air bladders and thus will key in on the baitfish’s struggles. When you see that storm front rolling in and feel the air changing, try swapping your rigs to beefier dries, nymphs and streamers.
Once the storm hits and the weather turns ugly, most baitfish seek shelter in shallow water and back eddies, with larger trout in close pursuit. In order to catch these trout who are keyed in on the moving baitfish switch to streamer patterns and target areas near these safe havens.
When fishing different streamer patterns your retrieve should be based on the pattern you are throwing. Small baitfish patterns should be stripped with short, fast strips, while sculpin patterns should be retrieved with a powerful, strip followed by a pause to imitate them “hopping” from rock to rock. Throwing a big mend in your retrieve can imitate a fish having trouble adjusting their swim bladder to the pressure system and make them easy prey for opportunistic trout.
At times, fishing in front of these storms produces fast fishing for eager trout, which can make the decision to seek shelter more difficult. If you do run into a storm with thunder and lightning, be sure to find shelter in the lowest area possible, and if the lightning is getting too close for comfort, sit on your life jackets to minimize contact with the ground. Not surprisingly, fly rods make great lightning rods, so stow them a distance away.
Summer thunderstorms are capable of producing inches of rain in an evening, causing mud and debris to dump into our river systems. If you can time it right, fishing in front of a “mud plug,” can a great time to catch a lot of fish. Fish seem to be able to sense when dirty water is headed downstream and take the opportunity to pack on a few extra calories before waiting for the rivers to clear up again.
When fishing dirty water, understanding where fish are holding is relatively easy. Just like with runoff, fish will be tucked under banks, behind rocks and logs and in back eddies. If you put a bright, flashy, ugly fly in front of them, they will eat it. As with fishing runoff, you can expect to lose some flies, but you can also catch some great fish.
Another upside of summer storms is the excuse to explore some new and different water than you normally would. Look for tributaries and feeder creeks to clean up before the main rivers and look for fish to move into these while they wait out the worst of the mud plug. You can also use this time to fish some of the areas lakes. Many different species call these lakes home and within an hour of Bozeman you can catch everything from carp to bass, walleye, perch, and trout.
So don’t get discouraged with summer rainstorms as they provide our rivers with a needed break during the busy summer and provide you with the opportunity to change things up and fish something different. Whether it is a new species, a new body of water, or a new technique, there’s always something to fish.
Written By: Jake Adelman
Photo Credit: Katie Cheetham
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