Big rivers and big fish are great but some of my most rewarding days are on mountain tributaries during Spring run-off. May and June can be tough to find water with good clarity for fishing, especial if you are a dry fly fisherman. When winter finally lets go to spring the first places to get dirty are the mountain tribs but they are also where the water will begin to clear first.
One reward to fishing these places will instantly be noticable, you will most likely be the only person around. This is something that you don't get to experience much, if at all, on our mainstem rivers. Sometimes you show up at 7am and there are already a few vehicles parked. I have had weekends on small streams that I never saw another person on its entire length. There are also many times when we are constantly, digitally bombarded 24 hours a day that when I get a chance I love the few hours out of the range of cell towers.
Another great aspect of small water is how eager the fish usually are to eat almost anything that you fish. These fish know how small of a window they have until the coming of the next winter. They will make a meal of a number of patterns that big river fish will only look at but not eat. Many times I have put on a fly that hasn't begun to hatch yet but every fish it floats over eats. To add a bit of a challenge, try fishing these waters barbless. It will make these smaller fish much tougher to land. You will really make sure that you have proper tension on your line. The slightest bit of slack and the fish is gone.
When the calander flips to June I drive to higher elevations to fish. This is usually when you begin to see the mountain tributaries begin to clear and fish well. For example, in the beginning of June the headwaters area of the Gallatin inside Yellowstone Park is almost back to gin clear water. I don't land many fish over 15 inches this high up but I can catch 12 to 14 inch fish to my hearts content. Because the water in these streams are so clean and pure the colors of the fish are extremely vivid.
I am always suprized during spring run-off when people try to tell me there is nothing to fish. I have never found this to be true in Montana. We are blessed with so many options within our borders like the mountain tributaries, if I didn't have to work I could probably fish every day through an entire calader year. Remember to stay optimistic in spring, there's always a fish to be caught!
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