Here's a little piece I wrote for Bozeman Magazine a few month's back that I thought would be highly appropriate for this time of year when we all get a little stir crazy about fishing...
Bozeman, Montana has long been known as a fishing haven amongst fly fishing aficionados, and mostly because of the surrounding big name waters like the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone among others. But for many local anglers and folks who spend a lot of time on the water, it’s the lesser known and surrounding area waters that provide the summer solitude that many anglers seek but cannot seem to find.
Now, if you think that you’re going to get all of the secret places that have been amassed over several lifetimes of fishing in Montana and passed down through suggestions and innuendos, well then you should probably put this down and go enjoy whatever else you had planned for your day. This is not a where to go guide, sorry. But what you can do is go pick up a Montana Atlas or Gazetteer and start plotting your own places that you think might hold fish.
The first step in finding any good fishing spot is looking to see if it drains from a place that holds fish, say a lake or reservoir that has been stocked by Fish Wildlife and Parks, or if it drains into a body of water that is known to hold fish, say like a small tributary of the Madison or Gallatin. If it fits this criteria, you can be assured that there are fish in that body of water. Finding good lakes is as easy as checking the FWP stocking schedules and making a few phone calls to the Regions Fisheries Biologist to see if there has been a freeze out or fish kill since the last stocking.
Creeks and streams however are a little more difficult, and will require some feet on the ground so to speak. You aren’t going to get your local fishing folk to give up their spots easily, if you ask oftentimes you’re going to get nasty looks and lies, so don’t bother. Plus it is way more fun to figure things out on your own, think of it as your own little wild adventure to discover uncharted waters. Once you have found a piece of water that you think might hold fish in it and that meets the above listed criteria, it’s time to determine what is the best time of the year to fish it.
When to fish your new mystery water is a pretty easy decision, if it’s in the middle of nowhere Montana and let’s say it’s really hot in that place and maybe it’s not known for trout fishing at all, you might be better off fishing it in the spring or fall when water temperatures might be a little cooler. Then again, maybe it’s not open in the spring, as many watersheds in the state fall under general season regulations which are the 3rd Saturday in May through November 30th, in which case you’re going to want to explore that area sometime after runoff but before it gets too hot and dewatered, say maybe mid to late June or early July. Or you might have found something that’s in the high mountains in which case you might not want to venture there until sometime in mid to late August when the snow is off and water temperatures have warmed up. The main key is to never underestimate timing in fishing new waters, certain times of the year will be much better than others, and places you thought were devoid of fish, might actually have hundreds of fish in them, you just had the wrong timing.
Finally the last piece of the recipe you are going to need for success on your new found fishery is going to be knowledge of what the fish are feeding on. Seems simple, but some areas are going to be vastly different than others in terms of what the food base is for fish in those streams. That’s where some general rules and a bug seine will go a long ways in helping you be successful in your pursuits. If you don’t know anything about bug life talk to your local fly shop and they likely will have a couple of books on bug identification they can recommend, if you’re going to explore, you have to arm yourself with some rudimentary knowledge first. When you get to that special place, kick over some rocks in the riffle water and use the seine to find out what’s crawling around. You’ll have a better chance of catching the fish if you know what they’re feeding on.
Now go pick up that Atlas, fire up Google Earth, pull up Fish Wildlife and Park’s website and start doing some searching, you never know what you might find.
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