The Shape of Water 2020

It’s that time of year again when we take a closer look at current snowpack, long-term weather and precipitation forecasts, current flow conditions and current reservoir data at Canyon Ferry to come up with some kind of prediction of what you might expect to see for water conditions on the Missouri this spring and summer.

Five days into April we’re still looking at snow on the ground in Wolf Creek, left over from last week’s spring snow storm but heading into this week it looks like we’ll be seeing some more spring-like weather with temps in the 50’s through the middle of the week and possibly climbing into the mid 60’s on Thursday before another cold front moves through next weekend. I would bet we haven’t seen the last snowfall of the year but hopefully we’re on our way to those warm, sunny spring days on the MO.

The snow water equivalent is looking good with everything in the region in the 100 to 140 percent of normal range and the majority or locations at right around 120 percent of normal. This is right where we like to see things at this point in the season though snowpack fails to tell the whole story. It looks good now but a sudden warm up could rapidly deplete that snowpack and leave us well below average and similarly we could still see plenty of high country precipitation accumulating and setting us up for the possibility of higher flows depending on what we see in the way of spring rains.

Missouri River flows below Holter Dam are currently at 5180 CFS and have remained relatively steady all winter in the 4500 CFS – 5000 CFS range. I would expect to see that pattern remain over these next couple of weeks and then tick up in late April as the spring flows begin to take shape.

Canyon Ferry is currently 73% full with inflows at 3395 CFS and outflows of 5283 CFS. March weather resulted in near normal precipitation, while cooler temperatures occurred throughout the Missouri River Headwaters.
The one-month outlook forecast, dated March 31st, is an equal chance for normal, above, or below normal precipitation and a 50 percent chance that below normal temperatures will occur during April in the Missouri Headwaters.

Based on these factors the current model for April is predicting most probable flows holding right about where they’re currently at with the minimum probable at around 4500 CFS and the max probable at right around 6K. Not a lot of variation in April which will make for ideal fishing conditions.

The show starts in May as run-off begins and while we’re always hoping for at least a few days of flushing flows (over 15K) it looks like the most probable model has us bumping up to just 8000 CFS with the minimum being right around 4,000 and the maximum at just over 10,000 CFS which we would gladly take.

Looking beyond May this far out isn’t all that practical but at this point the best guess is for most probable flows holding at that same 8K before leveling out in the 5,000 cfs range while the max probable peaks around 14K and the minimum probable holds steady at around 4,000 CFS. At this point it’s really anyone’s guess so we try to steer clear of making any bold predictions about June this far out.

It’s all dependent on spring precipitation which we’re assuming at this point will be at or slightly below normal but again, it’s a bit like trying to predict what will happen with the Coronavirus, the models are only as good as the data that goes into them. The more data, the more accurate the model so we’re content to just sit and wait and see and hold off on any prime-time predictions until we have more data. (For both the Coronavirus and the water conditions).

All that being said, I will make the same bold prediction I make every year. There will be water (how much or how little we don’t know) and there will be fish (plenty) and we will be fishing.

Stay tuned for up to date reports and conditions from Wolf Creek Angler.

Stay At Home

Late last week Montana Governor Steve Bullock issued a Stay at Home Directive which went into effect on Saturday and which is set to run at least through April 10th. The directive requires Montanans to stay home and temporarily closes all non-essential businesses, of which we of course are one.

We appreciate and understand the intent of the directive and we encourage everyone to abide by the order and by so doing, hopefully get things back to some sense of normalcy soon. We had shut down guiding operations early last week as well as closed access to the shop in an effort to comply with social distancing standards. Our lodging had remained open and though hotels/motels do fall under essential businesses in the directive we have decided to close everything down for the duration of the order in keeping with the spirit and intent of the directive which is that people should be staying home as much as possible for the duration. We understand that outdoor activity (close to home) is allowed and encouraged and fishing certainly meets the standard however in our view driving somewhere far away enough from home that overnight lodging is required is not really in keeping with the intent of the order.

For this reason all operations are shut down until further notice.

That being said, we are taking orders over the phone as well as by email and we’re happy to ship you anything you need. We’ve also seen a trend on social media encouraging folks to buy gift cards from the businesses they want to support as this immediately puts much needed money in the hands of these businesses. We applaud the trend and would be thrilled to sell gift cards in any amount. Our gift cards are good for everything we sell from lodging to guide trips to merchandise and they never expire. Please call the shop if you would like to purchase a gift card or any other item we can ship to you.

Like all of you, we are hopeful that the future will become increasingly clear as the uncertainty is crippling us all.

In spite of the darkness there is light and I am humbled by the support we’ve received from all of you. The emails and phone calls from our regular customers just checking in to see how we’re doing mean the world to me and the willingness of many to leave deposits in place for future trips has been overwhelming. We’ve also had a steady trickle of folks calling for flies and fly lines and leaders etc which I would bet in many cases have not been needed and I simply can’t express how grateful we are for all of this support through these uncertain times.

Every day draws us closer to the time this will all be a memory. As the weather warms and the grass starts to green and the songbirds return we are hopeful.

Stay Safe, Stay Sane, Stay Home!

By |2020-03-30T20:13:30+00:00March 30th, 2020|Categories: Local Buzz, Shop Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

UPDATE

How the world has changed in the four days since I posted our initial thoughts about Covid-19/coronavirus. And while everything prescriptive which I wrote in that post still applies (WASH YOUR HANDS) there have been some developments nationally as well as locally which need to be addressed as they relate to your 2020 Missouri River fishing plans.

At the time of posting last Thursday Montana had zero reported cases of Covid-19, we now have six. At the time of that posting school was in session and while social distancing was being talked about, people were still going out to eat. That day we saw a state of emergency declared by Governor Bullock followed by a National State of Emergency declared by POTUS on Friday and since then we’ve seen all schools in Montana ordered closed for at least the next two weeks and as of today many counties in the state have ordered that all restaurants and bars be closed mirroring what is happening nationwide. It’s as surreal as it gets but we are hopeful that instituting these measures now will “flatten the curve” and slow the spread and hopefully put us in a better position collectively to move past all of this as soon as possible.

Montana is not currently a Covid-19 hot zone and we don’t expect it to become one, but we will of course keep everyone updated on any changes. It is thought that the big, spread-out nature of Montana can be of benefit when it comes to the social distancing recommended by the CDC.

Following the lead of others, we are instituting immediate changes to our Cancellation Policy for all guide trips and lodging scheduled between now and May 31st, including new bookings.

We will now allow you to make changes to your reservation inside of 30 days without forfeiting your deposit provided you use the deposit to book another trip in 2020. This policy allows you to keep your reservations in place and if illness or travel restrictions prevent you from coming at the last minute you will not be out your deposit. We feel this policy adequately addresses the current issues and we will keep the policy in place for as long as circumstances dictate, meaning if all of this stretches into the summer or fall then we would look at pushing bookings into 2021. All this being said, we do still HIGHLY RECOMMEND Trip Insurance!

Additionally, we want to stress once again that we take extremely seriously the guidelines, advice and directives administered by the World Health Organization, the CDC, Montana DPHHS, Lewis and Clark County Department of Public Health and other involved agencies. We are doing everything in our power to provide for the health and safety of our employees and our customers and will continue to adapt as the situation unfolds.

For the time being know that we are meticulously cleaning and disinfecting the shop regularly and we are taking extra steps to ensure all our rooms are clean, disinfected and germ free. We are currently operating essentially with a staff of one, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of the health of the staff. As business picks up and we start to build up our seasonal crew, monitoring the health of our employees and guides will be of paramount importance and we will not allow any employee or guide to work if they are sick.

As an ode to social distancing for the time being we encourage our customers to call in their shuttles and purchase fishing licenses online and while we’re by no means closing our doors to the public at this point, if you’d like to phone in your bug/leader/tippet etc order, we’ll be happy to meet you curbside. Rest assured, the shop is clean but it’s difficult to maintain the recommended 6 feet distance within our cozy confines.

Thank you for continuing to support us through these uncertain times. We’re looking forward to hosting your social distancing for as long as we need to and really looking forward to coming out on the other side of this hopefully much sooner than later.

By |2020-03-16T23:37:02+00:00March 16th, 2020|Categories: Local Buzz, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Weathering the Storm

These are no doubt crazy times. It feels like the world has gone mad and unfortunately this time that madness can be felt everywhere…even in Montana.

Many who settle in places like Wyoming and Montana do so to escape the madness and while there are no confirmed cases in Montana, and just one confirmed case in Wyoming at this time, it feels like it’s just a matter of time as cases are obviously on the rise. Just as a matter of housekeeping, you may have seen  reports that Montana has one confirmed case of COVID-19 but according to the Montana DPHHS the patient acquired the illness outside of Montana and has not returned to the state since becoming ill.

It’s easy to get sucked in to the doomsday media hype and if you spend too much time listening to those talking heads you’re bound to start to panic sooner or later but that’s obviously the absolute worst thing you can do.

Obviously the markets are reacting to the hysteria and that is not an ideal scenario.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in NO way dismissing the seriousness of the situation but calm must prevail.

I watched the president’s prime-time address last night and I have to say that I didn’t find it particularly calming or reassuring but listening to the analysis afterwards was insane and maddening and disgusting and this gets to the heart of why it’s important to stay informed but why you shouldn’t be seeking information through a partisan filter.

As you would expect, the right said the address was great and the POTUS is doing a terrific job of handling things while the left proclaims he’s botched this from the start. I can’t stand listening to either side.

Here’s what we know. The coronavirus is here and it will likely be something we’re dealing with for a while. Confirmed cases are on the rise due in large part to increased testing and while the increase in cases looks scary the bright side is that the mortality rate is dropping rapidly due to the fact that the more reported cases there are the lower the death rate will be.

This is an interesting take from the Washington Times

We do not yet have a vaccine for the coronavirus but there are common-sense measures we can all take to avoid getting sick. I’ve heard a lot of talk that this shouldn’t be compared to the seasonal flu and that’s fine but the preventative measures are exactly the same. WASH YOUR HANDS!!

From the CDC…

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

• Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
• Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Please consult with your health care provider about additional steps you may be able to take to protect yourself.
Take steps to protect yourself

Clean your hands often
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
• If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Take steps to protect others

Stay home if you’re sick
• Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.

Cover coughs and sneezes
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
• Throw used tissues in the trash.
• Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Wear a facemask if you are sick
• If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
• If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.

Clean and disinfect
• Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
• If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

To disinfect:
Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.
Options include:
• Diluting your household bleach.
To make a bleach solution, mix:
o 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water
OR
o 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
• Alcohol solutions.
Ensure solution has at least 70% alcohol.
• Other common EPA-registered household disinfectants.
Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens pdf icon[7 pages]external icon claims are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.)

Common sense right? Get off the panic track and do what you can to avoid exposure to the virus.

So here’s what we’re doing at Wolf Creek Angler in response to the Coronavirus threat…

Disinfecting/Cleaning early and often

We’re taking extra measures to make sure there are no viruses, corona or other, hanging around at WCA. We’re disinfecting often in the shop and you can rest assured that nobody is reporting to work if they are sick.

We are closely monitoring the guidance of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the spread of the virus. Our focus is to ensure we meet our guest needs while doing our part to keep you, our associates, and our communities safe.

We have enhanced techniques used to clean guest rooms after each stay. We are paying particular attention to high touch point areas, to include room keys, public areas, door handles, locks and latches, light switches, and bathroom fixture handles as well as kitchen appliance handles and controls.

Our guides have been instructed to take extra precautionary measures like wiping down high touch surfaces in vehicles and boats and we are providing hand sanitizer to each of our guides for use by clients as well as the guides themselves throughout the day. Guides have also been instructed that they are not to report to work if they are sick.

If social distancing is major part of avoiding the virus then might we suggest that there is no better place to engage in social distancing than on Montana waters.

We strongly encourage you to limit your intake of doomsday catastrophizing and instead turn to neutral expert sources for information.

Here are a couple we follow closely.

Johns Hopkins University

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Montana DPHHS

Stay informed. Keep Calm and Fish On. We’re looking forward to a great season on the Missouri, regardless of the madness!

Not so fast…

As if on cue, winter is about to make a return coinciding nicely with our recent decision to open additional lodging units to accommodate the increase in traffic spurred by last week’s warm weather.

We had been looking at a full house for the weekend but as it stands now we have ample availability should you decide to tough it out.

Temps look fine this week but it’s going to be breezy today and tomorrow. . We’ll make 50 today and close to it tomorrow but expect gusty winds 11-18 with gusts to 30 today and 18-26 mph with 30+mph gusts tomorrow. Thursday may be your best bet with a high of 42 and winds 5-9 mph.

Winter rolls in on Friday with snow and a high of 34 and then the bottom drops out with lows in the single digits Friday night. We’ll struggle to make it into the teens through the weekend so while I had hoped we were past this (should’ve known better) I guess we’ll be resuming the fight against frozen plumbing! If we can make it through the early part of next week things look to trend warmer beginning on Tuesday.

Maybe not a great fishing weekend but it’s not all bad as another shot of precipitation certainly won’t hurt.

We’re currently looking at 100 to 120 percent of normal snow water equivalent throughout the region which should translate into another good water year on the Missouri.
Updated projections from the Bureau of Reclamation indicate most probable peak flows in the 8K range and summer flows in the 5 to 6K range. Max probable peak at this point looks to be somewhere in the 13K range and minimum probable holds steady around 4K all season long.

So what does that mean for your 2020 season flows? It’s still early to tell but odds are we’ll see some decent volume (not flushing flows by any stretch) early on, leveling off to somewhere in the 6K range for your Prime Time.

Once again, spring rainfall (or lack thereof) can make all the difference in the world but at this point we’re liking what we’re seeing for the Missouri and also liking the fact that current projections indicate a good water year throughout the region and perhaps minimal Hoot Owl restrictions but time will tell.

This is the time of year when most calls to the shop turn from booking trips to inquiring about what the conditions will be for said booked trips. While we’re definitely not experts, from a layman’s perspective it appears as though that volume shift away from early June towards mid-June/early July we saw in bookings in 2019 and in our current bookings was the right call.

In spite of the winter weather hiccup we’re anticipating an early and busy spring season. Half of our lodging units are now open and the rest will follow as soon as the weather permits and the traffic volume dictates.

The word is that Shotgun Annie’s will be opening for the season this Thursday. It’s been a long winter without them being open and we’re super stoked to have them back.

If you decide to sit this weekend out why not take some time and book yourself a spring special guide trip. $400 for a full day for one or two anglers. Book two days on the river and a night of lodging and we’ll throw in a second night’s lodging for FREE!

Spring merch arriving daily by the truckload at Wolf Creek Angler. Stop by the shop and see what’s new.

Under the Influence Part Two

Long ago and far away – pre fly fishing days in Ontario with my dad

This is the second installment of a two-part post.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a blog on our Facebook page from HATCH Magazine that asked the question “Which Anglers have influenced your Fly Fishing?” The post got a good response and got me thinking about my own fly fishing history and remembering all of those who played a role in my journey from curious observer to reluctant participant to sell it all and move to Montana to be a fly fishing guide and fly shop owner.

As is the case for many of us, the towering figure in my personal fishing history most responsible for my being where I’m at today would have to be my dad.

This breaks slightly from the theme of that Hatch blog because my dad was not a fly fisherman but that aside, he did instill in me that sense of awe and reverence elicited by the sight of mountains and forests, the sound of babbling streams and raging rivers, the smell of spring rains and the feel of a trout on the line.

Like many, I grew up fishing conventional gear. I was handed a Zebco rod at the age of five, prompting a journey which continues today.

I fished worms with a bobber for bluegill, sunfish and bass on the lake I grew up on in Michigan, and eventually graduated to hardware. My first experience on a trout stream was also fishing with worms but the memories I have of those early days trout fishing the White and Pere Marquette Rivers in Western Michigan have much more to do with experiencing moving water than with catching fish.

Michigan’s Pere Marquette River

I remember donning my first pair of waders and stepping into those rushing waters. I remember feeling the force of water pushing against me, lifting my feet off the gravel bottom. It was like nothing I’d felt before. It was both thrilling and terrifying and I loved it.

The twists and turns of the stream framed by the emerging spring vegetation under the radiant heat of the April sun left a permanent mark on my memory and I still recall those mid-spring Midwestern days on the water like they were yesterday.

But it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. Numb fingers on cold mornings, an often-times less than patient guide who was doing his best to enjoy his own escape while making sure nothing terrible happened to his kid, snags and tangles and what felt like an awful abundance of SNAKES all tipped the scales in favor of staying home.

I don’t recall how often we trout fished, probably not more than a couple of times a year, but it was enough to plant the seed. I wasn’t always thrilled to be going and I don’t recall really ever being given a choice but the bribe of snacks for the ride helped and once I stepped in that water I always enjoyed myself. I began to learn where the trout live and why, Reading Trout Water 101.

At some point in my late teens it all clicked and I fell in love with trout fishing. I began to pursue it on my own which has obviously led me to all sorts of places but it was all rooted in those early days on the water with my dad.

He was an avid outdoorsman and did what he could to bring me into the fold but I think more effective than his efforts was his passion. I grew up surrounded by books about National Parks and wilderness and hunting and fishing. I grew up watching my dad head out the door, shotgun, rifle or fishing rod in hand, only to return with all manners of tasty table fare. We watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom every week on television and we actually saw The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams in the movie theatre. The concept of wilderness was not a foreign one in our house.

Having spent his army days at Fort Lewis in Washington State, my dad always had a fondness for the Pacific Northwest and the western half of the country in general. When I was eight or nine years old we did the family cross country trek from Michigan to California, traveling through the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon to get there.

The pictures I had poured over time and again in those National Park books on the shelf at home were brought to life as I took in the plains and forests and snow-capped mountains and rivers and Big Skies and red wood trees and finally the big blue Pacific. There is no doubt the immersion in wild places which occurred on this trip planted the seeds for my future as I fell in love with the place I would someday, some way, call home.

My dad and I fished together in an on-again, off-again manner over the years. He spent most of his fishing efforts on Lake Michigan where he operated a charter boat. I worked as his first mate for a couple of seasons but never cared for that type of fishing.

The solitude and the poetry of the trout stream continued to captivate me. We fished Ontario’s Superior tributaries annually for steelhead which pulled me even further into the wade fishing fold and then fly fishing caught my eye.

As is the case for so many of us in this business, A River Runs Through It played a pivotal role in attracting me to the sport of fly fishing and reinforced my infatuation with Montana. After seeing it, I sheepishly told my dad I wanted to try fly fishing. Sheepishly because, as already stated, he was not a fly fisherman and he was not a fan. In fact, I don’t recall him ever having much nice to say about fly fishing in general.

My first fly rod was a Shakespeare kit that he gave me. I don’t remember what weight it was but looking back it seems like it was likely a #8 or #9 weight. Whatever the case, it was a broom stick and not only was it a broom stick but it was a broom stick I mismatched with a trout line because I was afraid to ask questions at the K-Mart where I purchased the line and no backing. Obviously my time on the lawn trying to cast this ridiculous set up did nothing to inspire me to actually try this on the stream. I quickly abandoned the idea of fly fishing based on my experience with this set up but that desire to learn the quiet sport lingered though the intimidation factor would ultimately keep me gear fishing for several more years.

Little did I know how much this particular episode would relate to my future as the owner of a fly shop. It’s where my customer service is rooted. It seems like a few times a season a kid will show up with a similar set-up and a similar hesitation to ask questions about what, for the beginner, is an insanely confusing, overwhelming and intimidating sport. I pride myself on having been in those shoes and I always do everything I can to simplify things and to encourage the would be fly fisher to ask all the questions they want but not to over-complicate it.

My second fly rod was a Cabela’s PT(Progressive Taper) #5 weight which also came in a kit but this one I’d done the research on and it was much better suited for what I was wanting to do. Casting remained a struggle but there was hope. I flailed around on the water with this rig but I would always take my spinning gear as well and would usually spend no more than a couple of minutes frothing the water before switching over to the deadly Panther Martins I loved so much.

I dabbled in fly fishing for trout for a couple of years while continuing to gear fish, mostly for steelhead with my dad.

He called me one summer afternoon when I was 29 and asked me if I wanted to go trout fishing with him. We hadn’t trout fished together in years. My passion for the sport was growing, his seemed to be waning. While I was starting to become proficient with the fly rod I opted for my spinning gear to avoid his criticism. We agreed on a time and place and I headed there early to get a shot at the best water.

I heard his vehicle pull up and a few minutes later heard his door close so I made my way to a spot where I could signal to him where I was. I waved and thought I had seen him wave so went back to fishing. He looked to be about a 10 minute walk from me.

A half hour later I wondered where he was and figured he must have found good water so I continued to fish. Finally he emerged from the brush looking perturbed and a little out of sorts and told me he had gotten turned around trying to make his way to the creek.

It was now getting towards dark so we fished within ear-shot of one another and then made our way back to the vehicles. Neither of us caught fish that evening. The Panther Martins were ineffective, as were the Rooster Tails.

 

When we got back to the vehicles he offered me a beer and cracked one himself. At this point in his life my dad was not a beer drinker so I found it maybe a little strange but I was incredibly moved by the gesture which I felt affirmed our emerging relationship. My dad and I clashed a lot over the years and were never particularly close. This invitation to fish followed by streamside beers exemplified the new norm. We worked closely together in the family business and the battles of the past were gone. He was 60, I was nearing 30, the time had come to develop an adult relationship and it was perfect!

In retrospect, I think he had other reasons for inviting me to go trout fishing that summer evening. It was purely a gift.

I was anxious to talk him into trying fly fishing and I was looking forward to a summer of trout fishing and a fall of deer hunting with him.

Alas, it was not to be. This would be the last time we would fish together. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of weeks later and was gone before I turned 30.

20 years later, looking back, while he didn’t have so much  to do specifically with my fly fishing history, there is no one more responsible for shaping who, what and where I’ve come to be.

 

Under The Influence Part One

A couple of weeks ago I shared a blog on our Facebook page from HATCH Magazine that asked the question “Which Anglers have influenced your Fly Fishing?” The post got a good response and got me thinking about my own fly fishing history and remembering all of those who played a role in my journey from curious observer to reluctant participant to sell it all and move to Montana to be a fly fishing guide and fly shop owner.

While I don’t have any TITANS of the industry in my history, there are a couple of individuals who come to mind when I ponder this and I’ll likely treat this in a couple of installments in order to do it justice.

Mike Lenahan

When I was attempting to make the transition from fishing conventional gear to fly fishing I stalled out because I was afraid of making a fool of myself on the water trying to cast a fly rod. My casting work on the lawn was coming along but my fear of being seen on the river flailing away kept me fishing conventional gear more often than not until I met Mike Lenahan.

Mike was CEO at Resource Recovery Corporation of West Michigan where I served on the board and he and I would get together and fish occasionally. I told him I wanted to learn to fly fish and he was happy to oblige. I don’t know that it was his favorite thing in the world but our next trip to the Pere Marquette River he convinced me to leave the spinning gear in the truck and then proceeded to spend the majority of that outing teaching me to fly cast and to mend.

I don’t believe there were fish caught on that trip but what I do remember about it was finally feeling like I could actually cast and just being so excited that I was really fly fishing after years of flailing around and being too embarrassed to take my fly rod on the water if there was even a remote chance that someone would be there who might see me making a fool of myself.

Mike and I fished a few times after that and he was there when I caught my first brown trout on a fly. It was a glorious experience! And while I don’t recall exactly what all Mike taught me about fly fishing I can say that had he not taken the time to go with me that day and had he not convinced me to leave my spinning gear in the truck I might still be fishing gear!

Paul Drewry

Once I started to develop some proficiency at fly fishing for trout I decided it was time to give Steelhead fishing a try.
Our veterinarian Paul Drewry was an avid fly fisherman and we spent a fair amount of time at dog appointments talking fly fishing. The subject of steelhead fishing came up and Paul told me exactly what setup I should purchase.

I drove to my local fly shop and bought a 9’6” #7 St Croix Avid and a Solitude reel. It was the sweetest rig and compared to my Cabelas trout setup, my first foray into what at the time felt like high dollar gear. Little did I know this was just the gateway drug but it was a great way to ease in to it.

I’d spent enough time fishing dry flies on a #5 that this #7 felt like a whole different world to me. At that time most of the folks fly fishing for Great Lakes steelhead were indicator fishing which was a completely foreign concept to me. Sure, I’d dropped a hare’s ear off of a hopper before but this was a whole different animal and while I was excited to learn something new, I could feel myself sinking back into intimidation paralysis. Paul was able to help!

We spent a few early spring days wade fishing the Pere Marquette where I had grown up fishing worms for trout and spawn bags for steelhead. Paul clued me in to how to nymph a steelhead run.

Those days were filled with snags, re-ties, bad casts and more bad casts and while I caught plenty of tree branches both on the river bank and the river bottom, after three or four outings I had yet to hook into anything that felt remotely like a fish.

And then everything in my fishing universe changed….

Paul invited me to float with him one spring day. I’d never set foot in a drift boat and wasn’t sure what to expect.
Nothing has had a bigger effect on my fly fishing life than stepping in that boat that day. The change in perspective from standing in the water to standing in the bow of that drift boat was life altering for me. That was the day I knew I’d be buying a drift boat and that was also the day my psyche underwent a transformation from reluctant participation to obsession.

As we made our way down the river I was captivated by every log jam, deep bend and shallow riffle. I’d spent more than my fair share of time on a boat on Lake Michigan and I’d been down the river a time or two in a canoe but this, this was something different. We floated probably 5 miles that day, a relatively short float, but it really struck me when I recognized a bend in the river as the start of the 1/2 mile or so of water I’d fished since I was a little kid. This short stretch of river was my entire fishing world for so many years. It WAS the Pere Marquette to me. Now, floating through my “world” in just a few minutes time I discovered just how small my world was and the idea that stepping in that boat opened up an entirely new frontier completely blew my mind.

I fished a bit that day but the fishing was not what was significant on that trip. It was all about the journey from wade fishing with all of its limitations to a new world of opportunities I’d never even considered.

Following that trip I immediately started looking into boats. I didn’t think I could afford to buy a drift boat so I bought a pontoon but as I assembled that boat all I could think about was how awesome that day in the drift boat was. All that room for all the gear you could possibly need. I disassembled the pontoon, put it back in the box and returned it and headed to Newaygo to order myself a drift boat.

I picked up my brand new Hyde in November and began to plot the future. However, one big obstacle did remain…I had no idea how to row a drift boat. I figured the best way to learn was to dump the thing in the water and figure it out. Looking back, launching the boat at Rainbow Rapids (the only stretch of water on the Pere Marquette even remotely resembling a rapids) was probably not the wisest decision but it did reinforce the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, as if there was any doubt.

I think we ran into or over every boulder in the rapids but spun our way through without sinking the boat and once below the rapids, just when I was feeling like I was getting the hang of it I ran the bow of the boat into two steel posts while trying to power forward through a bend leaving a permanent reminder on the bow of my shiny new boat of that maiden voyage.

Following that trip I invited Paul to fish with me, asking him if he would give me some tips on rowing. He obliged, sitting behind me most of the day and teaching me with taps on the shoulders and audible commands of “push” or “pull”. It was slow going but by the end of that day I felt like I had at least a rudimentary understanding of rowing.

The Pere Marquette was a great river on which to learn to row a drift boat. Not much in the way of rapids but plenty of log jams and tight bends offering ample opportunities to sink a boat (which thankfully I’ve yet to do, though I’ve had a couple of close calls).

I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Paul Drewry for his excellent care of our pets during those years as well as for opening the doors to a new world for me.

Fred Davison

At 30 years old I was not really looking to make friends. I was busy with work and had a kid on the way and even though I was enjoying fishing it was something I enjoyed doing on my own.

I met Fred when he was doing drywall work in our house as we prepared a room for the coming baby. Fred’s wife worked in the same office as my wife Sheila and they arranged for him to do the drywall as he was running his own drywall company at the time.

The first day I talked to Fred was just for a couple of minutes when he was working on the house and I came home from work and grabbed my gear, heading for Canada for solo steelhead fishing.

I told him where I was headed and he mentioned that he liked fishing but didn’t like it THAT much, that he’d drive 8 hours to do what he could do in our back yard. I assumed he must not really be into it. Little did I know we would end up spending the next 11 years on a fishing odyssey, both trading in our conventional gear for fly gear and getting to know the Pere Marquette and other local waters intimately as we indulged our habit which turned us both into streamer junkies and eventually led us to leave what we knew behind and start a fly shop in Montana.

Fred is one of those people who is really good at everything he does and seemingly everything he tries and he seems to pick up most of what he tries on his own with very little formal instruction. Over those eleven years Fred picked up fly fishing, fly tying, hockey, home brewing, boat building…just to name a few, and was pretty damn good at all of them. The boat building may have been a stretch but it did float and even made it down the river a few times!

The first time I fished with Fred was on the Pine River with conventional gear. He pulled a 17” brown off the bank on one of his first casts with a gold Panther Martin and I noticed he could read the water better than most anyone I’d seen.

I don’t know how much we discussed the idea of fly fishing but we were definitely on the same page. I called him one day to tell him I had bought a fly rod…he had as well.

I was given a guide trip on the Pere Marquette for my birthday that summer and I asked Fred to join me. It was a fun trip though not one I would say had much of an effect on my fly fishing history. Neither of us was crazy about the guide and I can’t say that I learned much on that trip but what I do remember was an after-dark explosion on a mouse pattern, followed by a second which I actually connected on. I lost that battle much to mine and the guide’s disappointment but the after-dark thing grabbed hold and would eventually become an obsession. I also remember a thunder storm rolling in and the guide having to row out the last couple of miles through that storm which wasn’t pleasant for anyone involved but it was an experience to be sure.

The following spring I convinced Fred to go to Canada with me on the steelhead trip. If I recall correctly we stuck to conventional gear on that trip but on the way home we caught the BWO hatch on the Holy Water of the Ausable near Grayling and shortly thereafter we discovered the Gray Drake hatch on the Pere Marquette and went night after night. Then it was Hexagenia in the swamps, hoppers through the summer and salmon fishing in fall.

At that time we hadn’t yet attempted to fly fish for steelhead but we booked a guide trip that winter and each caught our first steelhead on a fly rod. We’d both been bitten hard by the bug though as was typical the obsession took hold in different ways.

I was attracted to the gear, the boats, the brands, and the destinations….everything about fly fishing. Fred liked tying flies and catching fish and could care less about Simms or Sage or Hyde or Orvis or any of it. He just wanted to fish and as was usually the case when he tried something new, he was rapidly becoming a very good angler and fly tier.

When I bought my first drift boat it opened up a whole new world of adventure for Fred and I and we spent countless hours on that boat, both of us developing proficiency on the sticks as well as learning the addresses of many a hefty brown as we picked apart the PM with sinking lines and streamers.

We fished every month of the year and covered the entirety of the PM.

During the summer months we would fish all night frequently, developing different patterns and techniques for fishing mice and learning to row and cast in the dark.

We would occasionally float the Ausable or the Upper Manistee but most of our time was spent on the Pere Marquette. It was an education by immersion.

We fished through a lot of life events during those years. There were good times, bad times, sad times, dark times… and the river was always there for us even when we were blind to it.

My focus started to turn towards going and fishing other places including Montana which I first fished probably around 2008. Once I’d done that my dreams got big and my mission became figuring out an exit strategy and a way to move to Montana.

Long story short we left Michigan in 2012 and I bid farewell to Fred and while I was thrilled to be in Montana it was tough losing my fishing partner of the previous decade.

As doors opened in Montana I got in touch with Fred to see if he would be interested in going into the fly shop, lodging and outfitting business. With nothing really holding him back in Michigan, he agreed to join us as a partner in Wolf Creek Angler.

His plan was to spend the seasons in Montana and go back to Michigan in the winter to be with his family though the year we bought the place he spent a good part of the winter here doing the remodel on the shop. It seemed like the perfect arrangement but things being what they are and adding up like they do, we opted to go our separate ways after a couple of seasons.

Times change, people change, circumstances change and ultimately things happen as they’re supposed to but that being said, regardless of how it turned out for us at WCA, I’ll always cherish those years Fred and I spent learning to fly fish and honing our skills while developing a wonderful friendship.

Valentines Update

Valentines Flies – Better than Roses!

It’s been a fairly quiet week here on the Missouri with a mixed bag of weather keeping traffic on the sparse side to say the least.

We’ve had some colder temps and a shot or two of snow along with a daily dose of winter winds. Par for the course for mid-February in Montana.

Boat traffic has been non-existent but there have been a few wade anglers around.

This weather pattern will stick around through the rest of the week with high temperatures hanging right around 40 and a slight chance for snow each day.

Don’t forget tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you had planned on taking your valentine to the Missouri expect a breezy day with west winds 17-21 mph, gusting to 36 mph. Saturday looks a little better as far as the wind goes but it’s still going to be breezy.

Hopefully by now you’ve bought flowers and made dinner reservations for tomorrow night, if not, good luck! You might be better off skipping the flowers and purchasing something more thoughtful and definitely more romantic like a new rod and reel for your sweetheart.

Think of the look on their face when you present them with their special gift and pop the question…will you fish with me? Does it get more romantic than that?

Well, maybe it does. But be that as it may, you should still think about a new rod and reel for your sweetheart. Flowers are nice but they’re expensive and they don’t last long. A new rod and reel could last forever and if you come out and purchase them from us you’ll get the best deal of the season at 25% off and a FREE ARC fly line on top of that.

We’ve got limited lodging available should choose our Winter Romance Package – this weekend only. Book two days of guided fishing and one night of lodging and we’ll throw in a second night of lodging for FREE.

And don’t forget – Monday is President’s Day so if you’re lucky enough to have Monday off you can make it a 3 day stay.

Whether you’re fishing with us or not we hope you make Wolf Creek Angler your first stop on your way to the river. We are your one-stop Missouri River fly shop with EVERYTHING you need for your day on the water.

A big thank you to all who came out to the F3T in Helena on Tuesday night. As always, a good time was had by all. It’s a great chance to get together with the Helena fly fishing community and get primed for the coming season.

We’ll do it again one week from tomorrow with the Orvis 50/50 On The Water Film Tour presented by Last Chance Fly Gals. There will be a Pre-show Social at Crosscurrents Fly Shop in Helena from 5 pm – 7 pm followed by the show at 7:30 pm at Grandstreet Theatre. Join us for an evening of inspiration and support for women on the water.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

By |2020-02-13T20:21:49+00:00February 13th, 2020|Categories: Shop Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Winter Returns

And just like that winter is on its way once again.

You didn’t think it was over did you? It’s barely even begun!

Winter Storm Warning in Effect from 2 PM today through 11 AM Friday above 5500 feet, Winter Weather Advisory in Effect for areas below 5500 feet.

For the Winter Storm Warning heavy snow is expected. Total snow accumulations of 8 to 30 inches. Winds gusting as high as 40 mph. For the Winter Weather Advisory total snow accumulations of 1 to 6 inches possible.

Just the way we like it! Another big shot of snow for the high country adding to our snow pack which is already in decent shape and manageable accumulations (or possibly none at all) where we live. It’s the best of both worlds!

It looks like highs near 40 for the remainder of the week with lows hanging right around 30 for the next few nights. We’ll see a blast of arctic air mid-week next week with high temperatures dropping back into the teens with lows in the single digits or colder. Now is the time to get on the water.

It’s on the breezy side today but the rest of the week could provide excellent fishing conditions with overcast skies, the potential for snow each day, moderate temperatures and relatively calm winds in the 6 – 8 mph range through Friday.

Often times the leading edge of these weather systems can flip the switch on the fishing. It’s been decent all week by most reports we’ve heard but it could be downright epic these next couple of days. There’s only one way to find out. You won’t know if you don’t go!

We offer the best winter lodging value on the MO at just $99/night (plus tax) for a cozy bungalow with full kitchen and private bath. Two twin beds and a Full pull-out sofa sleep 3 very comfortably and a rollaway will accommodate a fourth if need be.

And while a lot of the competition offers discount “Spring Special” trips come March, Wolf Creek Angler offers the best deal on the river ALL WINTER LONG. $400 for a FULL DAY GUIDE TRIP with the best guides on the water. And as if that weren’t enough we’re giving away FREE LODGING. That’s right….FREE as in ZERO Dollars!

Book two days of guided fishing and your second night of lodging is on us. Try to find a better deal…you won’t. And the best part…NO CANCELLATION FEES, NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Winter weather can change rapidly which makes planning a trip tough to do. If the weather turns or if you simply change your mind you’re off the hook.

We hope you take advantage of the weather these next couple of days and enjoy what could be the best fishing yet of 2020.

Even if you decide to pass on this amazing deal and do things on your own we hope you make us your one-stop on the way to the river. We’ve got anything and everything you need for winter fly fishing on the Missouri. The best and biggest selection of Missouri River winter bugs ever assembled under one roof in Wolf Creek, Adipose Drift Boat Rentals, shuttles, Simms waders and boots, cold weather gear and the best deals of the winter on rods/reels and so much more.

State of the Missouri

The Pat Barnes Missouri River Trout Unlimited Chapter  hosted the annual State of the Missouri earlier this week at Montana Wild in Helena.

FWP Region 4 Fisheries Biologist Jason Mullen once again presented summary data for both the Missouri and Smith Rivers as well as updates on various special projects in the region.

This is always a highly anticipated and generally well-attended program which covers everything from fish counts to flow data to angler days.
A big thanks to Jason Mullen for his willingness to share this data with us. All data and graphics are pulled directly from his presentation.

Fish numbers were slightly down last year in both the Craig and Cascade sections. The Craig section is the 5.5 miles from Wolf Creek Bridge down to Craig while the Cascade section is from the power lines above Pelican Point down to Cascade.

The figures indicate fish greater than 10” per river mile. Craig rainbows came in at 2,860 while browns totaled 390 per mile. Both are slightly down from 2018 as well as slightly below the average of 3,391 rainbows and 568 browns per mile.

Cascade rainbows came in at 1104 with browns coming in at 238. These numbers were roughly on par with 2018 and below the averages of 1588 and 390 respectively.

Size wise we’re still looking at pretty incredible average size with the majority of fish in the 16” – 19” range. In 2018 we saw an abundance of 12” and 13” browns in the Craig stretch, not much for those in 2019.

One of the most encouraging slides of the presentation every year is the one indicating Relative Weight or overall weight in relation to length and while I’m not exactly sure what comprises this figure the healthy target according to Mullen is in the range from 95-105 and as you can see the Missouri supports a very healthy population, and has for some time. This Relative Weight, more than anything, is what keeps you coming back. It’s what makes that 16” bow take you into your backing.

Switching to flows – we had a good water year in 2019 with flows peaking at around 11,500 CFS in April and holding nicely between 5 and 6,000 CFS throughout the summer season. The only thing that could have made this better would have been a couple of days of flushing flows at 15K plus but we’re not complaining. 5-6K throughout the summer is just about as close to perfect as you can get.

How busy was the MO?

170,736 angler days (2017 data) ranked the Missouri River number two in the state behind the Madison which reported 207,334 angler days. Busy for sure but down from the 183,479 angler days in 2015 which ranked us number one in the state.

 

This was roughly a 50/50 mix of resident and non-resident anglers and generated an estimated $61,082,010 in revenue for trip-related expenses.

Fishing is, and will continue to be, a HUGE part of Montana’s economy and we feel incredibly blessed to be a part of that economy.
That is why we take none of it for granted and we work overtime to protect and conserve the resource. We are so thankful to FWP and DNRC for the work that they do and we encourage everyone who enjoys and takes advantage of this incredible resource to join or contribute to organizations such as Pat Barnes Trout Unlimited, Missouri River Flyfishers and UMOWA.