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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beaverhead River, Montana

I met up with my friend Don Lilgeblad who was visiting his sister in Sheridan, Montana at Frontier Anglers of Dillon, Montana. I had brought along my son Zack and his cousin Issac. Zack is 13 and Issac is 11. We were planning on fishing the Big Hole and the Beaverhead.

I was hopeful that going fishing with a teenager and pre-teenager would work out. Sometimes it is great sometimes you wish you'd have left them home. Sort of like the debate on whether you should bring your dog along to go fishing. I'm not going to touch on that one.

After talking to the youngster behind the counter we decided to try the Beaverhead. We decided to put in right at the base of Clarks Canyon Dam. The put in at the Beaverhead is pretty steep and primitive but we managed to get the raft in OK. You can see the water being released from the dam.

We put in the boat at about 1:00 and were planning on floating about 6 miles to a take out called Pipe Organ, named because of an interesting rock formation which, you guessed it, looks like a pipe organ you'd see in a big church. There were a couple of boats putting in that had done an earlier float lower down the river in the morning. This is a definite sign I should have picked up on and I'll get to that a little later.

We rigged up with an indicator nymphing set up with small mayflies and small golden stone nymphs. There was a pretty major hatch of small yellow stones coming off as we got ready to head down the river. The Beaverhead was running much higher than usual for this time of year as is the case with most Montana rivers here in 2011, but the upper 1 1/2 miles of the river has a low gradient and was pretty fishable. There are nice soft edges all along the upper stretch and good holding water for the large browns that reside there. Don hooked up right away and was tight to a healthy brown. We had been side drifting and Don was presenting his flies a good 2 1/2 to 3 rod lengths away from the boat, which I think made the difference as this river gets a lot of pressure.

As we drifted down the river before too long we started seeing pods of trout along the edges and in the calm side eddy water. It was a little difficult as it seemed like the trout were holding in the soft edges but to present a fly to them I had to place the boat in the faster water in mid stream. You also had to maneuver around anchored boats and wading anglers. I thought to myself, "This is a little crazy".

We managed to hook and land about 5 nice fish in this upper stretch. Zack was fishing but the fish would hit and spit out a fly pretty quick and he got frustrated when Don kept hooking up. Zack always thinks it's the fact the flies are different or the rod is different and doesn't want to accept that it is technique. Some days he has patience some days he doesn't. This was one of the doesn't days.

We passed a pod of fish and Don got a cast in and then the fish hit and took off downstream and went air board and I got a good look at it. It was big. It then ran upstream and kept going upstream. Pretty quickly the fish was into his backing and just kept going. I said you're going to have to put some pressure on it or he'll be up at the dam with your fly line. Don managed to get him turned and work in back to the boat. As it headed down stream I got a good look at it and it was fair hooked and heading upstream. It rolled a bit as Don was working it it and the fly popped out, but the fish was hooked in the tail by the trailing fly. It was fortunately tuckered out and we were anchored in a nice slow water so Zack was able to get it into the net. Whew!

We worked our way down the river and picked up a couple more fish in the upper 2 miles and then we started the braided section below "High Bridge". The water in the lower section was really ripping and we found it harder and harder to find good holding water. In addition to than the water clarity started changing and I'm thinking they're releasing water, "Great!" "Not!"

We floated the rest of the afternoon and picked up a couple more fish is about 4 miles. Was it us, was it the increased flows. It had to be the increased flows don't you think.

We came to the "Organ Pipe" take out and called it a day. This is an absolutely beautiful float and I recommend it to anyone. It the flows would have been more normal we probably would have caught fish throughout the float. Sound like a fisherman, hey!

We enjoyed a nice bottle of wine with a spaghetti dinner and decided to give it a try in the morning. The next picture I think tells it all. We encountered a little more pressure the next morning.

You can't probably count from this photo, but looking upstream I counted 8 driftboats and probably another 8 wading anglers. This was looking upstream and when I looked downstream I saw 3 drfitboats and 3 wading anglers. This is in about 1/4 of a mile.
"Get me outa here!"

So in retrospect, here's what the smart guides are doing. They get on the water early and do a float lower down the river where the gradient flattens and spend the first half of the day. They then have lunch and put back in right at the dam after the hatches progress and the angling pressure subsides. They fish have started eating bugs again rather than trying to hide under a rock.

Lesson learned!

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.