Big Hole River Blowout

Riding the Waves
It’s salmonfly time in Montana, but the streams are mostly blown out right now with the Madison flowing mud and the Big Hole breaking free of its banks. I found that out firsthand yesterday when I accepted a fishing invite from Frank Kneeshaw, a guide for Four Rivers Fishing Company in Twin Bridges, and set out for an afternoon float on the lower Big Hole, hoping for a salmonfly blitz, knowing better than to expect it.

This was a little scary for me, not because the water was on the rise, but because I had to revisit the Burma Road where I wiped out with my truck and driftboat a few weeks ago. And this time the road was in equally dangerous shape. Fortunately, Kneeshaw agreed to drive and we banged his old, white Explorer along the road mostly successfully, only once losing slight control and jackknifing sideways.

While driving we glanced at a private takeout where we would later access across a dry, grassy field. Then we headed up to our put-in, in a pouring rain. It didn’t take long to understand that we had our work cut out for us—the river was flowing fast, like 12 miles an hour or so, and the fish weren’t on. Likely, they were moving around, trying to get comfortable in the heavy flows, trying their best to keep from getting blasted down some hopeless new sidchannel. And there were plenty of those, new flows pushing through cottonwood trees, ripping off the cut banks, driving into ranchers’ fields, chasing the black Angus to high ground.

I lost a nice brown a half-hour into the day, a fish that slammed an olive Galloup streamer. And I hooked three more fish all told. I got two to the net and lost another solid fish that may have gone about three or four pounds.

It rained almost constantly and halfway through the float we started seeing massive logs pushing downstream, with all sorts of debris bouncing along in the flow, too. Before taking out I told Kneeshaw, it’s going to be real interesting to look at the USGS flows for the Big Hole when I get home tonight, because I’m saying this river is in true flood stage.

As we pulled into the takeout we knew that for sure—the dry field that we looked at earlier was now covered in water, two feet deep or more in some places. Fortunatly, the ground was still solid and Kneeshaw was able to extricate the boat from a big-time, raging river.

So, here’s the point, the Big Hole and many other Montana rivers are on the rise right now, but I expect them to drop tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. The weather and water temperatures should spike and that could send the salmonfly hatch into overdrive. If you have thoughts about hitting a Montana stream this weekend or coming week, keep a close eye on the flows and be safe out there.

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