Sunday, April 18, 2021

Time for anglers to hit rivers; don’t forget new regs

| May 13, 2020 4:20 PM

For the most avid of anglers, especially for fly anglers who live to drift and/or wade the moving waters of Montana, this weekend is a holy one.

The third Saturday of May is the traditional “opener” for all of Montana’s rivers and streams, most of which have been closed to angling since Nov. 30. While a few of the state’s largest rivers stay open for certain species and certain tactics, most of the smaller rivers and streams, and the fish that make them home, have not seen an artificial bait since hunting season closed!

I have written in the past about whether closed seasons and the traditional “opening weekend” are a relic of the past and should be reexamined beyond the “it’s tradition” reasoning. I believe a child should be able to wet a line in any water at any time and since most fly anglers seem to be catch and release anglers, I am not sure why we continue to close them.

Perhaps a story for another column?

A couple of things to be aware of as anglers dust off the waders and break out the river gear, perhaps the most important of which is safety.

The water at this time of year is cold and fast moving. Many mornings will still see frost and ice on the surfaces along the shore as well as on bridges and exposed rocks. There are also new regulations to be aware of, especially along some of the more popular local waters. It is always advisable, every year, to familiarize yourself with the current regulations.

Perhaps the most controversial one is the single hook law that is now in effect “for the mainstem Flathead River, and all its tributaries, from the confluence of the North and Middle Forks to U.S. 2 bridge upstream of Tea Kettle Fishing Access. Single pointed hooks only. No treble or double hooks.”

There is a little more wording, so I encourage you to read the regs closely (as always).

While I am on the subject of regulation changes, there are several size and limit changes regarding both small and largemouth bass in almost all of the area bass waters. While these changes have impacted mostly lakes, as I said earlier, looking at the current regulations for the waters you plan to fish, before you fish them, is always a good idea.

As for the local lakes, water temperatures seem to be the most critical piece of the puzzle.

Since we had such a mild and snow free winter in the valley, it seems like it should be mid June, but conditions say otherwise. The water is cold, weed growth is slow if at all, and fish are still a bit lethargic. While there were a few warm days in late April, it did not really do much for the long term.

A recent outing on a sunny afternoon to East Bay showed the temperature just hovering at 50 degrees, in three feet of water, yet a similar day on Swan Lake showed two full degrees colder.

If we could get a three- to five-day warming trend, most everything will get that added boost that really kicks things in for good.

As for the big lake, we have been catching some very nice lake trout, trolling flatfish and custom flies right on the bottom in 160 feet of water. Now that the runoff has begun in earnest, I fully expect to transition to more of a surface bite in the coming weeks.

Fishing crankbaits behind planer boards near the surface is a presentation that is not all that common for lake trout in Flathead Lake, but one that our guides are continually developing and perfecting for these spring conditions.

If this is a technique that interests you, then I invite you to come and learn from us during its most effective time!

Mention this column for a special rate and we’ll see you on the water!

Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at