Spring runoff recedes and fat bugs plop down on the water’s surface. For a few weeks, before the phenomenon of blue rivers becomes summer routine, anglers embrace the dawn of summer.
Stumptown Anglers owner David Brown calls it the “golden three weeks,” a temperamental period right after the mud fades but just before the water gets too clear.
“It’s everybody’s best chance at a big, native wild westslope cutthroat on a dry fly,” he said. “This is a special time of year. Once the river goes clear, everything changes.”
It is the beginning of dry fly season in Flathead Valley. Lakestream Flyshop in Whitefish launched its first guided trips of the year last week to celebrate.
“After sitting through winter,” Lakestream owner Steve Thompson said. “There’s nowhere better in the summer than the Flathead Valley.”
He said anglers took advantage of swarming salmonflies on the Blackfoot River last week while others found success with golden and black stoneflies on the Swan and Flathead rivers.
This week, look for golden and black stones to continue whenever the weather is nice. If the bugs flying around are smaller, try some Adams or Gray Wulff patterns. If they’re bigger, use larger attractor patterns and some big stoneflies on top.
You can always rely on the Royal Wulff as backup, Thompsan said.
“It’s the strawberry shortcake of flies,” he said. “If you have three flies, it should be one of them.”
From now on, Thompson said the Flathead should fish strong.
“It’s a fantastic dry fly river all summer,” he said.
While the entire Flathead River is solid, Thompson said, the desired stretch of river depends on whether a person is wading or floating. For wading, Thompson likes the North Fork because a road runs along it, making access easy. For floating, he said his guides usually float from the House of Mystery access down. Big Creek to Glacier Rim is a favorite. On the Middle Fork, any spot above the whitewater section, which is around Moccasin Creek, is good, he said.
The Flathead, Thompson said, is special because of its relative obscurity.
“On the Madison or Yellowstone, you’re sitting there looking at 40 boats,” he said. “I saw at least 75 on the Missouri once – you never get that kind of traffic on the Flathead.”
The river’s obscurity in this densely timbered valley is most evident below Columbia Falls, Thompson said. There are no railroad tracks or roads to clutter the scenic views.
“It’s like you’re really in the wilderness,” he said. “It’s just beautiful and quiet.”
Brown said the Flathead River doesn’t get crowded because it lacks a reputation as a blue-ribbon stream, which is fine with him. People who haven’t figured the river out, he said, just leave more fish, some huge, for him and his customers.
“It’s an insane, insane fishery,” he said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.