Now that the muddy season is here and Spring runoff is underway, many anglers will hang up the fly rod and proceed with other springtime activities. Amongst the favorites here in southwest Montana are: hiking, biking, rafting/kayaking, and relaxing at one of your favorite watering holes. While any and all of these fine sports may deserve attention, there is no need to give up fishing entirely. Many of the rivers in our region are "freestones". In other words they are rivers void of any dams or reservoirs. With no dam to regulate flows and no reservoir to release clean water from the bottom, freestones are at the mercy of mother nature. Depending on weather this time of year, there can be exstensive periods where these freestone rivers are too high and/or dirty to fish. Below are some ideas to help keep you on productive water throughout the Spring runoff. Most of the ideas I mention refer to Bozeman, Montana and the surrounding area, but I am confident that the general principles can be applied in most places where trout call home.
Options: However you would like to put it, we are very fortunate, lucky, blessed to have so many amazing places to fish near Bozeman, Montana. One way to dodge dirty water is to take advantage of this fact. Not all rivers in our area come from the same source, so it's very possible to have one river system go dirty while another drainage 30 miles away stays clean and fishable. All rivers behave in a certain pattern regarding runoff. Some muddy up early in the Spring, but clear much earlier. Others need simply to see a night or two of cold weather to clear and become very fishy. Critical to pay close attention to weather and streamflows. A great resource for following river conditions is: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/current?type=flow Use this time of year to get out and explore new waters.
Tailwaters: Tailwaters are the opposite of freestone rivers, in that they are released from a dam and reservoir. Sediment has time to settle in the lake or reservoir, so the water being released is generally clear. This is especially true when water is released from the bottom of a deep reservoir. In our area we our fortunate to be centrally located between three world famous tailwaters of this deeper variety: The Bighorn river-below Yellowtail dam, Missouri river-below Holter Lake, and The Beaverhead river below Clark Canyon Reservoir. All of these rivers provide fishable water regardless of flows.
Spring Creeks: Spring Creeks are streams that flow from a natural, spring-fed source in the ground. Because their source is deep within the earth and naturally filtered, they are mostly unaffected by Spring snowmelt. A few local favorites are: Depuy's, Armstrong's, and Nelson's Spring Creeks. All three are located just south of Livingston, Montana. Most Spring Creeks are on private land and the ones I just listed are no exception. A rod fee is required to gain access to all three. Permision is required on ALL private lands.
Stillwaters: An often overlooked option for good fishing this time of year would be the numerous lakes, reservoirs and ponds across Montana. We've become so famous for such great rivers as the: Yellowstone, Madison, Gallatin, etc. it's easy to overlook all the great stillwater fisheries we possess. Local reservoirs like Hyalite or Canyon Ferry, mountain lakes or farm ponds all make for good angling options. Bring a sinking line along, try some new flies you might not use on the river and enjoy learning or mastering a totally different fishing environment.
Fishable Water Deemed too Dirty by Most: It is Very important to point out that some of my best days on the water have been just before, during, and just after runoff. Off-color water does not equal dirty or unfishable water. It's all about visibility. A river that looks green with a foot or two of visibility will fish. Likewise, a river that looks brown with a foot or two of visibility will fish too. We don't need it to be "gin-clear" to produce great results. Without doubt some of my biggest fish have come in less than clear conditons. Make sure you have sufficient sunlight and a lack of glare to best judge water clarity. This usually requires getting right up to the water, on foot.
Best of Luck! I hope that with these tips in mind, you find yourself standing in or floating on, productive water with a bent rod in hand!