Until last week, James had never fished Nelson’s Spring Creek in Montana’s Paradise Valley. Seems he found his groove pretty quickly! Let Jimmy tell you all about it in his Yellowstone Country Chronicles!
I should take my phone out and get a video of all the fishing rising right now, but then I might miss my chance. It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I spotted a few fish in this run when I started, but now the whole run is loaded with feeding fish. Gulp! Gulp! Gulp! I love when the creeks do this and come alive with bugs, and the fish following their pilgrimage to the surface. A good Blue Winged Olive hatch is going on, I am seeing duns on the surface. When you can pick out a bug, watch it float downstream a few yards, then see the trout rise perfectly to intercept the drifting meal, that’s when you know you’re in it. The fish are looking up.
I can hear them feeding as I’m tying on some new flies. Armed with a 2wt rod, I load up a Hi Vis BWO dry fly trailed by an emerger pattern that will fish just below the surface film as a crippled mayfly. My fingers are shaking more and more with each trout smacking the surface. WHOOSH! Head up, looking at the top of my run and see the aftermath of that big eat- wow, that looked like a nice one. Almost done with these flies, god I hate 6x. It feels like it takes an eternity to re-rig in the middle of a feeding frenzy, but I am back in it now- game on.
Before I make any casts, I take a second to look at the water in front of me. The run starts up to my right and swings into the far bank and down with some good depth and some overhang for cover. Most of the fish I am seeing are along that far bank, with a few at the head of the run, and some more rising all the way at the tail-out to my left. The spring creek fish will get into feeding rhythms when the bugs get thick enough. Some fish will start feeding constantly while others might be taking bugs at a more random pace. I look for the fish feeding the most frequently. In theory, those fish should take a fly a little easier opposed to the fish that aren’t quite as turned on. Even with the more active fish though, getting them to take a dry fly can get pretty tricky. Sometimes you might have to match their rhythm, and only a perfectly timed fly will fool these fish. Other times, it seems like they get so gluttonous it’s like they get drunk off an abundance of bugs, and they are just so fired up they’ll eat anything coming down their lane. Today is the former, as I am having a tough time catching the right rhythm.
I think my flies are just a size too small. I am fishing #18’s and the Spring Blue Wings are always a little bigger- closer to a #16, and that little size change makes a huge difference. But me being lazy, and afraid the fish might turn off before I can switch out flies, I just keep casting, confident that I’ll still get them even if my flies are a size too small.
I turn my focus to the head of the run. I’ve been messing with some of the fish towards the back end and just pricked one, so I’ll rest those guys for a bit and aim for the risers up top here. I get my cast out right on the inside seam of the main current and stack mend down to my left so the fly can ride the seam. I notice the water color change beneath my fly to a golden orange. Then a more clear image of a brown trout comes into view as he follows my fly downstream. I watch him gently lift his body in the water column as he meets my fly with an open mouth. Fish on. I quickly direct him out of the main current as too not spook the other active fish, and land him in the slack water on my left, a beautiful Nelson’s Creek brownie. Quickly, get him back and pick a new target.
The mayflies are gone just as fast as they appeared. It’s about 3 o’clock now, and I did manage one cutthroat from the back of the run before the action died off. I am not seeing any more fish feeding so it’s time to move and see if I can find some more active fish.
I switch flies now. A bigger Purple Haze dry #16 with a unweighted red blood midge #20 dropped about 12 inches behind. Walking up the bank, head scanning the crystal clear water for that dark shadowy figure of a trout. There’s one! And he’s close, heading right for me. Now crouching because the trout is within 5 yards of me, totally unaware. I botch my first two casts and manage not to spook the fish. He’s right in front of me now and I just lay out a short roll cast. The fish slowly swims right into my midge, I see the white of his open mouth and then see my dry fly dip under the surface, indicating the fish ate my bottom fly. I set the hook and the fish immediately jumps clean out of the water and spits my fly. Sometimes the trout wins.
I am seeing more fish again, these guys aren’t breaking the surface but hovering right in the middle of the water column. There are also a few fish tucked into the weeds at the back end of the pool. Those fish buried down deep are not moving at all while you can clearly see the fish at the top of the pool swimming back and forth, actively feeding. I’ll aim for them.
My Purple Haze is floating down the middle of the pool. I watch in amazement as three fish turn on my fly and start to follow it downstream. It’s like I just started my own feeding frenzy- these fish are circling around both flies, darting back and forth, up and down. About half way through the drift it looks like one fish takes the midge out of competition from the other fish. Again, I see the white of an open mouth, and consequently watch my dry fly dip underneath the surface, fish on. This time a bigger brown trout in my net. I get him back in and get my flies back in the same drift. Again, I see fish turn and start darting around my flies, and get another good fish to eat the midge. Two in a row on the Spring Creeks, huh? I might as well just call it a day!
Every time I fish the creeks out here I learn something. Today I learned that there is a big difference between active fish and stagnant fish. And you can maximize your time on the creeks here if you don’t waste your time on fish that won’t feed. Take the extra couple minutes and watch what the fish are doing and see if you can’t pick out one that is moving around and noticeably feeding.
Now time to try some streamers…1