With 2019 just a couple of days away, this weekend seems as good of a time as any to reflect on how things were in Wydaho this past year. For sure it was a solid year, but by no means was it great from a fly fishing standpoint. We definitely had some fun fishing and there were several spectacular days. Nonetheless, I would rate the fishing as good, not necessarily out-of -this-world. Here are some thoughts –
A Pretty Solid Winter for Streamers and Top Water
Our winters are getting warmer. All the stats say so. I would expect the nymphing to be doing what it is doing during those several weeks when water temps are below 40 degrees. But this past winter was really something with the surface action on midge imitations in riffle tailouts and small streamers in slow current side channels. There were days in January and February that matched some of those afternoons we were having in August and September. It’s not gonna be like this every winter, but chances are they will be more in the cards if winters keep going the way they have been.
Missing the Skwalas by Just a Smidge
April produced OK to good fishing, but it really seemed like it was heading in the right direction. On April 24th, I took a party out on the Wilson-South Park reach for a day that built into a crescendo of surface action. I don’t want to overstate it, but we ended the day pretty happy.
The next day, I took a party out for a run from South Park to Astoria with Skwalas everywhere. The problem – the discoloration that ended our outing the day before did not subside. We had less than a foot of visibility all day with only eight fish total to the boat. The next couple of days we saw the river go to less than a couple inches of visibility. If only we could have had runoff hold off for another few days. Could have been a memorable skwala hatch.
There are times when a subtle to moderate breeze on a lake’s surface is a benefit to the fly fisher. Such conditions create a disturbance that shields errant casts, or just general angler presence. But glass is what we want. The glass surface of stillwater creates conditions for sight fishing to trout on flats and drop-offs. This is what we had on Lewis and Yellowstone lakes more this year than I have experienced in almost half a dozen years. More of these days happened during our autumn excursions, but there were still some memorable occurrences in late spring.
Truth is, this year is probably similar to the vast majority of years over the past couple of decades. The difference is that we were able to be out there during those windless days more this year than we have in the past. It doesn’t necessarily lead to a 30 fish day, but you do get to see a lot of fish follow, eat, and eventually get hooked. And that is the type of fishing that fires up the vast majority of us.
What’s with this Renewed Interest in the Humpy?
I admit, it’s pretty cool when young 20-something guides have old school patterns as part of their go-to repertoire. Christ, I turn to the Parachute Adams and Hares Ear Nymph more often than most. There are even a few Royal Wulffs in certain corner of my dry attractor box. But the past couple of years I have been listening to these guides in their third or fourth or fifth year of guiding talking about how they are putting the yellow Humpy to use during those times when other pattern fail. Yes, I have a familial connection to this fly, but I don’t do so hot with it. And they still won’t tell me exactly just how well they are doing with it. Maybe they are pullin’ my leg.
Bankside Troughs Everywhere!
Two good water years in a row and the solid runoffs they create can lead to significant changes in holding water for trout. Nowhere was this more evident than on the Snake and the South Fork this year, where we saw numerous bankside troughs on just about every reach. Parts of the Swan Valley and Upper Canyon reaches on the South Fork were defined by long, wide troughs where we had never seen them before. Some seemed to go on for a quarter mile or more. It was impressive indeed. But nothing matched what we saw on the middle reaches of the Snake from Moose Bridge down to South Park. These troughs were not near as long as on the South Fork. But god they were wide! Some casts that were six to eight feet off the prime bank line were bringing up cutties that would dominate any holding water you could have put them in. This will not last, of course. Another big water year will probably wipe them out. But this was pretty cool to see.
Good, But By No Means Great.
Some of you who were with us this year experienced some damn good days. Nonetheless, great days were hard to come by. In my boat, the total number of days where we cleared 60 fish to the boat between two anglers (or 40 fish for a single angler) might have been around 25. And the size was not there either. Sure, we got into some damn impressive fish, but it was rare that we got into more than three 18-plus inch no matter where we were. This is despite the fact that Idaho and Wyoming fishery data show stable numbers in terms of both size and abundance. Maybe our trout are evolving and getting smarter. Maybe pressure is getting to our fish and we have to work and think harder (no problem on my end). Or maybe I have just too high of standards and I have to taper it down a bit. And come on! How bad is a 40 fish day between two anglers