Ice-Out on The Big Hole River

It's Skwala time in Southwest Montana.  The trout have been in semi-hibernation under the ice since December, sipping the occasional midge larvae and passing nymph. As of last week, the ice has broken and the skwala stonefly is on the water!

I have also been in a semi-hibernation state since September, locked away in the library at the University of Montana's law school and have eagerly been awaiting spring break to get outside.  The best remedy for cabin fever is a trip to a riverside cabin in the woods with good friends.  Two of my classmates and our pal from Jackson Hole hooked up the boat, grabbed their labrador retrievers, and set out from Missoula to meet me in Wise River.  After the requisite pool game in the Wise River Club, we built a fire and sat under the stars with fine cigars and let the stress of the midterm exams slip into the crisp, cloudless night.

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The next morning was also cloudless and the Pintler Mountains shimmered against the deep blue sky.  We drove down to Jerry Creek to find a very murky river.  The Big Hole had a "5 year rain" last weekend that brought the river up almost 5,000 cfs and busted the ice off of the river surface and into the fields.  The force necessary to shove ice chunks the size of sedans is tough to comprehend.  We decided to drive upriver, above several tributaries still running dirty from the rains.  The river at Mudd Creek Bridge had about two feet of visibility, but we were determined to get on the water on this beautiful spring day and we shoved the boat in over the ice.

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 We took turns rowing, and when my roommate, Matt,  got on the oars he assured us he, "had this".   In fact, he did not.   It was a wild ride, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the Big Hole Valley.  It was sort of like being in a big theatre at Epcot where the whole room spins around you.

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As temperatures rose, huge chunks of ice slid from the banks into the river taking clumps of dirt and grass with them and clouding the river as they rolled along the gravel beds.  There was no hope for dry-fly action, though the skwalas were on the water.  Instead, we chucked big, ugly streamer as close to the banks as we could in hopes that a sunbathing trout would catch a glimpse.  We threw white, yellow, orange, and black streamers and the most effective proved to be black.

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We all agreed that it was a great day, and though the fishing conditions were less than ideal, it felt good to stretch out the casting arms and ease into rowing shape on a 60 degree April day in the Big Hole Valley.  There were smiles all around as we headed into Wise River to plan out day two on the Bitterroot River which would hopefully have more clarity and more skwalas.

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Comments

[...] The first day on the Big Hole was tough fishing due to muddy water, but we had a blast and enjoyed the warm weather and fresh air.  The next day started cloudless and sunny, before turning dark, cold, and rainy as we crossed the upper Big Hole Valley into the Bitterroot.  We stopped in Conner to look at the Westfork which looked a little high, but mostly clear and definitely fishable.  The weather worsened and we decided to pack it up and head down river in search of better weather.  The storm broke in Hamilton, so we tossed the boat in. [...]