Blog Posts In High Water

2014 Preview: Your Own Room, Fresh Faces and a Fresh Look!

ImageWith another snowstorm bearing down on Southwest Montana, I thought it would bolster my mental fortitude to write about fly fishing.  I’ve been tying steelhead patterns to use on the Salmon River next month for the early spring run. This has helped abate the extreme cabin fever all of us in the Big Hole Valley seem to contract about this time each winter, although this winter has been different than most. I think that could be an understatement for just about anywhere in the country, but I make the motion with great enthusiasm that its time to start thinking about big brown trout and beautiful rivers like the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Bitterroot.

“I still don’t know why I fish or why other men fish, except that we like it and it makes us think and feel.”
Roderick L. Haig-Brown
A River Never Sleeps (1946)

Tight Lines,
Craig Fellin

Our season starts with an early pre-runoff 4 night/3 day fly fishing package (see rates) from April 29-May 2nd. The water level on the Big Hole is usually ideal at this time and the trout are hungry after a long, cold winter. Expect to fish nymphs and streamers in the morning and skwala stonefly and blue winged olive dry fly patterns in the afternoon. Very few people are on the river at this time and the trout haven’t seen many flies yet. This is also a great time to be on the Missouri River, which is well known for its prolific blue winged olive hatches in April and May and superb dry fly fishing.

Big Hole Lodge will be hosting its 2nd annual Spey Casting Clinic with Larry Aiuppy on May 3-7. Larry is the only certified spey casting instructor in Montana and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the event. For me the spey cast is like watching a well-balanced and well-timed golf swing or even a ballet as some would compare. Granted the cast is meant for large salmon/steelhead rivers but there are also trout applications with the shorter spey or switch rods, fishing streamers or soft hackles in the surface film. This is a 4 night/3 day package for $2,630 per person based on double occupancy and guaranteed to jump-start your fly fishing season.


We have changed our total capacity at the lodge from twelve down to eight guests. We still plan on accommodating larger intact groups of 10-12 by special request, but the norm will be eight guests per week. There are several reasons why we made the change, but primarily it will allow each guest to have their own bedroom.  We heard so many tales of guests not being able to sleep because their roommate kept them awake at night, so now your worries are over and you’ll be able to sleep to your heart’s content. We also feel that we can give more attention to the individual at our lodge with the lower capacity and be able to deliver a quality experience that exceeds all expectations. Your satisfaction has always been our utmost concern and now we’ll be able to give you even more attention than before.

We have also replaced a lot of the furniture around the lodge with plush leather armchairs and sofas that we think you’ll really enjoy. The outdoor furniture has also been replaced with cedar Adirondack chairs that will make your cocktail hour even more enjoyable as you gaze at the majestic Pioneer Mountains surrounding the lodge.  We now have Verizon cell phone service at the lodge limited to the dining room and the deck adjoining the dining room.

We have a new guide in our line-up, Rudy Ketchum, whom I think will be a great addition to our team. Rudy grew up in Butte and has fly fished the Big Hole most of his life. He has an MBA and has installed healthcare software in hospitals for the past 22 years. Rudy has two sons and a daughter and looks forward to spending more time with his family and guiding our clients on the Big Hole. We also have a new guide for the Missouri River, Russ  Dobrzynski, who lives in Craig, MT and fishes and guides on the river year round.  Russ will be our Missouri River expert and loves to hunt those trophy brown trout that the river is known for. This is an overnight trip and requires advance reservations so please call us if you’re interested. The additional fee for the Missouri trip is $200 per person. My son Wade will finish law school and sit for his bar exam in late July. After what will be a much-needed vacation, he’ll return to our guide roster in late August and be with us each summer going forward.


With all the snow we’ve been getting, the Big Hole should have great flows this summer and allow our guides to float their boats with relative ease through September. The snowpack going into March is 145% of normal which is fantastic! We still have some excellent weeks available in July, August and September that should offer some of the best fishing we’ve had in several years with the healthy flows that are predicted for the latter part of the season.

As an Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge and being one of the premiere lodges offered by Frontiers Travel, we are proud to have hosted fly fishing trips for our guests for over 30 years.  Please give us a call soon and we can talk Montana trout fishing! This is shaping up to be a very special year and we don’t want you to miss it.

(406) 832-3252

Comin' Down

Warm weather, then snow and rain, then more warm weather has rocketed the river from a scary July level to historical average for June.  This has made for a tough week of fishing, but starting Wednesday the river is leveling out and coming down.

This weekend's cold temps ought to keep the snow in the mountains, so we will be at the mercy of the rainstorms.  The hatch will most likely not come off until we get a warm day, but I wouldn't be afraid to throw a big bug as the water clears up.

What offseason? BHL's Guides are Fishin!

For BHL's guides, the offseason has been over for quite sometime and spring training is in full swing.  Chuck R. spent January through March chasing trout in New Zealand and is now in West Yellowstone.  Later this week Lanette will join him on the Firehole and Madison Rivers.

Rick R. (pictured above) and Chuck P. have been working out on the Big Hole, rowing through high water and making mental notes on the whereabouts of this years Hogs.  According to Rick, fishing has been fishing, with some days producing a lot of fish and some days proving to be tough.  He and Chuck have been throwing mostly streamers this week.

The rain/snow continues to hit the high country, but so far the river is holding up with decent clarity.  The Beaverhead has reportedly been fishing very well also.

Winter's Coming....and why not? it's almost June

Since I left for work this morning at 6:30, it has been snowing off and on with about 3 inches now on the ground.  According to NOAA, a lot more is on the way....up to two feet!

Hazardous Weather Outlook





Don't Pack Those Skis Away Yet

 Well the "blizzard" must have ended right after we went to sleep, because the "foot" of snow they were calling for above 6,000' proved to be just a thin blanket of heavy, wet snow.  But we'll take it!

Montana and the West had an unusually light winter and many fear a dry summer.  If we continue to get these spring refills we'll be in great shape for August and September.  The light snow pictured here at 6,300' could well be over a foot in the 8 and 9,000' mountains above the Big Hole.

The Wise River is pumping right now. The rock pictured above was underwater yesterday and most likely will be again by tomorrow. In the summer that rock stands 6 feet out of the water.

As you can see, we have a wet week in store.  The meteorologists are putting out winter storm warnings throughout the state today, and expect over a foot of snow accumulation in the Big Hole area.



There is an absolute whiteout snowstorm at the lodge right now.  100% chance of snow through the weekend and they are calling for 14" of snow starting at 7,000 feet!  This translates into a LOT of snow in the high country.

I'll get up and take pics in the morning for you all.  It ought to be a winter wonderland

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.


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.


 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.


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.


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.


Happy Independence Day!

On this Fourth of July weekend, this jubilant celebration of the emancipation of our great Nation, for the good of the entire Montana fly fishing community, a trio of fearless anglers have set out to combat the stress and limitations placed on them by high water, holiday crowds, and oil spills.
To you they say, fear not the swift currents; the flotillas of party boats.  Fear not the clouds of ravenous mosquitoes. Fear not the family reunions. Instead, venture far into the high country, through marshes and swamps, barbed wire fences and fields. Find the numerous peaceful waters of this great state, in this great Country.
 For if you put in the effort, you will find yourself knee deep in paradise.
And if the fishing still sucks, even in the paradise of the high country of this great state, in this great nation.... put a smile on your face and bet your best friend 10 bucks you won't go poach a rancher's trampoline!
After all, at the end of the were fishin'!

Boaters urged to avoid floating over the dam

Boaters urged to avoid part of Big Hole River near Divide

Posted: May 26, 2011 3:13 PM by KXLF Media Center
Boaters are being urged not to float the Big Hole River around the newly reconstructed diversion dam about 2 ½ miles west of Divide due to the hazards created by high, fast water.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks issued a statement Thursday urging boaters to stay away from the dam.

FWP staff is posting signs at Jerry Creek, George Grant and Powerhouse fishing access sites and on Silver Bridge, alerting floaters to the diversion dam and warning them to take out at Powerhouse Fishing Access Site about one mile upstream of the diversion dam on river left.

If boaters find themselves beyond the point where they can take out, they should float through the diversion dam in the center, according to FWP.

Big Hole River Water Flow at Melrose: 7,800 cfs

Hit this window before the run-off!

Big Hole River Fishing Report:

  • Water Flow: 1,120 cfs
  • Temperature:  47 degrees
  • Visibility:  2-3 feet
  • Bugs:  fish are looking for skwalas, streamers, and small dries when the sun is out.
  • Weather Forecast:  Thurs- 42 degrees and snow showers.   Fri- 36 degrees, windy and snow showers.  Sat- 45 degrees and partly sunny.  Sun- 50 degrees and mostly sunny

Bucknell grads, Dan and Chris, eager to get after it

The snow in the upper Big Hole Valley hasn't even come out of the meadows yet.  The meadow snow, or low snow as it is referred to around here, is typically gone by the end of April and we have a nice window for fishing until the warm spring temps bring down the high snow.

This year we are experiencing a late winter and a cool spring is likely.  One or two warm days will bring that remaining low snow out and the river will be off-color but most likely fishable.  When the temps reach 60 and 70, usually in early May, this winter's huge snowpack will begin to release and the river will be high and muddy for a week or two.  I expect high water to last well into June but as long as the water clears this is ok for fishing.   In the world of fly fishing there is always something to complain about but we would much rather have the problem of too much water than too little.  This year will be great for the health of the watershed.

Get out there with big ugly bugs in the inclement weather this week and tie on a  little dry fly when the temps hit the upper 40's and 50's this weekend.  Enjoy it while you can!