Blog Posts In snowpack

A couple of links you ought to check out:

Big Hole River:

  • Water Flow: 1,210 cfs
  • Water temp: 40 degrees
  • Visibility: 2 feet
  • Fishing: Good!  The temps are supposed to reach the mid-sixties today which may bring down some meadow snow in the upper valley, the water may discolor over the weekend, but I wouldn't be afraid of fishing big stone fly nymphs.

And now a couple of links you might enjoy:

A man catches a fish of a lifetime on the Missouri River yesterday:  Monster Rainbow interviewed me for Trout Bum of the Week:  Orvis Trout Bum

Big Hole Fishing Report 4/29/11

Spring on the Big Hole River

Big Hole River Fishing Report
  • Water Flow:  1,140 cfs
  • Water Temp:  39 degrees
  • Visibility: 3 feet
  • Weather:  High 34 today, cloudy
  • Fishing:  Good!

Hatches:  The skwala hatch has been on the Big Hole for the past week. This is a shy, unusual aquatic insect in that the male doesn't have the ability to fly very much due to the shortness of its wings. Trout look for them falling off willow and tree branches.

Recommended Leader: 9ft 3x

Recommended Tippet: 3x

Best Techniques: A dry/dropper combo is working well on warmer days when the trout are more active and looking for the skwalla stone flies. Tie on a #10 skwalla dry fly and attach a #12 Kaufman mini stone fly to the bend of the hook. Since the skwalla fly doesn't fly very often, trout look for them near the bank and falling off willow branches and overhanging limbs.

Tip of the Week: Streamer fishing can be productive on warmer days in the winter. Vary the speed of your strip starting out with a long, smooth strip keeping the tip of the rod on the water. If this doesn't work, try a faster strip and/or pausing to allow the streamer to sink before continuing the fast strip. Also try a dead drift with several big mends in the line to allow your streamer to get deep. A 2X tippet is recommended for streamer fishing this time of year in a 9' length. If these techniques don't produce, tie a small #16 beadhead pheasant tail or flashback hare's ear on the bend of the streamer hook with a 5x tippet and strip very slowly through the deep pools.

7 day outlook: The weather forecast is calling for highs in the 40's with possible snow showers through the week.

Weekend Warriors, this is your time

Big Hole River Fishing Report

  • Water Flow:  1,140 cfs
  • Water Temp:  39 degrees
  • Visibility: 3 feet
  • Weather:  High 34 today, cloudy

The warm weather last week brought the water up and discolored it a bit, but as you can see from the chart below the cold weather this week has halted the snow melt.  I expect this even plateau in cubic feet per second to continue through the weekend.  It's going to be cold today but it will warm up to the 40's and 50's Saturday and Sunday.

Because the water got so cold last night, fishing will start later today.  I recommend skwala nymphs and streamers in the morning when the water is cold and skwala dries in the afternoon as it warms up.  Fishing has been hot this week so get out there!

Skwala pattern

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!

Class for the teachers: Orvis Fly Casting Instruction

2011 Orvis Guide Rendezvous, day 2

After a word from the vp's of Orvis and a presentation on the new gear, we guides were asked to attend a two-part casting clinic taught by world-class casting instructor, Truel Myers.  What do you teach a bunch of casting teachers and veteran fisherman?  How to better describe the cast of course!

Truel has 25 years of experience teaching fly-casting and states: "Truel Myers is the head fly fishing instructor for the Orvis Company. In addition to teaching the Orvis Fly Fishing School in Manchester, VT, Myers' duties include: instructor development programs, developing training techniques, developing new schools in strategic locations throughout the country, and assisting other schools with their class programs. Truel also develops the Orvis Saltwater Fly Fishing Clinics in the Bahamas and Belize and developed and conduct the Orvis-Certified Bahamas Guide program, in the Bahamas."

The first session was indoor and he used a modified rod butt with a built-in laser pointer to illustrate the cast.  He emphasized keeping things simple, using small and concrete terms as opposed to big words and convoluted metaphors.

abbreviated Class Notes:

Simply put, during a cast the fly rod needs to:

  1. Bend and load
  2. Stop high and unload
  3. come forward and backward on an even and level plane

Don't grip the rod too tight. "You aren't hanging on to a rattlesnake by the head, you are holding a bird by the neck"

Do not think about a clock, forget about 10 and 2.  Instead, stop the rod up high in the back, let the line flex the tip, then come forward.   Focus on stopping the tip at eye level at the end of the forward cast. Lower the rod as the fly hits the water.

The transition from the water to the top of the back cast should start easy, with a light grip on the rod handle, and finish strong at the top with a squeeze on the rod handle.  The hand should then relax and smoothly accelerate back toward the water, stopping at eye level and again squeezing the rod handle.

Truel covered a lot more information and offered several teaching techniques that do not fit very well in a blog but I am happy to demonstrate them on the lawn of the lodge this summer!

Next, we went over the most common casting mistakes, how to spot them, their root cause, and how to correct them.  These were things like grip placement, tailing loops, creeping, and overpowering the rod.  After about ten questions and answers we gathered up the new line of Access, Helios, and Switch rods and headed out to the North Platte.

Hutch Hutchinson set up a video camera and allowed guides to cast and view themselves on film.  Truel took a section of the parking lot and explained methods of casting in wind and how to teach clients without frustrating them.  Jeff Putnam returned to the North Platte with a spey rod and gave a casting clinic to those who missed yesterday's lesson.

He had a helper, presumably a local.

Steelhead stand-in

After a busy day of discussion and casting the gang showered up and headed to an outdoor cocktail party at a local Casper bank.  We'll see how chipper everyone is a nine tomorrow when meetings and presentations resume!

Spring in Montana, when the sun is out it's go time

I left the ski boots on the dryer this weekend, got my two weight out and headed to the Wise River.  It was cold but felt great to be back in the water.  On Saturday afternoon the sun came out and the temperature warmed up to 50 degrees.  Though a hatch was not visible, the fish were looking up for small dry flies in the slow pools.  I fished until the sun slipped behind the nearby mountain.

On Sunday, I woke up early and checked the area snow reports.  Maverick, 3 inches.  Lost Trail, 6 inches.  Bridger Bowl, 9 inches.   I looked at my swollen right knee and went back to bed.  I decided skiing could wait a week until the knee heals, besides a good walk along the Wise River would loosen it up!  I went out with my 2 wt. after lunch and was met with a stiff winter wind and 30 degree air temps.  No dry fly action but they were chasing small streamers in the deep water.  I had to stop and clean the ice out of my guides every third cast and rub my hands back to life every fifth. But it was well worth it.  The fish look well fed and healthy going into the spring, in fact one rainbow I caught was shaped like a football!

Today the sun is out but it is incredibly windy.  They are calling for another big winter storm later in the week so Dad and I will try to sneak the boat out to the Big Hole before it hits.  Hopefully i'll have some spring fish pics later this week!




Take care,


Ski boots or waders this week?

Happy Spring!

It has been a great winter for sitting by the fire tying flies and editing photos.  I must admit I have been balancing my time between work and play since we closed the lodge last season.  In October, Dad and I slipped down to Belize for a bit of bone-fishing and since then I've been chasing snowstorms around the West with my skis on my Jeep. The Wasatch Range in Utah was neck deep last week!   Now it is fishing time.  The ice has released its grip on the Big Hole and the fishing buzz has returned to Wise River.  Just yesterday I spotted large rises below Jerry Creek, possibly skwalas. This week my father's buddy from Aspen will join us for the first float trip of the season.   Check back for pictures and a trip report


Here at the lodge we have three feet of snowpack in the front yard and it's not even April, the wettest month of the year! According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Montana's mountain snowpack continues to rise above average for the fourth consecutive month.  Statewide mountain snowpack is 113 percent of average and 165 percent of last year at this time.   In addition, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasts a cooler, wetter weather pattern throughout the spring in Southwest Montana with above-average precipitation from April 1 to July 31.  Typically, the weather warms up in late May bringing down the snow and the rivers reach their crests by early June.  However, with cooler daytime temps and nighttime freeze cycles, the runoff should occur more slowly and evenly into July this summer.    This is great news for the fish, the rivers, and the entire Montana ecosystem.  I expect our hatches to be pushed back about a week, as we saw last year.  This means the salmon flies and yellow stone flies could last well into July!  As long as it doesn't come out of the mountains all at once it is great news for the fishing community as well.

River Reports

The Big Hole:


Anticipation is growing around this year's trout population on the Big Hole River.  After three plentiful water years, the Big Hole's habitat has rebounded from the droughts of the early 2000's, which left the river dewatered and deoxygenated when temperatures climbed in mid July.  According to local biologists, the fish are looking great!  The larger size class structure is rebuilding and they are seeing more 18+" range fish, as well as a very encouraging rise in numbers of smaller fish in the lower river.  In the Jerry Creek section alone there are over 3,500 wild browns and rainbows!  Jim Olson, the Big Hole River biologist says, "Things are looking good!"  So, empty the camera memory cards and check the drag on your reels, it's going to be a summer to remember!


Michael Bias, Executive Director of the Big Hole River Foundation, is up to his ears in bugs!  For the past several years he and his colleagues have been collecting bug samples in order to better understand the health of the river.  About this year he says,"Definitely better water means better bugs."   If conditions continue like they've been, the next three years for stone flies will be better than the last three because stoneflies live for 3 years as nymphs.  In other words this should be a great year because we will see the first salmon flies since good water years started.

Project Updates:

Those of you who have been with us in past years are familiar with the Silver Bridge to Divide section of the river.  It is just over a mile long pin-ball field of boulders and requires navigation of a tricky and often dangerous diversion dam.  Though the fishing can be excellent in this section, many anglers opt not to mess with the 'keeper wave' on the low side of the dam which has sunk a handful of boats over the years.  Last summer, Silver Bow County and the State of Montana revamped the dam and created a safe passage for floaters.  More importantly, the new dam allows trout to travel up and down the river naturally.

The Beaverhead:

As a result of the drought years, the Clark Canyon reservoir, which feeds the Beaverhead, experienced significant drops in water level.  In an effort to retain water the dam discharge was reduced to 50 cubic feet per second in the winter and as feared, the browns and rainbow trout suffered. For the past two winters however, the dam discharge has been allowed to remain at a healthy 250 cfs.  The fish showed improvement last summer and the reports so far this spring are great.  The Beav has returned to its trophy status.  We look forward to the hard fighting, football shaped pigs this river produces.

New Name?

Don't be alarmed, nothing but the name has changed.  Craig Fellin Outfitters & Big Hole Lodge is now Big Hole Lodge.  We have decided to trim the logo for better fit on apparel and ease of conversational use.   The timing makes sense as we redevelop our company website, set to launch later this month.  Check back at!

Early '11 Snowpack

Happy New Year!

At Big Hole Lodge we are eagerly awaiting the 2011 fishing season.  Winter 2010 was very dry and mild in Montana, which normally means summer drought for our snow-fed rivers and streams, but we had a wet spring and summer didn’t arrive until mid July, and it was abnormally cool when it did.  We had one of the best water years on record and though the hatches and fish were displaced by the high flows on the Big Hole, making fishing tough for most of June, the trout benefitted greatly.  According to the state fisheries biologist the fish looked healthy and numbers were up in all trout species except the cutthroat, which have been on the decline in recent years.   Winter arrived this year with a vengeance as if to make up for last years poor showing and we currently have above average snowpacks and bitterly cold temperatures in the Big Hole Valley.  Next summer should be a great year with plenty of water and healthy fish!

Headwaters of the Big Hole




Snowpack Discussion:

This is a La Niña year, which means that cooler sea surface temperatures drive colder and wetter weather into the northern Rockies.  At the start of December, Montana was 120% of last year with some watersheds reporting as high as 150%.   According to the weather models we have a 70% chance of having colder temperatures and more snow than historical average over the next 6 months.   Although that is by no means certain,  it's much better than a coin toss and as of  January 3rd we are sitting above historical average statewide, and 120% of last years snowpack.

Hatches and Fishing:
Our famed salmon fly hatch typically comes off in mid-June, although with the high water they didn’t show up until June 24th last year.  After the big bugs are gobbled up we have golden and yellow stone hatches which bring on great dry fly action for the weeks following the salmon flies.    The PMD fishing on the Big Hole and Beaverhead is also fantastic, starting in early July and lasting into early August.  Those of you who have been here in late July are well aware of the ‘spruce moth buzz’, excitement over a somewhat inconsistent annual hatch of moths that flutter down from the woods and drive the big brown trout crazy.  The Big Hole can appear to be boiling with feeding fish in late July and early August.

August also marks the start of our world renowned trico and hopper fishing.  In the mornings before the sun is high clouds of tiny grey and black bodied tricos ascend, mate, and descend upon the water to try and lay their eggs before frenzied trout have a chance to gulp them in.  If you aren’t worn out by lunch, you will spend the afternoon plopping a giant grasshopper pattern onto the banks, looking for big Mr. Brown snoozing in the shade.  Hopper, beetle and ant fishing continue through September until the temperatures start to get cold, the browns start to turn a vibrant orange, and streamer fishing gets hot!   So before 2011 flies by like 2010 drop us a line or shoot us an email, we’d love to enjoy this promising fishing season with you.

We’d love to hear from you!

Call: (406) 832-3252


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Early Season Snowpack Report

Last winter was very dry and mild in Montana causing much anxiety among fisherman and ranchers.  Our rivers depend on snowpack to survive the hot dry summers.  Thankfully, we had a very wet spring this year which lasted into early July and the summer temps remained much cooler than normal.  We cannot count on this happening again so we are hoping for a big winter this year.   The early prediction for this winter looks very promising.   Doug Chabot, who handles statewide avalanche reports, released these early season updates this week:


This is a La Nina year which means that cooler than average sea surface temperatures drive this phase of colder and wetter weather in the northern Rockies.  According to the models we have a 70% chance of having colder temperatures and more snow than average over the next 6 months.  That's much better than a coin toss, although by no means certain.  And average is nothing to frown upon-I like average; that's 10+ feet of snow on the ground in Cooke City!  You can learn more by checking the Climate Prediction Center site which has maps and lots of information on long range forecasts.


Our snowfall data is from the NRCS SNOTEL sites scattered throughout southwest Montana.  Higher elevations have deeper snows as well as drifts forming in the gullies and couloirs of the higher peaks.  I'm estimating that most mountain ranges have 12-24 inches of snow at 9,000 feet.  Barring a freak melt, this snow will form the foundation of our winter snowpack.  We like getting dense, wetter snow this early in the season.

Keep doing your snow dances, the mountains above Wise River received 11 inches last night.  The Big Hole River has a good start with this dense snow in the high country and we're looking forward to a lot more.