Written by: Brian McGeehan, Montana Angler Fly Fishing
A five-day float on the Smith River gives the prospect to expertise true wilderness fly fishing.
All photographs courtesyMontana Angler Fly Fishing , besides the place famous
crown jewel of Montana’s off-the-beaten path fisheries, the Smith River is a
small however floatable river that winds its approach via a limestone canyon that
successfully divides the Large and Little Belt mountain ranges. The surroundings is
spectacular, with a mix of lush meadows, towering limestone cliff partitions, and
dense stands of evergreen forests. The fishing can be excellent, underneath the
proper circumstances, and the river gives a wholesome inhabitants of untamed brown and
rainbow trout. Accessing the center of the canyon is a problem, and the most effective
method to fish the river is to decide to a five-day float journey that
lets you cowl the 59 miles between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge. The Smith
is the one river in Montana that requires a allow for all outfitted visitors
and personal customers. There are just a few outfitters which are permitted to
function on the Smith River. Personal customers can apply for launch through a lottery
system operated by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
strict allow system on the Smith ensures that there’s restricted fishing
strain, in contrast with a few of Montana’s different well-known fisheries, particularly
since lots of the fortunate lottery winners merely benefit from the river with out fishing.
Any given launch date on the Smith holds prospects for high-quality fly fishing,
though nothing is ever assured because of the river’s freestone nature. Since
guided visitors have to guide journeys months and even years upfront and personal
customers apply in February, it’s not possible to know what the river circumstances
will probably be while you plan your journey. The Smith is a smaller quantity drainage, so most
floaters and anglers goal the spring and early summer time, when flows are at
their highest. Summer season dates can produce heat water and low flows on common or
below-average snow years. On good snow years, good fishing can lengthen deep into
the warmth of summer time. Fall is usually a spectacular time to fish the Smith, with
extraordinarily gentle fishing strain and ideally suited water temperatures. Nonetheless, in fall
the flows are generally too low to efficiently navigate the canyon through boat.
Probably the most tough launch dates to guide or win through the lottery are June and
early July. Might launches are additionally well-liked instances ,since larger flows guarantee straightforward
floating. Summer season and fall dates are simpler to amass, however anglers and floaters
run the chance that the river will probably be too low to run a visit.
The Smith isn’t recognized for trophy fish, however there are absolutely some beautiful trout within the river.
April and Might
Spring is a superb time to focus on for a float on the Smith River. A lot of our
best fishing journeys are in Might, and fortunate anglers can expertise some
of the river’s thickest hatches throughout this window. Plus, an early-season journey
ensures that water temperatures will nonetheless be chilly. River flows in April could be
considerably unpredictable: if climate is colder and the water continues to be locked up
within the snowpack, there’s some danger that flows will probably be too low to drift. Most
years, from mid-April on, flows must be ok to launch a visit. By Might,
the river is mostly on the rise, as air temperatures heat, and floating is
typically straightforward. The Smith typically has some “coloration” to the water for many of
the float season, but it surely not often has a lot sediment that it’s unfishable. The
hardest spring circumstances happen when the river is rising quickly, as a consequence of sizzling
climate producing speedy snowmelt or heavy rains. Reasonable will increase in river
flows are typically tolerated effectively by the trout, and fishing stays good to
nice. When the river is rising quick and gaining a whole lot of cubic toes per
second of added discharge from at some point to the following, trout want to search out new lies
throughout the river and fishing is more durable. Even in robust circumstances, although,
persistent anglers can nonetheless put some trout within the web. When the river is
secure or dropping within the spring months, fishing is sort of at all times improbable and
usually a number of the better of the season, with robust trout and excessive catch charges.
Might is one among our favourite months.
Might is an ideal time to intercept a number of the heaviest spring hatches,
together with the Mom’s Day caddis and Baetis
mayflies (blue-winged olives). In April, Skwala
stoneflies usually produce the primary dry-fly fishing of the season. Baetis hatches could be thick in April or
early Might, anytime heavy cloud cowl and moist climate arrives. The well-known
salmonfly hatch occurs earlier on the Smith than on different Montana waters, with
the height of the emergence in mid Might. Dry-fly fishing over the salmonfly hatch
will depend on the steadiness of the flows, although. Oftentimes, the water temps that
coincide with the hatch sync with rising flows, so trout are normally concentrating on
the big nymphs. On days the place the climate is cool however secure and nonetheless heat
sufficient to maintain the hatch going, fortunate anglers can expertise some superb dry-fly
fishing by casting large foam patterns alongside the cliff partitions.
There’s at all times some coloration to the water within the canyon, however throughout good flows, it’s not an issue.
Photograph by Pat Clayton, Fish Eye Man Images
Peak flows on the Smith typically happen in late Might or early June. Because of the
smaller drainage and decrease elevation mountains that feed the Smith, river flows
peak sooner than on different methods in Montana. Whereas flows are excessive in early
June, the river most years has began to stabilize and on a lower-water yr
could even be dropping. Increased flows this time of yr typically rule out dry-fly
fishing alternatives, although. That is the time of yr for giant ugly patterns,
and anglers have their finest luck stripping streamers or fishing nymph rigs.
Sample choice doesn’t have to be subtle, and a wide variety of Pat’s
Rubberlegs, San Juan Worms, Zonkers, crayfish, and some smaller Princes or Copper
Johns will suffice. If flows are larger (over 800 cfs), search for trout in “tender
water” the place the river present is slower, such because the insides of bends or in
seams behind massive rocks.
to early July
Usually by mid-June, the river is on a gradual decline, with flows dropping
every day. Water temps are additionally rising shortly, which kicks off one other spherical of
hatches that embrace golden stones, pale morning duns, varied caddisfly
species, and yellow sallies. This is among the most variable instances of the
season, and fishing circumstances can change from each day and even hour to
hour. On a median water yr, that is sometimes among the best dry-fly
home windows on the Smith. On low water years, hotter water temperatures can turn into
a difficulty as early because the final week of June. Decrease flows and lengthy days may also
kick off algae progress, Usually talking, the fishing could be good on this
window even when it’s a low water yr, however fishing could shut off early as you
transfer into early July. On water yr, early July fishing could be improbable
as the upper flows assist to maintain water temps at a snug degree for trout.
A float on the Smith normally creates some nice reminiscences.
early summer time window is among the most sought-after instances to acquire a launch.
For personal customers, that is probably the most tough time to win the lottery system,
with odds as excessive as three,000:1. Guided journeys for these dates usually guide
greater than a yr upfront. Though that is probably the most tough time to “get a
spot,” we discover that the possibilities for good fishing in Might and early June are
usually simply pretty much as good as late June.
Mid July via early September
Summer season on the Smith is unquestionably hit and miss in the case of fishing and floating
the Smith. On a excessive snowpack yr, the river could also be floatable all summer time and
good fishing can lengthen into late July and even August. On common water years,
the river usually drops to ranges too low to successfully float (no less than to drift
and revel in it) and requires in depth dragging of boats. Because of the uncertainty
of midsummer dates we don’t guide journeys on this window. For the reason that lottery
system for personal launches happens in late winter it’s best to keep away from choosing
dates on this window for the reason that odds are good you will be unable to make use of your
launch date. If it’s a high-water yr and you’ve got some versatile dates you
can usually acquire a cancellation date for midsummer.
In the course of the float, you’ll run into som huge partitions and (possibly) some huge hatches.
Mid-September via October
Fall is a quiet time within the Smith River canyon. As days develop shorter, water
temperatures drop to close ideally suited ranges for trout. Round mid-September, irrigators
flip off their head gates, which regularly ends in a small however significant bump
in water ranges. Fall journeys are at all times a big gamble on the Smith, and a few years
the river continues to be too low to successfully float. There may be a few 50 p.c
likelihood that flows will probably be excessive sufficient to get down the river for skilled
boaters for a late fall journey – all of it will depend on water ranges. Usually when
the flows are proper you’ve all the canyon to your self this time of yr.
Fishing could be terrific on this window, with calmly pressured trout wanting
for hoppers on sunny days or blue-winged olives on wet or snowy
days. Fall is usually a dry time of yr however a couple of fronts could start to maneuver that
convey rain and even snow, so it pays to look at the climate fastidiously and make
positive to convey cold-weather gear primarily based on the forecast. This a very nice time
to get pleasure from some high-quality dry-fly fishing, in case you are fortunate sufficient to catch
the river on the proper fall flows. By October, anglers may also have some
success on the bigger pre-spawn browns by stripping massive streamers via the
Caves like this one look like excellent trout-holding spots.
The Smith is a particular river and gives anglers and floaters many faces relying on the time of yr, snow ranges, and rainfall. You by no means actually know precisely what sort of circumstances you’ll expertise till your journey arrives, so it’s best to not overthink dates. Normally, in case you are planning far upfront, your most secure wager is to focus on Might and June dates when you possibly can depend on sufficient water to drift. If you’re versatile and prepared to roll the cube, a fall float is usually a particular expertise.
Brian McGeehan is proprietor and clothing store of Montana Angler Fly Fishing, an Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Expedition in Bozeman, Montana.