Every river has a sweet spot.
How many CFS (Cubic Feet Per Second) ?
It's that time of year again. You’ve been tying flies all winter and aside from a few more streamers, cuz nobody ties enough streamers, all of your boxes are full. Fly lines have been cleaned and dressed. Reels have been serviced. Waders have been patched and there is literally nothing left to do. The gear is ready.
Unfortunately, it's only February. Tired as you may be of winter, and this was a doozy, spring is still several weeks away. Rivers have begun to break up, but not for the good of fishing. Ice dams give loose and cause flash floods that endanger homes, anglers and wildlife. Rivers bounce in and out of fishable levels and we sit pensively in front of our computers, tablets and smart phones like tweaking crack heads looking for our next fix watching our five favorite rivers on the USGS real time site routinely tear our hearts out! Even if the levels were right as rain the mountain passes between us and those fertile waterways make travel alternately reckless to impassable.
It used to be easier. We used to load up and just go. We didn't have computer sites to refer to for up to date info. Sure there were fly shops, but they routinely closed for off seasons to save on expense. So every angler I know had a network of contacts for all his favorite rivers. The original real time river reports came from folks that may not even have fished. They were school bus drivers and deputy sheriffs. Grocery stores that sponsored shuttle services, or loggers, miners and even guides that lived on, or near enough, to the river to see it every day. For an angler the little black book held far more worth than the next hot date. So we burned up the phones with the same urgency that you check your websites. Even with all that diligence, nothing was written in stone. A report of great conditions was always subject to failure if the mercury creeped just one or two degrees higher in the interim between plans and arrival. One of my favorite old time cues was purely visual as soon as we descended the east side of Lookout Pass. If the St. Regis River was running dark and muddy you may as well go home. If the Regis is off colored every other river in Montana is blown out. To us that was gospel.
We've learned, just as everyone else has, to use the inter-web for accurate info and data for planning those early trips to ward off cabin fever. If you're like me you’ve also begun to compile that data so as to know prime times and levels in between micro run off events and full blown go lake fishing conditions.
One that most anglers are shocked to hear is that the Clark Fork, absent debris, will fish from 18,000 cfs @ St. Regis as long as it’s dropping. In fact some of the best early hatches of the season occur in these conditions. So just to be clear, the river must be dropping and debris free, like stumps and/or trees and such. But if visibility is 18 inches or better you could see salmon flies, skwalas, grey drakes and even in rare instances, the Western Brown Drake . Yes that drake! A size 8 mayfly that turns the biggest trout into gluttonous acrobats that demolish tippets of less than 10 pounds!!
Every river has a sweet spot that most of us have filed away. How many cfs should be your opening line in the next few times you visit the shop. Somebody there will have a number for you. I’d bet a fish story or two to go with it also.
- Jake Hood
Lead Spokane River Guide