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I've been waiting all winter to get out and do some serious fly fishing but it looks like I'm going to have to wait a bit longer. With the snow pack at record levels in just about every drainage in all of the states from Colorado to Montana it may well be late summer before many of the major trout streams are approachable. Here in Montana we have yet to see any serious snow melt from the mountains and it's already the first week of June. In fact, in the last couple weeks of May we were still adding to the snow pack!
Anglers planning to come to most places in the western U.S. will need to have contingency plans in case the water that they had intended to fish proves to be unfishable.
Tail-water fisheries may be a viable option but even there be prepared for high flow volumes. On tail-waters like the Big Horn and below the damns on the Upper Missouri the water in Montana flow rates will remain far above normal until the bulk of the snow in the mountains has melted. The water should be clear but most of the fishing will be from a boat and dry fly fishing opportunities will be severely limited. If you like casting weighted nymphs and split shot you should find plenty of opportunities.
Lakes and reservoirs will provide another option, but like the streams you should expect to find most of them bank full plus. Boat ramps may be underwater and access roads, unless they are paved, may be muddy, rutted or washed out.
Perhaps the best option for the fly fisher is the various spring creeks that are found in many places in the west. While many of these streams are on private property and involve a fee for you are guaranteed that the water will be clear and flowing in a normal manner. Since these types of streams may be the only available fly fishing in many areas, especially during the early part of the summer, any angler planning to fish one of these waters should make their reservations as soon as possible.
Whether you plan to fish one of the tail-water fisheries or a stillwater be prepared for a different experience during this period of high water. High water situations cause fish to hold in different places than they would under more normal flows. In streams fish will not generally hold in the heavier flows but will move to areas away from the force of the main current. On streams with riprapped banks fish may be found tucked into the nooks and crannies formed by the rocks. In lakes where the water has flowed out over surrounding areas that are normally dry you may find fish cruising around in those areas looking for food that has been made available by the high water.
The high water may also be colder than normal due to the snow melt entering the stream. This will cause the fish to be more lethargic, and fish tend to feed less often when the water is cold. If you are fishing nymphs and streamers it will be very important for you to get your offerings right down on the bottom since the fish are not likely to move very far to accept your offering.
There will be fly fishing in the west this year but the successful angler will need to be flexible. Call ahead, check with reliable local sources, and be prepared to change your plans as conditions dictate.