By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
In case you need a refresher, what falls from the sky as snow eventually melts and flows into our rivers. We experience this every spring as many of our rivers become high and muddy with spring snowmelt. Several factors dictate how soon, how long, and how intense our runoff season will be, but when it really ramps up, the quest for clean water begins in earnest.
If hanging with the masses on the Missouri or Bighorn rivers isn’t your idea of fly-fishing fun, consider the Paradise Valley spring creeks. They offer clear, cold water and are close to home, allowing you to fish and be back in time for happy hour or the kid’s soccer practice. But these creeks come with a caveat: They are not always easy to fish and patience, or even a hired guide, ensures the best possible experience. Here’s some guidance on fishing these gems.
Know the creeks. There are three spring creeks in Paradise Valley. The largest is DePuy’s Spring Creek, followed by Armstrong’s Spring Creek, and lastly Nelson’s Spring Creek. The first two are located on the same creek but owned by different ranches. Armstrong’s Spring Creek operates on the upper portion of the creek and DePuy’s runs on the lower stretch. They both offer a variety of water features—riffles, pools, deep runs and flats. Nelson’s is narrow and shallow, but over time the owners have added structure to the creek, creating some deeper holes and runs. Anglers can access the creek by paying a rod fee directly to the ranches operating on them.
Know your ability. Being an expert angler is not a prerequisite for fishing any of these creeks. But the more experienced angler you are, the more you will appreciate this unique style of fishing. If you can cast 30 feet relatively accurately, you can fish most situations. If you can easily see fish subsurface—and that starts with a quality pair of polarized sunglasses—you will enhance your experience.
The ability to work with smaller tippets and longer leaders is a must. But even if you lack experience with 5X, 6X and 7X tippet material and leaders longer than 12 feet, that’s ok. What matters most is patience as you learn to work with them. If tying small flies on light tippets tries your patience, head to Craig or Fort Smith and fish big bugs on deep nymph rigs.
Excellent classrooms. Because these spring creeks are small and fished on foot, there are ample opportunities to learn. Add crystal-clear water to the mix and you may spend as much time watching the habits of spring creek trout as you do actually fishing for them. For the next few weeks, hatches of midges and Blue Winged Olive mayflies will occur. The behavior of trout will mimic that of the hatch. Fish will eat subsurface nymphs early in the day, getting more active as the nymphs begin to emerge. When the emerging nymphs break the surface and hatch into adults, the trout will eat the hatched adults on the water’s surface. Clear water and close settings create a unique environment to watch actively feeding trout throughout the day.
Hire some help. If this still sounds intimidating, consider hiring a guide who knows the creeks and their trout well. We know southwest Montana is an epicenter of master fly-fishing guides. Many of these guides focus on certain waters, and several of us have gained an appreciation for spring creeks and the selective trout in them. If you do choose to spend a day on one of the Paradise Valley spring creeks with a guide who is passionate about them, bring along a note pad.
Consider gear adjustments. Waders and wading boots are essential. A rod with a slower casting action or soft tip-action will help you make more delicate presentations and protect light tippets. Fly selection will consist of midges and mayflies in various forms: nymphs, emergers and adults. Use a fine tippet and a long leader. If some of this sounds new to you, don’t fret. But if you want to take your angling to a new level, spring creeks are an ideal classroom to do so.
My personal history with the creeks is over two decades long—way before the days of Facebook and Instragram—and their intimate nature of fishing suits my angling style these days. If you’re an angler needing the instant gratification provided by social media, you might find spring creeks aren’t for you; A spring creek trout doesn’t come as easily as a like, share or hashtag.
For more information about Armstrong’s Spring Creek, visit armstrongspringcreek.com. Information on DePuy’s Spring Creek can be found at depuyspringcreek.com and visit nelsonsspringcreek.com to learn more about Nelson’s Spring Creek.
Pat Straub is the co-founder of the Montana Fishing Guide School, the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and he co-owns Montana Fishing Outfitters.