Montana’s spring creeks
By Patrick Straub EBS FISHING COLUMNIST
The last week of July often brings the peak of our summer heat. This year we’ve also experienced unprecedented hot and dry conditions. Pair those with a drier-than-normal spring season and we’re now seeing an abundance of river restrictions and closures.
These restrictions and closures are management tools implemented by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to ensure the long-term health of our wild trout populations. For decades Montana has allowed for natural reproduction of the trout that swim in our rivers. If these trout become stressed because of loss of habitat due to low water or find it hard to survive because of warm water temperatures, the future of our fisheries are in doubt.
So, what’s an angler to do when weighing a decision to fish or not? The cold-water spring creek options here in Montana can serve up a respite for anglers desiring to fish cold water.
Spring creeks of Paradise Valley
South of Livingston are three well-known spring-fed creeks. Nelson’s, DePuy’s and Amrstrong’s spring creeks offer small-stream fly fishing in water that runs clear and cold every day of the year. Occurring naturally and emerging from the ground with water temperatures rarely topping 54 degrees, these creeks are home to plenty of wild trout.
All three creeks are located on private property and require anglers to make reservations in advance and pay a trespass fee. The fee in summer is commensurate to a day of skiing at Big Sky Resort. For anglers fishing the creeks for the first time, hiring a local guide is encouraged, but not required.
Nelson’s Spring Creek is the smallest of the creeks. Averaging less than 50 feet wide, the owners of the creek have carefully restored and managed the habitat to create a unique stream with a variety of water. From riffles and pools to long runs, a day fly fishing Nelson’s Spring Creek is as pleasant as it can be challenging.
Armstrong’s Spring Creek on the O’Hair Ranch is the source of the largest spring creek in Paradise Valley. With the water emerging from the ground in a scenic, mini cascade, Armstrong’s Spring Creek flows for a little over a mile before flowing into the DePuy Ranch, where it becomes DePuy’s Spring Creek. With several riffles and deep pools, fly fishing Armstrong’s Spring Creek has an enjoyable mix of sight-fishing coupled with prospecting with small dry flies.
DePuy’s Spring Creek flows for a little over three miles and has the greatest variety of all the Paradise Valley spring creeks. With several sections flowing through fields of tall grasses, DePuy’s is the best option for anglers who enjoy casting a grasshopper pattern in hopes to tricking an opportunistic trout.
And a little farther from home…
Big Spring Creek near Lewistown is a long drive from our area, but it is the largest spring creek in Montana. With ample public fishing access sites along its reach, anglers looking for a spring creek angling experience who have more time than money can make the long road-trip to this central Montana stream.
At some point in every angler’s progression, fishing a spring creek should be experienced. The creeks listed here offer a variety of angling options—from crystal-clear technical waters to riffle-filled waters with less finicky trout.
For those other days you are wanting to fish but unsure of the best approach in this summer’s heat, consider some of the advice for fishing in the summer heatwave contained in my previous column.
Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for nine years. He was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity.