Montana Fly Fishing
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The Smith River
The Smith River : Fly Fishing Information
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The Smith River is an excellent river for both brown trout and rainbow trout. While the Smith River does not hold significant amounts of large fish, the river does hold lots of trout between 13-16 inches. What the Smith River lacks in very large trout, however, it makes up in relative ease of catching trout. Unlike many other popular Montana rivers, fly fishing the Smith River does not require precise fly imitations, light leaders and perfect presentation - although all of the above certainly will increase both your catch and the size of the fish caught!
This stretch of the Smith River runs for more than 40 miles, primarily through a wide open, rolling prairie with agricultural fields lining the banks. Access is very difficult on this section, as only a handful of access spots exist. Additionally, floating on this stretch is not really an option except during high water, the river is just too narrow and shallow. Unfortunately, during high water, the river in this stretch will turn very murky and turbid, severely curtailing fishing possibilities.
As a result, this stretch of the Smith River, despite its difficult access, is best wade fished. The Smith River Fishing Access Site, which lies nine miles upstream from Camp Baker, provides the best access. From here, a wade angler can wander up and down the Smith River and is likely to encounter few fishermen once away from the main camping areas.
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Brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout are all found on this section of the Smith. However, both the rainbow and brook trout tend to be quite small, while the brown trout average over twelve inches. The brown trout will be found in the scattered deep pools that exist, around undercut banks and hovering near obstructions in the river, such as logjams and downed timber.
When fly fishing the deep holes, large streamer patterns, such as Muddler Minnows, work very well. Additionally, small caddis hatches can occur on this section, allowing the dry fly fisherman to fish on top with standard dry fly imitations, such as the Elk Hair Caddis. Finally, as the Smith River flows through excellent hopper country, hopper imitations are always effective come mid-July and work well into September.
This is the most popular stretch of the Smith River. Floating between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge requires an increasingly hard to acquire permit. To get a permit to float fish this section, applications are due into the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in February, accompanied by a non-refundable $25 fee.
This section of the Smith River has both large populations of brown trout and rainbow trout, with brown trout generally out-numbering the rainbow populations. The largest fish in the river will also be found in this section.
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For the fly fisherman willing to brave the elements, April can provide for excellent fishing. Strong stonefly hatches occur in the Smith River generally beginning in mid to late April and last through the middle of May. Fly patterns for this hatch include the standard Elk Hair Caddis for dry fly fishing and the Prince Nymph for sub-surface fishing, in sizes 10-14.
The Smith River has a strong salmonfly hatch that occurs beginning in mid-May and can last through June, depending on weather and river conditions. Popular fly imitations include the Stimulator, Kaufmann's Stone and Bitch Creek Nymph, in sizes 4-8.
Beginning in the middle of June and lasting throughout the summer, the Smith River is an excellent river for dry fly fishing for rainbow trout using standard caddisfly imitations, such as the Elk Hair Caddis and X-Caddis, in sizes 14-18. Generally, the caddisfly hatches occur in the early morning and again later in the evening. While top water fishing using standard dry flies may not catch the largest trout in the river, it is very effective and can land many decent sized trout.
For anglers in search of brown trout, the numerous deep pools in the Smith River provide wonderful places to catch the larger fish. Use large streamers or Wolly Buggers, working them down in the deep pools. Also work them around any undercut banks and around obstructions in the river. This is probably the most effective way to catch the larger trout during the summer months.
Beginning in July, and continuing into September, terrestrials become very important, especially during the middle of the day. Hopper imitations, which are effective on most Montana rivers, are equally effective on the Smith River. Float the hoppers along the banks, particularly where the banks are brushy or grassy. Since the Smith River is so narrow, floating the hoppers right out in the middle of the river can be equally effective.
Fishing on this stretch during the fall is an excellent time to catch the larger brown trout. The water level should be up somewhat from later in summer, and the cooler water temperature increases fish activity. Work streamers and Wolly Buggers in the holes and around undercut banks and obstructions. Hoppers are equally effective at catching these large brown trout during the middle of the day.
Below Eden Bridge, the quality of the trout fishing drops noticeably. The slower river flows, combined with warmer water, limits trout fishing. Large brown trout can still be found in this section, although their numbers will be limited. Fish for the brown trout on this section of the river as further upstream, concentrating on the holes, undercut banks and obstructions that are in the river.
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