Rock Creek Runoff Report - May 13, 2022
CFS: 967 Water Temp: 42-47°F
Dries: BWOs, Gray Drakes, Purple Hazes, Small Stoneflies
Nymphs: Double Bead Peacock Stones, Pink San Juan Worms, Perdigons, Pat's Rubber Legs
Runoff season is officially underway on all the rivers of western Montana, and like years past, it's a roller coaster in terms of streamflow. As you can see in the chart below, warm weather and some heavy rains created a big bump a week ago, but since then, we've had cooler weather (a consistent theme this spring) which shot it right back down. This will be the trend over the rest of May with the river rising and dropping depending on what the weather does:
The best advice I can give for conditions like these is to keep an eye on this chart (it can be found here) and wait for the cfs to stabilize and sit steady for 24 hours. I've found this to be the best recipe for success when fishing high water. Rock Creek regains its clarity remarkably fast and becomes fishable when other waters are still muddy and murky.
Although the runoff can be intimidating (and rightly so), this is actually one of my favorite times to fish Rock Creek for a few reasons. For one, the crowds die down significantly, and the trout are relatively unharassed this time of year leaving more spots open and less wary fish. For another, there is minimal wading involved if you are on foot. I would still recommend wearing waders to cross any marshy ground or side streams while en route to the fishing holes, but you won't be wading into the main river any time soon. The third thing I enjoy about this time of year is it becomes pretty easy to figure out where the fish are riding out the high water. They don't want to be in the fast stuff any more than you or I would, so look for the soft, calm water on the edges or side streams where they take refuge. This can often mean having to hike a ways before finding another habitable spot, but if you are willing to put the work in, you can have a productive day.
When it comes to what patterns to fish, dry flies will be out, but the windows that fish will take them in are going to be pretty small. Until salmon flies are out in good numbers, I would stick primarily to nymphs and streamers unless you see fish actively rising. For nymphs, big stoneflies are a great option as the salmon fly nymphs are starting to move and the trout are watching for them.
I like using a double-beaded peacock stonefly to simulate this bug, but Pat's Rubber Legs are also an excellent option. If you aren't averse to fishing San Juan worms, try the pink versions of them this time of year. And of course, big streamers are very effective right now too. We have a couple articulated patterns that have been especially good lately; the Clarke's Rat and the Circus Peanut. The white versions of these streamers have been catching big brown trout the past few days. I'm not sure if it's because it sticks out better in this type of water or if the whitefish are moving more and being targeted by the trout, but whatever the reason, they are doing very well at this point in time.
Now that the water is running higher and faster, we're starting to get questions about the float season and potential hazards. I've only had a few boats coming up the road so far. To date, the upper section (Gilles/Bohrnsen Bridge to Egg-Shaped Rock above the Dalles) looks like business as usual with no reports of any new jams or fallen logs. Please keep in mind though that things can change quickly; we haven't seen the peak of runoff yet and that can always create new hazards, so stay vigilant and make sure whoever is on the sticks knows how to row this kind of water. With the lower float (Lower Fire Ring to Elkhorn/Tamarack takeout) there are a couple sweepers/strainers near Sawmill Fishing Access that require some skill on the oars to navigate, and then there is a log jam near Spring Creek to deal with. There is a side channel river right that can bypass it, but it is very narrow and technical and has a submerged log that you'll have to pull your boat over. Otherwise, the portage is about 50 yards over a rocky bank. As I get more info or new reports, I will update conditions. The other bit of news concerning floating is that the shuttle service is changing this year. From what I've been told, Bonds River Shuttles are in talks to take over the shuttling on Rock Creek this float season. I will relay more information about shuttles as I get it via social media and in the next fishing report.
With a little luck (and maybe some warmer weather) we'll see salmon flies on Rock Creek in the very near future. I will update all you anglers as soon as I see them on the bushes here on the lower creek. In the meantime, stay safe out there and tight lines!