High flows create challenge for fishermen as fish thrive

On a clear spring day you can usually catch people fishing on the Clark Fork River in Missoula. It seems even a flood can’t keep some away.

Jeffrey Skelton was one of at least four people fishing behind the Double Tree on Tuesday. He said the water is the highest and closest to the Finn & Porter restaurant he’s ever seen. Still, he caught three silvers and was aiming for a rainbow before the day is done.

The area behind the Double Tree is one of few spots to fish in the area with many fishing access sites and even a part of the Clark Fork closed.

Finn & Porter staff said three or four fishermen is about all the bank can fit with the water this high. After all, getting in the river is out of the question.

"Right now our local rivers, obviously, are dangerous. And there isn't a fish in the world worth dying over," said Matt Potter, one of the owners of the Kingfisher Fly Shop.

He said it’s normal for the fishing to be rough this time of year, because spring always brings high waters, but what’s unique is just how high it’s getting and how long it’s lasting.

“It wouldn't surprise me to see first week of July before the Clark Fork is fishable," said Potter. By fishable he means 3 to 4 feet of clarity and waters that are safe enough to wade in.

High waters also change the game. Skelton was using sinking lures instead of surface lures.

"For fly-fishermen the ultimate is to catch them on the surface, and it's more fun to see them come up, and visually it's more like a hunting game," said Skelton.

Pat Saffel, with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, explained trout are sight eaters, and high flows make a river murky, but overall the high flows and flood waters are good for fish.

"High water tends to scour new habitats and clean areas out somewhat. And then the fish -- at least the trout this time of year -- really try to go into side channels and will often go into the vegetation that's been flooded," said Saffel. "For fishermen it's tough, but for fish I think that their world is the water, and the more there is, the larger their world, so I think, for the most part, they're pretty happy."

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