Fly Fishing,    Planning

How Water Clarity Affects Fishing

By Eric Shores 5/8/2017 5 minutes

As temps begin to rise, snow in the high country starts melting, and creeks and rivers begin to swell. This adds a whole new dimension to my choices of where to go fishing. A guy can almost always find a place to fish even in high water. Two factors seem to play a part—whether the water is rising or falling, and the clarity of that water.

As flows start going up in the spring, fish seem to get less and less happy. I think they get involved in some territorial restructuring. They’re down there playing grab ass. Deciding who gets to hang out where.

Similarly, as the water gets dirtier and dirtier, fishing gets worse and worse. Once the water stabilizes, the bite comes back on and sometimes with a vengeance. How much water or how clear doesn't seem to make that much difference.

The last couple of days the temps got up into the high 80s and things started to pop. West fork came up and is adding a little color, as is Indian creek. Water levels jumped from 1400 cfs out of Hebgen to 2000. It has killed fishing.

You wouldn't know it just by looking at the river. The Madison looks pretty good, a little high and a little off color, but fishing has been disappointing to say the least. But do not fear; all is not lost. What I'm going to do for the next couple of days is go fish some lakes. I've got some good ones around here, but that's another story. I'm just stalling until the river turns around.  

Fish don't like rising water, but they love falling water that's starting to clear. I've been on the upper Madison in the chocolate water and had great fishing. But it was light chocolate when it had been dark chocolate the day before. Don't fear dark water. It can be killer fishing. Especially on something big and black. Do your homework. Check the USGS numbers (many of which are recorded on Yobi's fishing reports), look at your area and figure it out. You’re looking for falling clearing water. If all you find is rising water getting dirtier go grab a six pack and find a nice clean lake.
This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
The Strawberry river flows into Strawberry Reservoir and out through Soldier Creek Dam. The first 8 miles below Soldier Creek Dam are BLM land. This stretch is one of Utah's most productive ... morebrown and cutthroat trout fisheries and is accessed by a trail that runs along the north bank. The Strawberry river has a population of Bear Lake Cutthroat that have migrated from Strawberry Reservoir into the stream.

12 miles below Soldier Creek Dam the river runs by the Strawberry Pinnacles where it is joined by the tributaries Avintaquin Creek and Red Creek. The narrow canyon that the river runs through is characterized by high, steep cliffs and dense foliage. The river flows into Starvation Reservoir before it joins the Duchesne River east of the town of Duchesne, Utah.

This water upstream from USFS 124 (Bull Springs Road) to its headwaters has strict regulations, including some sections that are closed year round to protect spawning cutthrowat and Kokanee Salmon. Check current fishing regulations before you go. Below the road to the top of the reservoir is closed to fishing all year. However, don't snub your nose at the section below the reservoir. Great fishing is to be had here.

Strawberry Bay Campground is located on the shore of beautiful Strawberry Reservoir at an elevation of 7,200 feet. The campground is set among rolling sagebrush covered hills next to Strawberry Reservoir. Most campsites offer sweeping views of the reservoir and surrounding hills. Small pine trees dot the campground but provide very little shade.

Starvation Reservoir offers 3,500 acres of fishing four miles northwest of Duchesne on Highway 40. A 54 unit campground, sandy beach, modern rest rooms, showers, group-use area, and fish cleaning and sewage disposal stations are available. Primitive camping is allowed at designated areas around the reservoir.
Game Fish Opportunities:
The North Fork and South Fork of the Kern Wild and Scenic River is located within a four-hour drive of more than one-third of the population of southern California. With its range ... moreof elevation, topography and vegetation, it offers a broad spectrum of recreation opportunities for all seasons of the year. Principal outdoor recreation activities include fishing, hiking, camping and whitewater boating.

The North Fork flows through Sequoia National Park and the Sequoia National Forest, past post-pile formations, spiked-granite protrusions and sharp rock ledges. The North Fork Kern River canyon within the Golden Trout Wilderness may be the longest, linear glacially-sculpted valley in the world. It contains regionally unique features referred to as Kernbuts and Kerncols. These rounded to elongated (parallel to the axis of the canyon) granitic knobs (Kernbuts) and the depressions between them (Kerncols) were first identified and named in the Kern Canyon.

The North Fork River corridor also includes regionally uncommon wetland habitat at Kern Lakes and the alkaline seep at the Forks of the Kern. The wetland habitat contains several uncommon aquatic and marsh species; the alkaline seep also supports several uncommon plants. The river's deep pool habitat supports a population of wild trout and also vividly colored hybrid trout.

The South Fork Kern River flows through a diverse landscape, including whitewater, waterfalls, large granite outcrops interspersed with open areas and open meadows with extensive vistas. The segment in the Dome Land Wilderness flows by numerous granitic domes and through a rugged and steep granitic gorge where whitewater rapids are common.

With a gradient of 30 feet per mile, the North Fork Kern is one of the steepest and wildest whitewater rivers in North America. The Forks Run is a nearly continuous series of Class IV and V rapids and waterfalls. The Upper Kern is a popular stretch of river for whitewater boating, camping and fishing. The Lower Kern runs 32 miles from Isabella Dam to the canyon mouth above Bakersfield, California.
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
4 hours - 1 day
The Strawberry starts above Strawberry Reservoir and enters into Strawberry Reservoir. It leaves the Berry Patch and empties into Starvation Reservoir, then joins with the Duchesne ... moreRiver below the town of Duchesne and Becomes the Duchesne River. The sections I guide on are the “Wild Strawberry” from strawberry reservoir to Starvation, and Below Starvation Reservoir. Both are very different and offer a different reward to anglers.

The Wild Strawberry

Cascading down from Strawberry Reservoir the Wild Strawberry is home to beautiful mountain trout. Rainbow, Brown, and gorgeous cutthroat trout live in this little tail water and love large dry flys. Fishing season here is June till October according to snow levels. You will not find a prettier place to wet your line then this stretch of river.

Fish usually average 8-14 inch’s with fish up to 20 inches available. A pure dry dropper stream that is a blast to fish. When going here plan on leaving early to get a good section of stream to fish. The fish are very spooky and do not respond to pressure well.

Strawberry River: Below Starvation Reservoir
Being a Fly Fishing Guide you get to explore new areas to find large fish. No other place in Utah has larger Brown Trout on a consistent basis. This area Produces large fish. But beware. Many of anglers here reports and come expecting much only to get their butt kicked by these wary fish.

Sight fishing and stalking skills can be the difference between a 20 fish day and getting skunked. I will show you how to find these fish, how to approach them, what to use, and how to land a brown over 20 inches. With browns over 26″ being caught every year this area holds some true pigs.

I guide on this section of Strawberry River year round and can help you catch a large Brown Trout. It will take work and some learning, but you will not be disappointed with the results. Plan on catching 2-8 fish during the day, but at least one of those will be over 20 inch’s.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
7 hours
Fishing Waters:
A full day trip on Ennis Lake near The Madison River and Ennis Montana. This trip meets in Ennis, Montana. The guide will meet you in Ennis and provide transportation for the short ... more10 minute drive to Ennis Lake. At the boat ramp guides will provide instruction on the days fishing tecniques and launch a drift boat or motor boat on the lake. This trip is not ideal for first time anglers but can offer really fun casting to rising trout for those with some casting experience. The guide will provide all the flies and tackle that you need for the day. All you really need to bring is a Montana Fishing license, appropriate clothing and sunglasses for eye protection. The fishing typically involves targeting rising rising trout with dry flies and dry droppers but fishing weed lines and flats with small lake streamers is effective as well. July and August are the prime months for targeting rising fish during big morning hatches. The fishing is usually done from the boat but wade fishing the flats is an effective technique as well. Wearing waders optional but recomended. At mid day you will take a break and enjoy lunch provided by your guide. The fishing on Ennis lake is typically stalking and delicatly casting flies to rainbow and brown trout. Ennis Lake typically will fish well from May through August. Late June through early August are considered the peak season. Trout typically range from 15-20 inches with fish over 20 inches possible. Fish in the 16-20 inch range are normal and the bigger fish of the day typically range from 19-21 inches. Ennis Lake is a great day trip to add some dry fly fishing to a Madison River or Ennis Montana fishing trip.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
3 days
Experience the Madison River Like Never Before Learn the best spots on the Madison River with 3 great fishing days with Red Mountain Adventures. Eric Shores, with over 35 years of ... moreexperiencing guiding on the Madison River will take you down a journey of the best places to fish.

The journey starts on the Upper Madison River on a guided float trip covering about 8-11 miles of premier fly fishing water. The following day includes a recipe (location flies, and technique) on a do it yourself wade location near the fly fishing town of Ennis. The third day moves you on to where the Madison River dumps into Ennis Lake for a full float day stalking the giants.

Note: The order or location may change based on where the best spots are at the time.
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.


Eric Shores

Eric Shores has been guiding clients on Montana Rivers for over 32 years. He's as wily as any old brown trout when it comes to getting his clients on to fish and his stories will entertain you along the way. Many of our clients have become life long friends after a memorable day on the water with Eric.


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