As we sit contemplating the snowscape from our cozy cabin on this January day, it seems fitting to reflect a bit on the trends of the 2018 Kootenai fishing season with KCA.
Weather-wise, it was a somewhat atypical start. Despite an above average snowpack, when the runoff arrived in late May, it was fast and furious. Daytime temps went from the 40’s to the 80’s overnight.
It felt as though we’d skipped spring and vaulted into summer, and the results were impressive. Dams and reservoirs strained at maximum capacity, while trees and other flotsam formed massive jams. One drainage over, the Clark Fork River overflowed its banks, and Missoula saw the highest flood levels since 1981.
Though it was certainly dramatic to witness such a violent flushing, from a fishing standpoint it shortened our window. Floating the smaller tributaries is something we look forward to each year, and a slow and steady runoff is best to allow us to accomplish that. Not so this year.
It wasn’t a total loss. We did manage to put in enough time in our spots to tag a few of those spring-sprung wild trout. And we loved every minute, though navigating swollen rivers requires skill and care. We found ourselves wanting to install a rear view mirror in the boat this year, after one too many submerged trees tried to sneak up on us from behind.
With the warmer daytime temps, the water temps weren’t far behind. We enjoyed ideal summer conditions on the Kootenai from the middle of June all the way through August.
It did get hot this year in Kootenai Country. The highest daytime temps of the year soared into the triple digits, with Troy registering 109 degrees on August 10th.
Luckily for us, the Kootenai River flows clear and cold all summer long. When other fisheries in the state are facing Hoot Owl closures directly related to warm water, we are blessed with perfect temperatures. Great for a cooling dip but more importantly, ideal for healthy trout.
Fall started with drizzle & dramatic fog in the river bottom but ended dry overall, much to the dismay of early season hunters, whose crackling footsteps alerted game well out of range.
It seemed a better idea to stay out on the water, and so we did. Our last day on the big river for the 2018 Kootenai fishing season was October 29th. In contrast to previous years, water temps were still in the mid 40’s. This kept the BWO and October caddis going through their namesake month, and our trout took full advantage.
Our insect hatches on the Kootenai were as good or better than we’ve seen in years. Starting with Grannom Caddis in June, so thick they formed golden veils around the trees, and followed by PMDs that pulsed all the way into September. Nocturnal Stones began emerging in the lower river mid August and October Caddis was great fun from September on.
Plenty of tiny bugs were represented on the Kootenai this year too. In August, the maddening black ants came through. The hatches are so prolific they bring every fish in the river up, including suckers and whitefish. The Pseudos and BWO’s that so love those cool autumn conditions were out in force at every opportunity too.
We matched the hatch when called for, but the big dry fly fishing was really where it was at for most of the 2018 fishing season on the Kootenai. Trout were receptive to large foam terrestrials right up until water temps began dipping into the mid 40’s, around mid to late October.
A boon to the Kootenai River system in 2018 was a longer growing season for its trout and other finned denizens. This was achieved through the efforts of the good guys at the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the management of Libby Dam in MT. By adjusting which gates the water from the reservoir is drawn into the river from, they’ve been able to raise the water temps, thereby extending the growing season. This will undoubtedly have a progressively positive effect on the overall biomass in the first forty or so river miles.
We targeted and shook hands with our fair share of the giants on the Kootenai this 2018 season, those rocket-infused Gerard strain rainbows and the occasional Bully by-catch. And while there don’t seem to be quite as many leviathans as there were in 2015, there are certainly enough of those next-level trout to make the difficult game of swinging a streamer on the big river worth your time.
Almost as much fun if not more than the trophy trout, were some of the hidden high-country lake venues we visited this year. We took our two-weights and tussled with brawny brookies and cutthroat. Not a soul for miles, picking raspberries along the way, and some of the prettiest and most gullible trout anywhere.
Notable for KCA this 2018 fishing season was the addition of a 16 foot jet boat to our fleet. We christened her ‘Tight Little Package’, or TLP for short. TLP allows us to change up our game and access waters we couldn’t typically in the raft or drift boats, or re-drift especially productive runs. It’s also super fun to pick up and run, and saving all that shuttle money doesn’t hurt one bit.
We’ve saved perhaps the biggest news for last. After a truly exhaustive search, we have purchased a sweetheart of a twenty-acre piece of land on a spring creek. It’s the perfect location for the future headquarters of KCA.
We’re currently deep in the design and dream phase, and with a bit of luck and a lot of planning, we’ll break ground sometime in the spring.
Overall we’re very happy with the 2018 fishing season. The river health and Kootenai Country in general are in a good place. We are incredibly lucky to be part of a tight-knit guide and angling community, and to be able to operate in such a special part of the world. For those interested in images from our 2018 season, be sure to check out our instagram page here.
Looking forward, so far so good. We’ve had a somewhat mild start to winter, but with a recent spate of storms, snowpack stands at 91%. We need more, but not to panic yet.
This is an el Niño year for us in the Northwest, which typically means warmer temps and higher moisture content. It’s too early to tell, but we’re optimistic for an early start to a great fishing season in Kootenai Country. We hope you’ll come and join us! Reserve your space today for the 2019 campaign here.