Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Mar 25, 2013

In the turbulent skies of World War One, those early pilots performed Dawn Patrols, taking to air with the first hint of gray as the darkness of night began to fade. At certain times of the year I follow the example of those early aviators and explore the mysteries of the rivers during the early hours of dawn.

I thoroughly enjoy the wonderful world of fly fishing because there is so much to learn and there are so many challenges for the angler to understand and adjust to. Therefore I have been able to fill my days with the pursuit of knowledge knowing that each day can be different and that each river or stream holds its own secrets which must be learned and understood if you are to be successful. Also fully understanding that no one person will never solve all the problems or learn all there is know about fly fishing and that each day, each week, each month and each year brings new challenges for the angler. But enough of my personal fly fishing philosophy it's time to delve into Dawn Patrols.

My excursions into the hours of dawn are limited to the months of May to October and during late September and October it will depend on the water that I have decided to challenge. Now during the rest of the year there may be great fishing in dawn's early light however the air temperatures tend to be below what I personally consider reasonable therefore I will leave that time period to be reported on by others hardier and tolerate than I.

I will begin with the DePuy's Spring Creek which is within a few minutes of my home in Livingston; many times I have been out on creek with the first hint of gray in the sky. This summer I was out at dawn a couple of times in July and I can tell you that I was the only person on the creek fishing at that time of the morning.

During my outings in July both times as soon as I could see there were visible feeding trout and they feeding on drifting midge pupa and small Baetis spinners.  Each time the feeding went on till around 8:30 a.m. The anglers begin to show up between 8 to 9 a.m., and seeing another angler all geared up they ask about the fishing and were often surprised by the answer that the fishing was very good. However when I explained that I arrived on the creek in the dark and geared up and began to fish as soon as I could see the rise forms. Many anglers shook their heads and claimed that early morning were not for them. This is great for those anglers who don't mind being early risers, as seldom do they have to share the water with very many  other anglers, this was a lesson that I had learned many years ago from Gary LaFontaine.

In a discussion concerning the Madison River, which during the prime time season is one of the most fished rivers in Montana, Gary said "Fish when others are not fishing, where others are not fishing and how others are not and you will catch all the trout that they have missed". Gary was right with his advice and a couple of mornings I shared the Madison with him at dawns early light and we had excellent fishing by simply moving upstream through one the heaviest sections of the river and picking fish off the bank. This fishing lasted until the other anglers arrived and soon the bank fish had moved off into their normal holding positions.

There is really nothing very mystical about dawn fishing during the warm months of summer, first off under the low light conditions many of the larger trout will move to the shallower current edges along the bank to feed. The low light protects them from predators and the current edges along the banks are where a variety of food forms will be found.

They may be spent caddis or spent mayflies left over from the spinner falls or mating flights of the previous evenings. Furthermore many of the bait fish including Sculpins are very active in low light conditions. You also can encounter the terrestrial insects that are out during the hours of darkness including some species of beetles, ants and moths. During the early morning hours the mice are still out and active along the banks of the river.

So as you can see they are a great many food forms for the trout to feed on and therefore the anglers can fish their favorite sections and generally have the entire river completely to them self. In all the years that I have conducted Dawn Patrols along the rivers of Montana I can remember but a few times that I found other anglers in a section I wished to fish.

Another place that I love to fish at dawn is the Upper Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park and my favorite time to do this is between July 15th and August 10th. During this time period there are several stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies hatching and during the early morning hours you can encounter stoneflies along the edges drifting from the previous evenings mating flight and during late July and early August you may also encounter a Western Green Drake Spinner fall in the early morning hours.

Many times I rose in the dark and drove to the Upper Yellowstone so I could begin fishing at dawns early light and have enjoyed wonderful fishing until around 9:30 a.m. This is about the time many of the other anglers arrive on the stream and by 1 p.m. many are discourage by the slow fishing, but what they fail to realize is that the trout have already filled up in the morning and it does take a while for the digestive process to take place.

In recent years the number of Cutthroat Trout in Yellowstone Lake and the river has decreased however there are still plenty of trout in the river and many of them are large, as a matter of fact many are trophy sizes and are well worth the trip. Often I will stay until darkness cloaks the water at the end of the day but that is story for another time.

During the months of summer when I travel across the country to do seminars the only time I have to fish on my own is during the early dawn hours and seldom have I been disappointed so I know that this is just not a Montana opportunity.

So the next time you want a new adventure give Dawn Patrols along your favorite river a try. The other advantage to going out at dawn is to experience the sunrises. Sometimes they can be spectacular and often during the early hours much of the wildlife is still out and many times I have shared the streams with Elk, Deer, Moose and even Big Horn Sheep in some locations.

Now on my excursions into the early morning hours I don't always catch lots of trout or the largest trout, though at times I have, however the early morning trips are never a waste. They refresh my soul and bring me the joy fly fishing in God's great cathedral of the outdoors.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

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