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As is the case during most springs, many of our local streams resemble something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Like a golden ticket, fish are difficult to find unless you know exactly where to look.

Sure, there are fish to be caught. You’ll likely have to use more utilitarian techniques – or even lead weights (gasp) – to get your fly deep enough in order to dredge them out of deep holes.

With water ripping at thousands of cubic feet per second faster than normal in some cases, a day on the river hardly resembles peace and tranquility many anglers desire.

This leaves us with a few options. Two are obvious.

Anglers are catching rainbow trout fishing at Holter Reservoir in this file photo. Lakes and reservoirs can offer great angling opportunities while rivers are unfishable due to runoff. BRETT FRENCH, Billings Gazette

Checking out a local lake, pond or reservoir will be an obvious choice once you read the reports below. With big rainbow trout cruising the shorelines this time of year, there are some fun fishing opportunities to be had.

Find some tailwater. A stretch of river – like the Missouri below Holter Dam, for example – with flows dictated by how much water is released through a dam will have more stable flows and clearer subsurface visibility.

Your third option involves a bit of three-dimensional chess. Start thinking about banking some brownie points at home that you can use as bargaining chips during the more exciting times of the fishing season. Perhaps there are shelves to be organized in the garage, a tree that needs to be planted or a fence repainted. Maybe there is a pile of dog poop in the backyard that has emerged from a recently melted snow berm.

The dirtier, the better.

Cash in those brownie points later next month when the salmonfly hatch is going full speed, or during the fall when you’re swinging big streamers searching for that trophy brown trout.

Thank me later.

Top picks

Holter Reservoir — Good numbers of rainbows are being caught while trolling red or pink crankbaits out from Split Rock. Shore anglers are catching a lot of rainbows at the Gates of the Mountains, the BLM boat ramp, and the Log Gulch boat ramp. The most productive flies have been egg patterns, San Juan Worms, and black and red leech patterns. Using Power Bait, night crawlers, spawn sacks or spinners can also produce a few rainbows. — FWP, Helena.

Flathead Lake (South) — The perch bite is on in East Bay. Anglers have seen lots of nice, filleting-sized fish in the 8-11-inch range. With the weather warming up, those fish could be spawning by next week so get out as soon as you can. Small jigs like lead-heads and twister tails or anything similar should get the job done. — Chancey and Dave’s Fish Camp, Evergreen.

Western Montana

Beaverhead River — Fishing on the Beaverhead remains challenging with the low level snow melt causing tributaries to muck up the water. That being said, the colder temps may give us a break. Fly anglers are still catching nice fish up on Clark Canyon reservoir. It will be time to start using boats soon as the rainbows will be further off the banks as the spawn slows down. We are turning our attention to the Big Hole for now until the Beaverhead opens. Keep in mind the huge snowpack above the lake will likely fill the reservoir. Hopefully the weather along with kind irrigation practices will result in a great season on the Beaverhead. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River — Water levels have been dropping for a couple days, which should improve the fishing. Water clarity will still be low so use red or pink San Juan worms, bigger Pat’s Rubberlegs, Jigged Stone Nymphs or any flashy nymphs. Streamers that are flashy like Sparkle Yummy Minnows and yellow Dungeons should be top choices. Be careful during this time of year and know your experience level when floating. — The StoneFly Fly Shop, Butte.

Bitterroot River — Runoff is still ripping through and conditions are more dangerous than fishable. Seek better opportunities. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Blackfoot River — Runoff is in full swing. The water is big and muddy. Head elsewhere. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — Rainbow trout are still cruising the shorelines and providing great action on the north end of the reservoir for shore anglers. The best rainbow fishing is around the Outhouse, Shannon, Chinamen’s and outside of Kim’s Marina while using leech patterns, San Juan worms, egg sacks, worms or spinners. A few rainbows are being caught around Hole in the Wall by boat anglers trolling spoons or crankbaits. The south end of the reservoir is slow fishing with poor water visibility and a lot of debris floating in the water due to high runoff. — FWP, Helena.

Clark Fork River, Missoula — Runoff has rendered this stretch of water unfishable for the time being. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Echo Lake, Bigfork — The catching has been good for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Jerk baits, swimbaits and crankbaits have all gotten bit. — Chancey and Dave’s Fish Camp, Evergreen.

Gallatin River — The Gallatin is too high and muddy to fish. Check out ponds or lakes around Bozeman if you are in the area and itching to do a little fishing. Otherwise, head elsewhere. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Hauser Reservoir — Some nice rainbows are being picked up while trolling orange crankbaits in the Causeway arm and out from Black Sandy. Shore anglers are finding most rainbows at the York Bridge boat ramp while using San Juan worms or egg patterns. Using Power Bait, night crawlers or spinners at the Causeway Bridge is also producing a few rainbows. Walleye are being picked up on Lake Helena while pulling perch colored crankbaits, bottom bouncers and crawler harnesses, or various jigs. — FWP, Helena.

Lake Koocanusa — The rainbow trout fishing is picking up and expected to improve with temperatures on the rise. Trolling purple-colored plugs or lures imitating small kokanee have garnered the most success. Boat launches are reportedly in good shape. — Chancey and Dave’s Fish Camp, Evergreen.

Madison River, Lower — This is really the only fishable stretch of water in this part of the state. Flows are around 2060 CFS but rising daily. For dry flies, Rs2s, midges and baetis flies will be first out of your box. For subsurface action, tie on a Rubberlegs, SJ Worms, small baetis or midge nymphs. You can also trying swinging streamers like sparkle minnows, Kreelex Minnow or a small bugger. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Missouri River, below Holter — This stretch of the Missouri is fishing good with most fish being caught on nymphs and streamers. Size 16-18 Becky’s Midge Cluster, Cluster Midge, Edtendo BWO, Showshoe Dun BWO, Film Critic BWO or a DOA Cripple Baetis will be your go-to dry flies. If fish aren’t taking the dries, you give try a variety of nymphs such as 3-T Jigged Gunner 3-T Trench Size, Panty Dropper Jig Baetis Size, 3-T Mosassin A-Baetis, 3-T Flashback Gunner, Jigged Pink Mosassin, Ninch’s Pill Popper, pink scud or a zebra midge. If you feel like huckin’ some meat, Olive Thin Mints, Nick’s MoJo Minnow Yellow Perch, Coffey’s CH Sparkle Minnow, Keller’s She Demons or Miller-Time Streamers can all produce bites. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.

Noxon Rapids Reservoir — The season is just getting going and anglers are starting to catch walleye, pike and bass. Walleye can be had on deep-diving crankbaits. Pike are chasing inline spinners, and some people are having success taking them on the fly. Bass are biting jigs and soft plastics near steep rocky banks that lead into shallow water. — Lakeside Motel and Resort.

Rock Creek, Philipsburg — This stretch is still high, fast and muddy. That said, the fish are still eating. Try wading side channels for the best fishing. Some flies to try include black or purple Micro Chubbies in size 14, Purple Haze size 12-20 or a March Brown soft hackle emerger size 12-14. For subsurface action, tie on a pheasant tail, SJ Worm or a TJ Hooker in coffee or black. You can also try swinging a size 6 Kreelex Minnow in copper and gold. — Flint Creek Outdoors, Philipsburg.

Rock Creek, Missoula — Runoff is going strong. Water has dropped a little but it’s still big and brown. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Matthew Kiewiet is the managing editor of the Independent Record and The Montana Standard. 

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