Montana Fly Fishing Seasons
March, April, May
The spring season in Montana offers a very diverse menu of fishing opportunities. It is also the least crowded season on all Montana waters. We believe it’s some of the best fishing we have to offer. As always, the scenery never quits as the mountains are covered in snow and the valley bottoms are green with new growth. The longer days and warming temperatures force trout to get on the feed as they snap out of their slow winter mode. With fish getting active, any fly fisherman’s favorite style can be effective. Nymphing is a great producer in the spring as aquatic insects start moving on the bottom of the rivers and throughout the water column. If you like to streamer fish, this time of year can be really exciting on our home freestone river. Sculpins molt in April, leaving them vulnerable to aggressive trout. It’s my opinion that the spring offers the best streamer grab we have. If you like to dry fly fish, the hatches and top water action can be second to none. Midge hatches occur daily, and there is also a chance to see Beatis, March Browns, and the famous Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch. Freestones, such as the Yellowstone, and tailwaters, like the Missouri, can fish very well in the spring. It is one of our favorite times to fish the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks as well. Spring is an all around great time of year to visit Montana.
As much as we believe spring is a great time to fish here, it has it’s inherent risks and tradeoffs. Like anytime of year in Montana, Mother Nature likes to play tricks on us. The weather can be challenging. Spring can be sunny and 70 degrees one day, then snowing and 20 degrees with north wind the next. Big weather swings do affect the fishing: too much sun and warm temperatures can blow out our home waters with run off, too much cool weather can shut down the bite and make a day on the water challenging. Usually, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us, we can have great fishing opportunities. An angler has to be prepared with the proper gear and a flexible attitude to truly experience what this time of year has to offer. It can be very rewarding.
June, July, August
Summer in Montana is our peak fishing season. The great fishing, pleasant weather, and nonstop scenery are a recipe for what makes our area so special this time of year. A day on the Yellowstone with shorts, sandals and sunshine while throwing big hoppers for wild trout is as good as it gets. Summer fishing from a raft or drift boat is an annual trip for many of our clients, and those dates on the calendar are spoken for year after year.
We spend the month of June up on the Missouri River while our home waters and other freestones are in muddy run off conditions. This tailwater fishery is 90% resistant to mud. Dam controlled tailwaters such as the Missouri might have big water, but it is clear and fish-able. This river boasts some of the best trout numbers and size in the state, and the fishing proves it. If you are into the numbers and size game, you should spend some time on this river. Like most tailwaters, you will not be alone. It is a very popular fishery. However, the size of the river and its high fish density handles the pressure very well. As is true to most tailwaters, the majority of the fish are caught nymphing. The Missouri has an incredible bio-mass and the fish can gorge themselves on a high quality diet all below the surface, hence the average large size and high numbers of fish per mile. Simply put, the Missouri is a big fish factory. Though most of the fishing is sub surface, there are opportunities to get some great dry fly fishing with the right conditions. There are very good PMD, Yellow Sally, and Caddis hatches on the Missouri, and with some fortunate timing, you can have world class dry fly fishing. The Missouri is a different scene than the Yellowstone, but if you don’t mind some company, it has tremendous fishing opportunities.
The first week of July finds us back home in Livingston. I am always excited to start the summer season here. Between the freestones and the famous PMD hatches on the Spring Creeks, this is a great time to fish this area. We take pride in this natural freestone fishery and the dry fly fishing opportunities it offers. In the summer months, we live and die by the dry fly. That’s our game and that is what these fisheries are all about. In early July, the Yellowstone, Boulder, Stillwater, and Upper Madison Rivers are clearing up and have potential for the “big bugs”. The famous Salmonfly Hatch usually hits the Upper Madison first, then the Yellowstone. Fish gorge on the salmon flies and golden stones after a month or better of muddy water. Throwing 3 inch dry flies tight to a bank with the possibility of the largest trout in the river coming up to eat, is a reality. Timing is everything, but if one is fortunate enough to see this hatch, they won’t soon forget it.
As July progresses and the big stoneflies are gone, we see plenty of Golden Stones, Nocturnal Stones, Yellow Sallies, and a menagerie of caddis. The trout in our home waters feed well in the summer; it is their peak growing season and they are opportunists. Well placed dry fly drifts are rewarded with great trout eats.
As July winds down and August rolls in, we get to another coveted time here: hopper season. As the temperatures rise, the aquatic hatches dwindle and the trout focus on terrestrials. A hopper blown into the water is a high protein meal and the fish key on them. We see some of the thickest and healthiest fish of the year now, and all on the dry. This is our time to shine, and it’s tough to beat the Yellowstone River in July or August. We are also permitted to operate in Yellowstone National Park, and this tremendous walk wade fishery has so much to offer. There are many reasons that July and August are our most popular months. If you plan on coming out in these months, please book as early as possible as guides calendars fill up quickly.
Like our spring and fall fishing, there are certain risks and tradeoffs in the summer as well. Mother Nature always keeps us honest. A summer thunderstorm in Yellowstone Park can blow out rivers in mud for a day or two, making clean water tough to find at times. An unseasonably hot and drought stricken year can lower the water levels and raise the water temperature to make conditions tough. However, on average this is the prime time for Montana’s fisheries and the fish are very actively feeding as this is the peak of their growing season. As we stated before, there are many reasons why this is the most popular time to be here. With that, it is the most crowded time on Montana’s fisheries. However, we are fortunate that our home water has over 100 miles of great trout water available. We have a very diverse fishing menu here that creates plenty of options no matter how many folks are around and what Mother Nature throws our way. Between the big rivers, smaller tributaries, private Spring Creeks, Yellowstone National Park, and other private waters, we can offer a summer fishing trip that exceeds your expectations.
It’s great to be in Montana in the Fall. From Indian Summer in September to the frosty mornings in October, the transition to the colder months offers good fishing and beautiful scenery. In addition, and the crowds have left for the year. The fish are still feeding well as the ambient and water temperatures remain at a good level. In September, we are still fishing the heat of the day terrestrial bite: hoppers,ants, and beetles. With the waning angler pressure, September can have great terrestrial fishing. There is also a transition that happens this time of year. With the cooling temperatures, the fisheries will get more aquatic hatches again. We see predominately Green Drakes, Fall Beatis, and some Fall Caddis on our home waters. These hatches can be a lot of fun as it seems that the fish sense the oncoming winter months and are packing away as much protein as they can. At times you can really see the “heat of the day bite” in the Fall. As the day warms up, the water temperatures rise to their optimum level and the fish feed heavily in a several hour window. With the aquatic hatches getting stronger, short leash nymphing techniques come back into play and can be big producers for heavy trout. October is also known for its fall streamer fishing for Browns. Brown trout spawn in the late fall, and usually October finds them going through some pre-spawn activities that can make them very aggressive. The streamer chases and grabs this time of year can be great. We have very solid fall fishing opportunities on both our local free stones and the tailwaters such as the Lower Madison and Missouri. Fall fishing is always a favorite of our routine clients.
As with the other seasons, fall fishing in Montana is not with out some risks. The weather is the biggest factor, as with any other time of year. Similar to the spring, you can be fortunate one day and have ideal weather conditions and the next day it’s a cold storm out of the north and 25 degrees. On lower water years the fall can be challenging at times as it seems the fish have simply had enough of the pressures of a busy summer and are hiding somewhere. Fortunately, these scenarios are rare. Most years we enjoy very solid fall fishing with very active fish, pleasant weather, and best of all, we again have the place to ourselves. If you find yourself here in the fall, a day or two of fishing is certain to be a great experience.