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Montana Fishing Guide – Following the Progression of Montana Fishing Cycles and Hatches
Montana’s fishing and hatching seasons vary slightly from year to year, but always follow the same annual pattern. The early fishery is dominated by hatches of aquatic insects and the timing of these hatches varies by a few weeks from year to year depending on water flows and temperatures.
Pre-runoff produces excellent fishing in Montana with little competition. It’s a great time of year to fish for some of the best hatchlings the state has to offer, including blue-winged olives that hatch prolifically on cloudy days in April and mid-May, walking brown mayfly (large mayfly that displaces large fish in late April early May), skwala sandfly and Mother’s Day caddisfly (early May). The Mother’s Day Caddis is a full cover trap and can produce the best catch of the year if you catch it correctly (late April, early May). The streams in Livingston Spring have been on fire this time of year since the rainbow hoards moved into the smaller waters for spawning. A favorite season of our Montana fishing guides, it’s the only time of year when you get a real shot at 20+ days of fishing the ultra-technical spring creeks.
Late May-early June
Some of the great freestone rivers are blown over by melting snow. It’s still a good time to fish if you want to organize a trip to the Missouri River or Big Horn, which are controlled by dams, have an impressive number of fish and are always clear. In normal water years, this is also the best time of year to catch brown monsters in the Lower Madison River (also controlled by a dam). Some of the private spring creeks as well as private ranches like the ponds at Sitz Ranch are on fire during this time of transition from spring to summer. Fishing opportunities in Bozeman are also good at some source creeks in the Gallatin River Valley.
Mid June-early July
Once the runoff decreases on a given river, there’s often a magical two to three week fishing window where the fish are stupid and hungry and we can cast big, ugly dry flies and streamers on heavy spikes. This is a very popular time as the weather is good, the fishing is constant and the big trout are still easy to fool. These dates tend to go faster than others as a result. This is a better time for float fishing due to the amount of water in the rivers, although some wading opportunities still exist on portions of the Madison River, spring creeks, and smaller waters. It’s also the time of year to try and hunt the giant salmon fly hatch if you want to spend a day or two swinging for the fences and be one of the lucky few who can watch a brown 28 inches eat a size 4 dry fly.
Early July-end of July
Early July to late July is another very popular time of year. The weather is ideal and the rivers are in great shape. This time of year is dominated by the hatching cycles of aquatic insects, including caddis, golden stones, yellow sallies and pale morning duns. Dry fly fishing really kicks off at this time of year when conditions are good and there are plenty of fishing opportunities on almost any fishery. This is one of the best seasons to target the Boulder and Yellowstone rivers. The Madison River is also a winner in early summer.
End of July-mid September
The rivers are starting to drop and develop a lot of definition. Aquatic hatches slow down in rivers but intensify on lakes. Terrestrials like ants and larvae become important. Fish begin to concentrate in specific areas like seams under gravel bars, around rocks, in depressions and gravel shelves, etc. Most Montana fishing guides love this time of year because you can really work the water and pick the best buckets. This time of year we like to mix in a lot of float assisted fishing where we float the fish, but also get out there and wade in a lot of prime spots to hit those aggregations of fish. The lakes also catch fire when the callibaetis start hatching like clockwork in the late morning on Lake Ennis and Hebgen as well as some private reservoirs with onsite fishing opportunities for very large trout. Dry fly fishing is often very good, but we also like to take advantage of the absence of aquatic hatchers and nymph or sculpin patterns looking for big fish. Some very large fish succumb to both grubs and subterranean sculpins in late summer. This is another popular time of year due to the good weather and various fishing opportunities.
Do you like swinging for the fences? Don’t have a picture of a real monster trout on your desk? October is the time of year to think big or go home. Brownies are starting to get aggressive as they prepare to spawn in early November. As a result, large fish that have been either too smart or too hidden for the rest of the summer suddenly become less wary and more aggressive. Lots of big fish also come out of tanks and into rivers like the Madison River and the Upper Missouri River, allowing a few lucky anglers to get tangled up with 10-15 pounds. turns brown each fall. The Yellowstone River also produces massive browns during the fall run. Catch rates are not necessarily better than at other times of the year, in fact they are sometimes lower since we often purposely target big fly trophies. The rivers are almost empty because many of us locals hunt hoofed creatures in the hills and the tourists have gone home for the summer. It’s a great time to fish with snow on the peaks and yellow leaves on the aspens and poplars. I love hitting Upper Missouri near Townsend this time of year trying to catch some of the 22-30 inch browns and rainbows that come out of Canyon Ferry.
Some years the good fall fishing extends into November, and other years winter comes around Halloween. We do not recommend booking trips between November and March as the weather can be quite unpleasant. We have great winter fishing on the Gallatin River and Spring Creeks on nice winter days and we fish quite a bit in the off season, so don’t leave your rod behind if you’re traveling by ski or snowmobile.
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