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The Best Time of Year to Fly Fish in Montana

The Best time of year to fly fish in Montana

Everyone knows the old saying. When is the best time to fish?  When you can get here.  It is true most any time of year a person can catch fish in Montana.  With that being said Montana is a huge state and has tons of great trout water.  Most likely the best place to Fly fish in the  US.  Somewhere out there the fish are biting in one of those great rivers of Montana on every day of the year.

Taking this into account most out of state friends can not come at a drop of a hat when the big hatch is on their favorite water.   Most must plan months out and hope their pick works out.   We get this question all the time in the store.   Folks are trying to stack the deck and make the most of the one week a year in Montana and plan according.  With this being said, there are three main peaks to the catching season in most of the western trout river of the state.  The first is pre run off.  The second is the last half of June and first half of July.  The third is the second half of September and first 10 days of October.


Pre Runoff for the Gambler

If risk and reward are your mantra and you like the black jack tables pre runoff fly fishing might just be the time for you.  Some of the best fishing of the entire year are in the window from when the river valley waters start to warm and the start of runoff.  Timing is key with the spring hatches.  Water temps need to be in the 50’s for at least a few days to trigger the bugs and fish.

Think about it this way.   The fish have been dormant all winter and now the water starts to warm and bug life emerges.  This puts the fish into a feeding frenzy.  Hungry fish make fisherman happy.  Also they have not been fished to for months so presentation and tippet size does not need to be perfect.

Where the gambling comes in.  Fisherman want warm weather in the spring to hyperdrive the fish feeding.  Problem is that too much warm and the snow pack tarts to melt and the rivers turn to something like chocolate milk.  A good rain storm with warm temps and the river is best left to white water guys.

Ideally there are about 3-4 weeks of good fishing in the spring.  On most Montana rivers it is somewhere from April 1 to May 15.  On rivers like the Bitterroot and Clark Fork the spring skwala stone fly emerges during this time.  These are like floating t bone steaks to the hungry fish.  On the Bitterroot and other low elevation rivers the best fishing is the first few weeks of April and then you start to get in gambler time.  On higher elevation drainages like the Madison the window is the last week of April and first two weeks of May.  This also coincides with the Mothers Day Caddis hatch on the south west rivers.  Once the end of May rolls around all bets are on the table about when the water will rise.

While spring fishing may feel like a gamble it can produce some big payoffs.   We routinely see some of the best fishing of the entire season.  Both numbers and size can  be better than any other time.


Stone flies Season

After the rives peak from snow melt and the high water starts to reside some darn good fishing is gearing up.  This time of year the flows are decreasing and the water temps are starting to rise from the snow melt subsiding.  The largest hatches of the season are on the way.

Stone flies are the largest protein source in the river.  In fact, studies have shown that trout consume about 60% of their food intake for the entire year during this window.  Most fly fisherman are familiar with the salmon fly hatch in the Rocky Mountains.

Salmon flies are the largest bugs fish will see all year.  Three inch long stone flies that are orange in color.  This hatch brings out the crowd’s .  In fact, it is a right of passage in Montana to fish the salmon fly hatch on famous rivers like the Big Hole and Madison.  While the fishing can be out of hand bring some beer because you will make friends.

We like the time just after the salmon fly hatch.  The fishing can be just as good but there are less anglers around to share it with.   Golden stone flies, yellow sallies, caddis and PMD are all hatching at the same time.

While the fish may not be single focused and you will need to decipher the hatch of the day the fishing will be just as good.

Salmon flies on rivers like the Blackfoot, Rock Creek and the Big Hole will be June 10-25 other rivers like the Madison and Yellowstone will be the end of June and even into July.  The post salmon fly fishing will soon follow soon after.

If you are looking for your best sure bet this might just be it.  The one problem is that lots of other folks are thinking the same thing.  You can avoid some of the crowds by fishing later in the hatches. Think the first two weeks of July.  Also try timing you are fishing.  We like going out at noon and fishing till dark to catch the caddis hatch.


Fall is for Fishing

As fall approaches the waters cool and the fish become active again.   Gone are the dog days of summer and sweltering temps.  The fish know the long cold days of winter are on the horizon and they want to pack on as many pounds as possible.

The good fishing usually starts some time right after Labor Day.  There will be hoppers and ants along all the banks that are just waiting to jump into trout food.  As fall cools off the fishing heats up.

We like the last three weeks of September and the first week of October.  As the cool of real fall hits the Northern Rockies the fish turn to bigger food sources.  The streamer season starts.  The fish know winter is coming and want the big bites of food.  Large streamers representing bait fish, small trout and sculpins start to lure the big guys.  This time of year we routinely see the biggest fish of the entire season.  Big flies make big fish.

The fall will also give you some solitude.   Most folks are back at school, watching football or hunting leaving the river alone.   If you like solitude and targeting the largest fish in the river fall might just be your new groove.


Our wildcard season

If you cannot make one of these peaks try the wildcard season.  This is August.  While it is characterized by hotter temps hoppers keep the fish interested.   Each summer as the hay fields are harvested and the only green grass left is along the river hoppers and ants crowd that zone.  The fish take notice.  Add in windy afternoons to blow them into the water and you have some darn good fishing.  While warm temps and lack of hoppers can make this a little gamble some really good fishing can be had.  Also, most folks will be chasing the last of summer lake days and the river will have less fisherman.   Try the hoppers you might just find the opportunity you are looking for.


The rivers of Montana are the best fly fishing waters on the planet.  While the fishing is always good the catching has some peaks.  If you are planning that once in a lifetime trip try one of these recommendations. You will certainly find some great fish.  Remember stop by the local fly shop and pick up some bugs to match the current hatch.  They will get you all set to be successful.

Fishing Reports and Trips

  • Fishing Reports

  • Want to know the most up-to-date information to find where the fish are biting? The Tackle Shop Fishing Reports provide you with a comprehensive look at current water conditions, recent hatches and flow data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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  • Float Trips

  • The Tackle Shop offers a range of full-day and half-day float trips in the Madison River Valley area. The trips are all-inclusive and cover files, rods, reels, waders and boots. Leave your worries behind and let us give you the fly fishing trip of a lifetime.

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  • Walk/Wade Trips

  • Enjoy one of our full-day or half-day walk and wade trips for a more immersive, slower-paced fly fishing experience. The Tackle Shop will cater to your individual needs so you are able to take in the sights and sounds of the best waters in Montana.

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