Fall fishing in Missoula has finally arrived! It was a long and painful fire season with hot temperatures and smoke filled valleys. That all changed with a big cold front that brought cool and rainy weather to western Montana. The forest fires are not out yet, but the smoke is gone and this new weather pattern has kicked our fall hatches into high gear.
We have a smorgasbord of mayflies on tap with tricos, hecubas, mahoganies, and blue-wing olives all coming off right now. There are big October caddis in a few spots and the trout are still willing to look up for hoppers, ants, and other terrestrials. The next few weeks promise to offer some of our best dry fly fishing of the year.
All the local Missoula rivers have turned the corner with the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Rock Creek all producing solid fishing. Just a week ago we were meeting early to beat the hot, smoky conditions, but the best fishing now is an afternoon affair. Anglers can sleep a little longer as the dry fly bite doesn’t really get going until a little later in the day.
The other main draw of fall fishing in Missoula is big brown trout and streamer action. Since the weather change we have noticed more good browns on the prowl and that will continue through the month and into October. For those anglers willing to throw the big junk, there has been some good action and great visuals in the crystal clear flows of fall.
Fall is the anglers’ season. The reach cast, strip set, and good dead drift all play a huge part in our success this time of year. Those who know how to execute are able to reap the rewards of the finest season Montana has to offer.
Hoot Owl fishing restrictions have ended in Missoula, but Smokey Bear is still on the prowl with a number of forest fires in the area. Our weather has cooled off some and dropped water temperatures into acceptable, and even optimal ranges for fly fishing. 5 and 6 am meet times are no longer necessary as we start to relax into fall fishing mode.
The forest fires are a whole different issue. Currently there are fires burning at all points of the compass from Missoula. Air quality varies day to day based on the wind and weather. It is almost always thickest in the morning and then starts to lift and thin out as the day warms. Most days are tolerable if you don’t have any health issues, but there have been a few days where the smoke was awful the entire day. It is impossible to predict what the future will hold.
The one silver lining with the forest fires is that the smoke creates good fishing conditions. It serves as artificial cloud cover allowing the trout to feel more confident, and forces the mayflies to linger just a little longer on the water. The smoke also takes the edge off the heat. Instead of 90 degree days we have seen days in the mid 80’s which keeps our trout active longer throughout the day.
If you don’t mind dealing with the smoke, this is a very good time to fish the Missoula area. There is less traffic on the water right now than at any time since the peak of run-off in May. It will only get busier through the fall. Hopper fishing is in full swing with the real possibility to fish a big single dry fly all day. Tricos and Hecubas are also starting which produces a mix of very technical small dry fly fishing and searching with a giant drake pattern. Late August is a sleeper in Missoula.
Smokey Bear will likely be on patrol through the fall. Most of the experts expect this fire season to last until the snow flies in October. The air quality will improve however. Our days get noticeably shorter in September and the nights much colder. That tends to stunt the growth of our fires. They might linger until the snow but they should not be very active. In the meantime we will string up rods on vacant waters and enjoy fly fishing in Missoula.
August fly fishing in Missoula is always a wild card. The potential challenges are many, including forest fires, heat, low water, and fishing restrictions. Those are always variables, but the positives of August fly fishing in Missoula remain the same each year.
August is one of the slowest time periods of our fishing season. Sure, the tourists are still around for another month but the majority of those are novice anglers who see the same “easy” stretches of river day after day. For the experienced angler who knows how to fish a dry fly well, there are miles and miles of water around Missoula in August without another soul in sight.
Our insect hatches start to gain momentum as well in August. There is always a serious lull in bug activity during the end of July. Spruce moths provide most of the action in a few select places, but the hundreds of other river miles in the area don’t see much for a hatch during late July. Tiny tricos, big Hecubas, and hoppers, ants and beetles provide the food source our trout need to get active again.
Big trout start to prowl again too. Smaller average size trout seem to rule the day during the peak of summer, but as our days grow shorter in August bigger trout are more prone to make a mistake. Large rainbows love to sip tricos on the Bitterroot and Clark Fork, and it’s a good idea to cover every tailout with a good hopper drift as over sized brown trout love those shallow holding lies.
This season our August fly fishing in Missoula certainly has some challenges. There are forest fires and smoke, low water in places, and even fishing restrictions on a couple stretches. It is not the end of the world though as we have fished through these conditions before. We are getting up at the crack of dawn and off before the heat sets in. And when my anglers know terms like; reach cast, feed slack, and twitch, I get excited because there are some big trout in trouble that day. If you like solitude and technical fishing for wild trout then you will love August in Missoula.
The spring fishing season in Missoula has been one of the most consistent in recent years and there’s nothing on the horizon to indicate any change. Day to day the conditions have been good to great depending on the weather and stretch of river. This time of year we can be plagued by rapidly changing river levels, but this season we experienced a big bump early in March and since then it has been stable to dropping water so far this spring.
Trout get grumpy when river levels rise. They like stable or dropping water so we have had plenty of happy trout this spring fishing season. At some point we will start to get bumps in flow that will signal the main run-off is one the way, but those bumps don’t look like they will happen for at least another week.
The big news this week is the arrival of the mayflies. Little blue-wing olives, march browns, and grey drakes started to make an appearance this week. They were a little behind schedule this spring, but more than made up for it with blanket hatches a couple days this week. The mayflies add another fly choice to your trout catching puzzle. The days of being able to fish a Skwala from start to finish are probably behind us for the season. The bright side is that the mayflies get a lot more fish looking up and your chance of finding pods of rising fish increases too.
The debut of the mayflies is also a signal that more fishing options are starting to open up. The Clark Fork has produced some decent fishing recently, although now that the blue-wings and grey drakes are here this river will start to provide some of the best dry fly fishing of the season. The march brown hatch on Rock Creek is one of the best hatches of the year on the creek and a highlight of the spring fishing season.
The Missoula fishing season continues to roll on and it looks to be a smooth ride into the near future!
It has been solid fishing in the area, and the Missoula Fishing Report for the week ahead looks to be a good one. River levels are still well above average for this time of year, but they are stable to dropping right now. With the weather that is on tap that should remain the story for the rest of this week.
The Bitterroot is still the star of the show at the moment with clear flows and your best bet at dry fly fishing. In the past week we saw good Skwala dry fly fishing from the upper reaches around Darby all the way into Missoula. March browns, grey drakes, and blue-wings can be found on cloudy days and we have found a few fussy trout that would only rise to a mayfly. At times the river has been busy. The extra water this year helps but you still need to choose your floats wisely, especially on the weekends. Spring is your best chance at a really big trout on a dry fly and it looks like we will have at least another week of favorable conditions.
Some other fishing options are starting to pop up as well. The upper and lower reaches of the Clark Fork showed signs of life in recent days. It’s still a little early for prime time on this river, but fishing was respectable and you are certain to see a lot fewer people than on the Bitterroot. We had moments of great dry fly fishing, but dry/dropper was the norm. If the rivers stay in shape then the Clark Fork will only get better as spring progresses.
The Blackfoot is still mainly a nymphing game with tricky access in spots. If you are looking for a big fish and only need a handful of opportunities, you will find plenty of solitude on the Blackfoot. Wade anglers have seen plenty of success on Rock Creek. Dry flies, dry/dropper, nymphing, and streamer fishing has also produced bent rods over the last week on Rock Creek. The road is passable all the way through so there is plenty of water to choose from.
Fishing in Missoula has been plenty good so far this spring and we are excited to get back on the water again this week!