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.
June was a great month, and we have quickly transitioned into summer fishing season. All of the Missoula area rivers are dropping, clearing, and coming into shape. New fly fishing options in the region are opening up each day. The Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork are all fishing well and our biggest problem is deciding where to go each day.
Along with the new fishing options, there are a host of new hatches as well. Pale-morning duns, Bitterroot stones, yellow sallies, caddis, and the last of the green drakes are making an appearance daily. There is something for every angler at the moment. We have all day dry fly fishing to feisty cutthroats, post up rising trout scenarios to bigger fish, dry/dropper fishing for a mixed bag, and even some good streamer action for the die-hard.
As summer fishing season takes hold, we need to adapt to the changes. This year July has come in dry and hot. We still have plenty of water in the rivers but those willing to get up early will reap the rewards of cooler temps and more active trout. The last two hours of daylight this time of year can provide some excellent dry fly fishing during the caddis hatch as well. Just keep an eye on water temps, if the weather stays hot it may become too hard on the trout to fish the evenings.
As the summer progresses we will fish on all of our over 300 miles of local water in Missoula. It is a fantastic time to fly fish Montana. We have traded our waders for shorts and sandals, loaded up on the sunscreen, and filled our dry fly boxes.
This is one of our favorite months, and the Montana fishing report for June will tell you why. June is one of our run-off months when the snow comes out of the mountains and river conditions become unpredictable. That is the tricky part about June, but years of experience have also proven that June is our best month for big fish and epic dry fly fishing if you’re willing to be flexible.
Our local Missoula freestone streams usually come into shape sometime between the first of June and the 12th. Some years it is earlier and others it is later, but that is the average. When our local streams aren’t fishable we run our trips on the Missouri. It is a tailwater that provides consistent clean flows when our rivers are dirty.
This year we were on the Missouri until June 8 with great nymphing and some good dry fly fishing with PMDs. By then we had a couple options in Missoula so we fished Salmonflies on small, fast water for 3 days with good results. All the other options were dropping into shape and it looked as though the dry fly fishing would bust wide open in the coming days.
Unfortunately we had a huge rain storm move in with up to 4 inches of rain in the area. All of our local streams blew out and some even went above flood stage. Based on the weather forecast I moved the last 2 days of a 3 day trip over to the Missouri. My angler was a little reluctant as he had never fished the Missouri before. Two days later he had experienced some of the most fun dry fly fishing of his life, biggest brown trout ever, and a boat load of quality rainbows and browns.
I tried to get my next angler to move his 2 days to the Missouri as well. He insisted on staying in Missoula so on day one we ran over and back to the Missouri river. By lunch he mentioned it was some of the finest fishing he had ever experienced, then in the afternoon he landed 2 browns well over 20″. The next day we fished around Missoula and had to work hard for every fish in less than ideal conditions. At the end of the trip my angler said next time I recommend we go and stay somewhere to fish, he will listen.
At this point the Missoula rivers are again dropping into shape. We have giant Salmonflies coming off in several different places with Golden Stoneflies, and Green Drakes not far behind. We moved some huge brown trout on dries yesterday on the Blackfoot, and the big fish will continue to hit the net until our water clears and drops to summer levels.
We never know for certain where we will be fishing each June. The Montana fishing report for June this year has been unpredictable. What we do know is wherever that happens to be, there will be big fish and good dry fly fishing.