Mother Nature’s Gift
Much has been written about the relationship between fishing and the weather. Mostly because anglers have a primal need to explain away poor fishing with a plausible excuse. We love our excuses, but they are out the window right now as some great fishing weather has descended upon Missoula. It is the kind of stuff that doesn’t make the tourists very happy, but every guide in town is gearing up in the morning with a big smile on their face.
Solid cloud cover, some rain, and below average temps are forecast to hang around well into next week. That is the perfect fishing weather for Montana. The rivers will pump out steady mayfly hatches and the trout will look up with more confidence as the cloud cover offers them more protection from predators. The small dry fly game promises to be excellent in places like the Clark Fork and lower Bitterroot. In the faster water of the Blackfoot and upper Bitterroot trout will throw caution to the wind and hammer big attractor patterns too.
The best part about this latest round of weather is dropping water temps. There are already some Hoot Owl restrictions in other parts of the state, but this cold front came just in time to drop our water temps back to ideal levels. At least for the next week or so, anglers can sleep in a little longer and take to the water on a civilized schedule.
There are plenty of trout looking up right now around Missoula. They love the clouds just as much as we do. If you get the chance you should take advantage of the best fishing weather of the month. It’s only a matter of time before the sun, heat, and excuses return to the rivers of Montana.
Big Dry Fly Season
If you like throwing big single dry flies then the time is now! All the Missoula area rivers are dropping and clearing from run off and the big stoneflies are hatching. Over the next couple of weeks we will have more biomass in insects hatching than the rest of the season combined. Not only are Salmonflies and Golden stones coming off, but PMDs, Green Drakes, Caddis, and Yellow Sallies are also hatching on all the area streams. It makes for some of the best dry fly fishing of the year, but with so many bugs it can also be frustrating some days.
If you’ve never fished a big stonefly hatch you may be surprised to hear that there are days with big bugs all over the water and hardly a trout eating them. The reality of stonefly season is that the fishing runs in cycles. There may be thousands of Salmonflies on the water, but it only takes a handful of those giant bugs to fill a trout up. The fish eat hard, but eventually they are gorged and take a day or two off before feeding again. It’s gut wrenching to be on the river with Salmonflies and golden stones fluttering everywhere on the water and absolutely no rises. Most days we will float out of that gorged section of trout and back into some feeders again, but other days it can be tough from start to finish. There’s not much to do. Streamers and nymphs might help a little, but gorged trout just aren’t going to eat much.
Network to Success
Just like in the business world, networking can pay big dividends during big dry fly season. There are a lot of options around Missoula and while the trout may be gorged on the Blackfoot, they may be eating dries like crazy on Rock Creek. The more sources you contact then the better idea you will have of the big picture. The key to great dry fly fishing this time of year is being in the right place at the right time. Just a day or two can be the difference between awesome dry fly eats most of the day or staring at your fly as dozens of naturals float downstream untouched. Regardless of how it plays out this is still one of the finest times of year to be on the water in Montana!
Missoula Stonefly Hatches
We are getting closer by the day, and anglers all over Montana are awaiting the arrival of the Missoula Stonefly Hatches. It is always one of the most exciting hatch cycles of the year and timing plays a huge role in an anglers’ success. Giant orange Salmonflies will kick off the stonefly season and they will hatch first on the upper Clark Fork, then Rock Creek, and the Forks of the Bitterroot.
Better Early than Late
When it comes to the stonefly hatches you are usually better off gambling on the front end of the hatch. That is when the most aggressive dry fly feeding will take place and when the biggest trout will be on the prowl. Salmonflies are a giant meal for a trout and if you want until you see pics of bushes full of salmonflies before you head to the river you may be too late. Trout binge feed on the first of the bugs and after the first few days there is almost always a hangover. The trout are simply too stuffed to eat any more and the fishing can be tough. If you find yourself in that situation all hope is not lost. If you have time on your side then those trout will tie the feed bag on again in a day or two. If you don’t have the luxury of time then your best bet is to scramble to one of the other local options.
The Over Achiever
Salmonflies get all the publicity during this time of year and for good reason. They are absolutely huge! and manage to raise some of our biggest trout of the year to a dry fly. But the salmonflies little cousin, the Golden stonefly is the favorite hatch of many veteran guides. Like I said earlier, salmonflies can be feast or famine based on how they feed on the bugs, but golden stones are a little smaller and the hatch lasts much longer. This produces much more consistent fishing where we can raise good numbers of nice trout day after day without the up and down swings during salmonflies. Try throwing a golden stonefly even during a heavy salmonfly hatch and you may be surprised with the results.
Down and Dirty
The buzz this time of year revlolves around dry fly fishing with big, bushy dry flies but you don’t have to live and die with the dry. Trout are still gorging on stonefly nymphs and some days fishing a dry/dropper combo or straight up nymph rig will produce better results than strictly dry fly fishing. Everyone loves the dry, but some days it’s the nymph that gets the job done
The Current Forecast
We have been cool and wet recently which is great for the rivers, but all signs point to an early stonefly season around Missoula. There have already been some trout caught on big dries and the next spell of warm weather will bring the hatch on full force. It looks like early June is going to be the time for Salmonflies in 2016. Don’t worry if you can’t make it that soon, the golden stoneflies should last into July.
Missouri River Fishing in May
We love our freestone streams around Missoula, but we also readily look forward to May when we make the drive over Rodgers Pass for some Missouri river fishing. We spend most of the month on this awesome tailwater. It has become one of our favorite times of year during the Montana fly fishing season. There is a lot to love about the Mighty Mo.
Large Trout and Lots of Them
The Missouri river boasts large trout populations. Some years the counts have approached 8,000 trout per mile. This year it’s closer to 4,500 trout per mile on the upper stretches, but the real kicker is that the average size is a legit 17-18″ with several chances at 20″ class trout each day. Venture a little further down river and you will find more of a mix in age classes, but there are some giant brown trout lurking that can provide you with the fish of a lifetime. These are all hard fighting, line-ripping wild trout that can leave you with a sore forearm by the end of the day.
Variety is the Spice of Life
For a tailwater, the Missouri river has loads of variety both in the insect life and the styles of fishing available. Of course, nymph fishing is the most consistent way to find trout on the Mo but there is even variety with that. The safe bet is deep nymphing in the classic lanes, but short leash nymph rigs in the shallows produce some of the biggest trout in the river. Streamer fishing is effective and there is almost always dry fly fishing to be had in May too. There are loads of midges, blue-wing olives, march browns, and caddis that all hatch during the month. Anglers can search with dry/dropper rigs, headhunt for rising trout, or just prospect the likely water with a dry. Some days I wish we could 4 or 5 different rods rigged up because every technique would produce well in the right spot.
There’s really no place we’d rather be during May, and for the rest of the month you will find us over on the Missouri fishing the greatest tailwater in Montana. It’s not too late to join us!
Here in Missoula we are blessed to have so many fishing choices so close to town. It means that no matter what the conditions are we likely have a good fishing option in the area.
The challenge comes this time of year when we get a bump in our streamflows, either from too much rain or too many warm days which start the snowmelt. Some bumps we hardly notice, only lasting a day or two, but others like this most recent bump are substantial and can stretch out a week or more. It’s at times like these when guides really start to scramble and daily fishing choices become hugely important.
It really does become a chess game because how well something fished yesterday is of little importance compared to the morning streamflow gauge and how likely the weather is to have an impact on those flows. Of course, the safe option as far as consistent fishing goes is to run over to the Missouri. The 2 hour drive to that famous tailwater has saved many a trip for Missoula fishing guides, but if you run to the Mo every time the water bumps a little you will also miss out on some of the best big fish conditions of the year locally.
The two big benefits to water bumps are that it drastically thins out the river traffic, and the big ones come out to play. When the water gets high and off-color most local anglers all but give up on fishing for awhile and many guides either run to the Mo or cancel their trips. That leaves our rivers relatively vacant which means if you are willing to take the gamble you can have your choice on where to fish in solitude.
No Risk, No Reward
And those who gamble stand a good chance to find the biggest trout of the year. Higher water pushes those alpha fish out of their hidey holes and the lack of clarity makes them approachable and catchable. While fishing through these water bumps does have a bright side in the form of big trout, it also has it’s share of perils. Even the most veteran guides still get their butts kicked during water bumps. All of the data available may point toward a certain option being great fishing, and you end up grinding it out for just a trout or two. Fishing may be great in the morning and you can’t wait for the afternoon, then the river completely blows out as mud and floating beaver houses wash by your boat.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but as a guide it is very rewarding to pick the right fishing choices and put your guests on the trout, and as an angler there’s nothing quite like hoisting up the biggest fish of the year on a stretch of river with no one else around.