Missoula’s fall fishing season is in full swing right now. The weather gods have been kind, gifting us with cooler and mostly cloudy weather for most of the month. The fall mayfly hatches of Tricos, Mahagony Duns, Hecubas, and Blue-wing olives are coming off daily. Good casts and true dead drifts are rewarded with dry fly eats from wild trout. Brown Trout are in pre-spawn mode, and any stretch of any river could give up the fish of a lifetime on any day. We have been on the river every day which hasn’t left much time to update, so we will leave you with some images of fall fishing in Missoula.
August Fishing Report
Hoot Owl Restrictions have been lifted for Missoula area rivers and the August fishing report is looking much better by the mid-way point than it was at the beginning of the month. August is historically a wild card month. We never know for certain what kind of fishing August will produce and our fortunes can change on a dime this time of year.
Water, Heat and Fire
Those are the 3 things that our August fishing revolves around. Mother Nature is still in charge of this trout fishing game. High water years are dreamy with plenty of clean, cold flow and happy fish that are looking to eat dry flies most every day. High water years usually bring cooler temps and little fire activity as well. On the flip side are low water seasons like the one we are experiencing now. Low water is more sensitive to hot weather and the threat of big forest fires always looms. We had both this year, and that triggered fishing restrictions earlier in the month. The Dog Days of summer were extra doggy for awhile and the August fishing report looked pretty dismal at the beginning of the month. Then Mother Nature bailed us out with cool, wet weather for the better part of a week. Water temps dropped and the river flows bumped up some, and the trout certainly responded.
While we would prefer the kind of fishing a high water year offers, our current situation is almost as good. The Hoot Owl restrictions earlier in the season has led to a lull in river traffic. It’s simply not very busy on the rivers right now even though the conditions are much improved. The anglers that are out there getting after it are greeted by vacant stretches and trout that haven’t seen many flies recently. Unpressured trout go a long way to producing solid fishing this time of year. Lots of solitude with fish willing to eat a well presented dry fly is about as good as it gets in late summer.
At the beginning of the month our August fishing didn’t look to promising, but now we are set to float into fall on a high note.
What is Hoot Owl?
Hoot Owl Fishing Restrictions have returned to Missoula this year. Montana FWP puts these restrictions in place when water temperatures get too warm for trout to reliably recover from being caught and released. In western Montana our water temps can vary by as much as ten degrees in a day, and restricting the fishing after 2 pm protects our trout when they are most vulnerable. It is not an ideal fishing scenario, but we have dealt with these restrictions in years past.
Essentially we have been fishing a Hoot Owl schedule for the last 10 days or so. On freestone streams with no dam the fishing is generally best when it is most comfortable to be outside. For instance, in March and April when it is downright frigid in the morning our best fishing is often when it warms up in the afternoon. Likewise, during the peak of summer the fishing is much better when it is cool in the mornings versus the sweltering heat of late afternoon. Once the daytime highs start hitting the 90’s the best course of action is to set that alarm clock for as early as you can stand.
Anglers who have fished with us through Hoot Owl in years past realize it’s not the end of the fishing world, but first timers understandably feel a bit of panic when they first hear the news. The only real difference is that the Hoot Owl is a publicized piece of the fishing equation. Our guides and anglers deal with similar challenges throughout the season, whether it is the high water of June, big cold fronts in the spring, or early snow storms during fall. Every season presents a particular challenge and during late summer it is the Hoot Owl.
On the flip side, some of the best fishing we have seen has occurred during periods of fishing restrictions. Spruce moth hatches on the Blackfoot, Rock Creek, and West Fork make for incredible dry fly fishing and the hopper, ant, and beetle fishing seems to gain momentum each day. It’s still just fishing though, some days are great, some are tough, and most fall somewhere in between.
During Hoot Owl restrictions we will do everything we can to make the most of your fishing trip. If you want to maximize your time on the water we can pick you up at daybreak and fish hard all the way until 2 before stopping for lunch. Others choose to meet a little later and have lunch during the fishing day and that’s fine too. It’s your trip and we will do all we can to meet your expectations.
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!