August is our slowest month of the fishing season in Missoula. The risk of forest fires and fishing restrictions have caused anglers to shy away from what used to be one of our more popular times. It is certainly understandable, but for the anglers willing to gamble on August there are some secrets of summer fishing that can make for an awesome trip to Montana.
August is your best chance to find unpressured trout. There are stretches of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork that may not see a guide boat for days during August. If you find yourself on one of those stretches where the trout have been rested it can provide some of the best hopper fishing of the season. There are a ton of fishing options around Missoula and many days in August you will have an entire stretch of river to yourself.
Early on, early off is the key to success. Water temps are most favorable early, before the heat of the day sets in. The trout know this and they feed most aggressively during this time period. Take in a gorgeous Montana sunrise and stick some nice trout when it’s most comfortable for everyone. Get back to town and cleaned up to make the most of all Missoula has to offer in the late afternoon and evening.
Skill is rewarded in August. A well placed hopper in just the right spot next to a log jam or a solid reach cast on target to a rising trout is the way to find the biggest trout during summer. Take advantage of your existing skills and be willing to learn some new ones. Time spent learning new fly fishing skills will pay off for seasons to come.
Take what the river gives you. We all want to fish single dry flies to large trout. Some days we are able to pull that off. Other days the fish are pounding droppers or they want to chase a streamer. Other times the trout fishing is off all together and we are able to have fun sessions chasing northern pike or smallmouth bass. Stay flexible in the summer to have the best fishing that you can. In the past week our biggest trout came on a streamer and another angler landed a solid pike for the biggest fish of her career. They adapted to the conditions and had a great trip.
We are enjoying some solitude and good fishing this August. Not much in the way of forest fires and no fishing restrictions yet. There are definitely some secrets of summer fishing and our anglers have been enjoying themselves on the river.
Hero or zero season has finally arrived in western Montana. At least that’s how I like to think about this time period when the rivers are finally dropping, but there are still a lot of questions about the fishing. In the next 10 days or so I am fairly certain that I will see some of the very best fishing of the season, but there will be heartache too. The only question is how much?
As a guide I try to gather as much information as possible to make my fishing decisions. Angler ability, reports from fellow guides, streamflows, weather, hatches, etc. all factor in to the decision of where to go each day. That decision is more important now than at any other time period during the season.
Some years I will have stretches where I make the right call 4 or 5 days in a row. The fishing is incredible, the clients think you walk on water, and if you’re not careful you’ll start to believe it a little bit too. Then there are stretches when you miss the call 4 or 5 days straight. The fishing is tough to downright miserable, your clients wonder if you really have a guide license, and you fill out applications for Subway at night.
The misses always hurt, but they are a little easier to take when you gamble on something that no one else is fishing. Those are home run days where you either hit it out of the park or strike out swinging. The misses that start to mess with your head are when you are off by only a few river miles, either just above or below the action. Hearing a fishing report from a buddy who killed them 5 miles downstream while you were getting it shoved is absolutely brutal. It happens to everyone, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
The problem with Missoula, and it’s a good problem, is that there is so much water. If we just had one river then we’d fish it everyday, take the good with the bad and move one. Not here, we have 350 miles and 4 different watersheds in play over the next 2 weeks. Every day, some guide on some stretch is going to have off the charts fishing. Other guides are going to go home with their tails between their legs. It’s not just chance or dumb luck, there is a method to the madness but there are no guarantees either.
I guess that is what makes June so unique. The chance at having the best fishing of the year, even your life, on any give day mixed with the very real possibility of coming up short. It’s not the best thing for a guide’s mental health or liver but it certainly keeps things interesting.
May on the Missouri River is always one of our favorite times of the season. MTO is over on the mighty Missouri dodging run off in Missoula and enjoying the finest tailwater fishing in the state. We really like early May on the Missouri because the river is typically low, the tributaries are clear, and there is some exceptional dry fly fishing and fun short leash nymphing. This year is anything but typical when it comes to streamflows though. We came into May with a river that was twice as high as normal, blown out tributaries, and cold water temps.
That made for some tough conditions in late April. Fortunately things started to turn in our favor for our first groups in May. The water started warming up just in time, and the guides used their creativity with the floats to avoid the bulk of the river traffic. Since the tributaries were blown out, everyone who was fishing was forced to the upper river. That can make for a crowded river, but we managed to stay out of the herd by using different meet times.
The fishing has been consistent all month. The deep nymph rig has been best for steady action, but in the last week the water has warmed up enough to fish some shorter nymph rigs with good success in the right spots. The tributaries are starting to clear up too and that has allowed the traffic to spread out throughout the entire river.
May on the Missouri River can spoil an angler and guide. Most would consider the high water less than ideal and still we are having good fishing everyday with lots of big rainbows from 16-20+” and some hefty 20+” browns mixed in. We probably won’t see the great dry fly fishing in these high flows which is disappointing. Despite that, every group of anglers we have had so far in May are already planning a return trip to the Missouri next year.
We love May on the Missouri River and look forward to what the second half of the month will have in store.
Run-off has finally arrived in Missoula, and our Missouri river guide season has started. We always look forward to spending the month of May on the Missouri. This big tailwater rarely disappoints with consistent nymphing, exciting streamer action, and some of the finest dry fly fishing of the year.
With a bigger than average snowpack we are expecting higher water on the Missouri this year than the last couple of seasons. That is not ideal for our dry fly plans, but just like in Missoula, higher water equals more big brown trout and everyone loves big browns!
The big browns are always a special treat, but it is a steady diet of 16-20+ inch rainbows that keep our anglers coming back year after year to the Missouri in May. The spawn seems to be nearly over for the season and those big rainbows return to the main river ready to eat anything that moves.
While the higher flows aren’t the best for midge and blue-wing olive hatches, the trout won’t be able to resist big March Browns and the hordes of caddis that are coming. The March Browns should show up any day, and size 12-14 mayflies covering the river will get some big snouts breaking the surface. The caddis will come next and we will get explosive takes in fast water.
We had an unbelievable spring dry fly season in Missoula with some of the most consistent conditions ever on our local rivers. Now it is time to switch gears as our Missouri river guide season has already started. We will be on the big river for the next month with heavy nets and smiles as wide as the big sky. We look forward to seeing a lot of familiar anglers and introducing a few new ones to the Mighty Mo.
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.