Missoula Fall Fishing

September is here and the Missoula fall fishing season is underway. What used to be considered a shoulder season has now become a favorite time to fly fish for many anglers headed to Missoula. Guides eagerly anticipate fall fishing as well.

The fall hatches top the list of reasons why September/October are prime months in Missoula. Terrestrials like hoppers, ants, and beetles are great options, but the mayflies are what keep the fish looking toward the surface. Fall starts with tiny, technical tricos but we also see huge Hecuba, or fall drakes, Mahogany duns, and Blue-wing olives. With that many options, fishing a single dry fly is a real possibility every day.

The diversity of good fishing options is another big draw to fall fishing. The Clark Fork, Blackfoot, Bitterroot, Rock Creek, and Missouri all fish very well in the fall. That allows anglers to spread out over hundreds of miles of water in the Missoula area. The fast pocket water of the Blackfoot fishes great and so do the slower glides of the lower Clark Fork along with everything in between. Variety and fall fishing go hand in hand.

Weather puts fall fishing over the top. Hazy 90 degree days are a thing of the past. The days are crisp and cool, the air is clear and with a little luck the clouds are overhead. As fall progresses the color change of the trees in the river bottom takes place and there isn’t a prettier time to be fishing in Missoula.

Fall is finally here in Missoula and we plan to relish every day on the water. Our waders are back in the truck and the dry fly rods are ready as we head into the home stretch of the fishing season.

We just finished up an incredible June, and the Missoula Montana Fishing Report looks good for the days ahead. We have had cool, wet weather for the last 10 days and that has kept our trout happy. Water levels are a little below average for this time of year, but water temperatures are still good and there are a lot of options around Missoula right now.

The Bitterroot has been our most consistent dry fly option. The upper river has been most consistent with great PMD hatches and afternoon golden stones. The mid and lower river is seeing the same bugs and certain days the dry fly action has been great while others it is a little more spotty. Dry/dropper rigs have been producing numbers when the fish aren’t looking up.

The Clark Fork has been another popular option lately. On cloudy days the dry fly fishing has been exceptional with PMDs, a few Green Drakes and Golden Stones. Big goldens in the fast water and more technical PMD fishing in the slow stuff. A deep dropper has been helping on sunny days.

The Blackfoot still has big Salmonflies up in the canyon and Golden Stones through the mid-river. Some days the big bug dry fly fishing has been great and others it is hit or miss. If you want to swing for the fences looking for a giant fish on a dry fly then this is a good option right now. Mid and lower river has been good for numbers of smaller to mid-sized trout on dry flies and droppers.

Rock Creek is closed to floating for the rest of the year and the upper river is a wade fisherman’s paradise right now. There are Golden Stones, PMDs, and Green Drakes still coming off in good numbers. Afternoons are the best and anglers who cover a lot of water with a single dry fly have been rewarded.

The best thing about fly fishing in Missoula is the diversity and right now there are more options than at any other time of year. There are a lot of different bugs hatching and plenty of fish looking up. It won’t last forever but we will take what we can get for the moment.

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

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.

 

image of Missouri River

Missouri River above Wolf Creek

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.