Fall fly fishing in Missoula is beyond compare. There are many reasons why fall is a favorite for both anglers and guides; there are the prolific mayfly hatches combined with the last of the terresterials, the brilliant colors of changing cottonwoods, willows, and larch in the riverbottoms, and the streams vacant of tourists, hunters, pleasure boaters, and kids tubing just to name a few. Autumn truly is the anglers’ time, and it is the one time of year when a skilled angler will rise above all others.
Weather drives our fishing year round, however it seems to have the greatest impact in the fall. If you find solid overcast skies and calm conditions every angler on the water is going to crush them, and there will be plenty of smiles at the bar that night. The average and even beginning angler are going to have great days in those conditions while the skilled angler could very well have that day of a lifetime. Clouds bring the mayflies on and make the fish feel more confident. The whole system feeds on cloudy days and everyone catches them, but the skilled angler gets the chance to pick on those wise old trout that rarely make themselves vulnerable. Sure, they eat it on the foam line and who doesn’t like that, but there is also the big brown sipping in an out of the way spot. He’s no pushover so it still takes a long cast and perfect drift, but the cloudy day makes him an option and the skilled angler has the chance to feed him. Those are the days that fishing guides live for too.
The flip side is sunshine in the fall. The fishing can still be good, even great although the margin for error is much slimmer. They still eat the hopper all fall in Missoula and even some big ones make mistakes in the sun. The bugs will come too, there is just going to be fewer of them and the window of opportunity smaller. Dropper fishing gets guides through a lot of sunny days, but a good forward angle cast and drag free drift will catch plenty of good fish on dry flies every day of the fall.
The bottom line is this….if you plan on fall fly fishing in Missoula then work on your skill set, pray for clouds, and no matter what happens it is still a hell of alot better than being at work.