The holidays are behind us and our attention has turned to the upcoming fishing season. It is always a challenge to make an accurate Montana Fishing Forecast, especially at this early date. We still have a long way to go before we will be sure of our snowpack. Spring rainfall and temperatures will also have a big part to play in how the season turns out.
While it is too early to predict with any confidence the specifics of our upcoming fishing season, we can rely on historical averages and the general patterns of our Montana fishing season. It is supposed to be an El Nino year, but so far it is late to arrive. El Nino typically means a warmer, drier winter but at the moment our area snowpack is near average with extended cold in the forecast.
Honestly, as guides and anglers we worry about this information a little too much. Over the past 20 seasons I have seen big snowpack years quickly turn into low water and a dismal snowpack winter salvaged by big rainfalls and below average temperatures. Bottom line, it will be what it will be, and often it turns out differently than we expected.
With that perspective in mind, our 2019 Montana fishing forecast looks promising overall. Here is what I expect:
- March-April: Skwala stonefly season. Many of our biggest dry fly trout of the season come during this hatch. Some years it’s a roller coaster with changing water flows, others it’s smooth and steady throughout.
- May: We spend the entire month on the mighty Missouri river. This tailwater provides more reliable water conditions during run-off and the over 5,000 big trout per mile doesn’t hurt either. El Nino typically produces excellent conditions for the Missouri with consistent nymphing and exciting dry fly opportunities.
- June: Salmonflies and Golden Stones, the mere mention of those two giant hatches sends many anglers into a frenzy. June produces more big trout than any other month around Missoula. Some years it is lights out dry fly fishing with huge dries and other years it is mostly nymphs and streamers. El Nino stacks the odds in favor of the dry fly anglers.
- July: Wet wading season is in full effect with a myriad of hatches through the month. We start the month with Goldens, Drakes, PMDs, Yellow Sallies, and finish off with Spruce moths and Hoppers. The fishing is solid, but we may have to set early alarm clocks if fishing restrictions go into effect.
- August: This month is becoming known for a time to find solitude in our area. Fishing restrictions and forest fires are a possibility, but anglers this time of year can have entire stretches of river all to themselves. Fast water areas are prime for big, juicy hoppers while slower reaches are the domain of technical trout on tricos and small terrestrials.
- September/October: Fall is our most consistent season. Any issues with fires or water conditions are a thing of the past. Hoppers are still on the menu, but several different mayfly hatches are the main attraction. There is a reason why fall dates are the first to book each year.
How will the 2019 Montana fishing season play out? It is anyone’s guess at this point. The only thing we know for sure is that we will be out there everyday enjoying what we do. Be sure not to miss out on Montana this year!
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.
Summer fishing season has finally arrived in Missoula! A big snow year combined with a cool and wet spring resulted in high water all through May and June. There were some great moments, but we did not see consistent dry fly fishing like we always hope for in June. That has changed. All the Missoula area rivers are dropping and clearing, and the dry fly bite has gained momentum in the last few days.
Based on the current conditions this looks to be our best July and August in several years. There have been many years where are temps are in the 80’s-90’s by mid-June and by the time we get to July we are meeting at dawn to take advantage of the cool weather and active trout. Yesterday we saw a high of 63 and we have been able to meet at a leisurely 8 am for weeks.
All of the Missoula rivers have plenty of water and the water temperatures are ideal for this time of year. The next couple of weeks will produce a myriad of good hatches from golden stoneflies, pale-morning duns, green drakes, yellow sallies, and caddis. During hot, low water years we run through our hatch cycles very quickly, but during high water years the hatches are much more sustained. The last high water year produced a golden stone hatch that went through the third week in July and we could very well see that again this year.
August is our sleeper month. Anglers are a little hesitant about fishing in August because of the chance of fishing restrictions and forest fires. As a result August has become the month with the least amount of river traffic during the entire season. If you enjoy solitude then August is the month for you. In a high water year we can have fantastic dry fly fishing in August. Hoppers are the main game, but there are also good hatches of tricos, fall drakes, and spruce moths.
We will be in shorts and sandals for the next couple months enjoying the best that summer fishing season has to offer. It promises to be some of our best dry fly fishing this year and the crowds will thin by mid-July. If you have a trip planned your in luck, and if you are thinking of coming out we still have some availability left.
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.