Missoula Fly Fishing Season 2021
The 2021 fishing season has arrived in Montana! March came in like a lamb with mostly sunny 50 degree weather after a brutal cold and snowy February. Normally I tough it out in the cold with a fellow guide for a couple days checking out the river before we start guiding, but this year the weather was so nice that anglers were chomping at the bit so I jumped straight into guiding. Long-time angler, Chris, was in town for a short trip so we took advantage of the perfect weather to get on the Bitterroot Thursday.
Despite the nice conditions, it is still very early in the season and I cautioned Chris not to expect fantastic fishing. He was on board with that program and we launched around 11 on the middle Bitterroot. It was really nice to feel the sun on my face and be on the river again. The fishing was about what I expected. Chris broke the ice a few runs into the day with a 13″ rainbow on a nymph behind a big root ball. It was good to get that first fish but then it wasn’t until after lunch that we found the next one.
Water temps are still a little cold and the trout are just coming out of their winter holds. Back eddies and slow water was key for us. All the fish came on nymphs, either on a dry/dropper rig or an indicator nymph rig. As the afternoon warmed up the fishing improved. The trout were all good sized from 15-17″ with one colorful cutthroat and the rest quality rainbows. Chris and I had a great time on the river today with beautiful weather and some nice trout in the net. The 2021 guide season is underway.
Friday was the first day of the season with local angler, Jim. I had morning meetings so we didn’t meet until noon which still allowed us to take advantage of the best time of day. Jim started off with a dry/dropper rig and it didn’t take long for him to come tight to a solid fish in the first good, slow run. After a solid fight Jim had a stunning 17.5″ rainbow to start his Montana season.
We came up blank in the next few spots and decided to try an indicator rig, but the water is still low on the upper river and we were hitting bottom too much for it to be very effective. Once we switched back to the dry/dropper set up the fishing improved. Like yesterday, it was very specific spots that produced and the warmest part of the day was best.
The highlight of the day was a long run that produced a solid cutthroat on the dropper at the top. Then further down the run where the water slowed, we were both completely shocked when a fish came up and ate the dry fly. Jim connected and we were able to net the first dry fly fish of the season on March 5.
We had 3 other trout come up and take a hard look at the dry fly but no other eats. The rest of our fish came on the dropper. It was another picture-perfect weather day for March. Jim and I were just happy to be on the water and didn’t fish extremely hard.
The rod was bent often enough to keep us entertained with a dozen or so trout. The average size was nice with only one small cutt, and the rest were cutts and bows from 14-16″ with the one big fish to start the day. It was a nice way to start the season with Jim.
Saturday I had the opportunity to get out with an old friend who I haven’t fished with in years. Pete used to guide with me in Missoula and for the past decade he has worked for various different companies in the industry.
The other reason I really wanted to get on the water was to check out a new boat I picked up over the winter. It’s a small 10 foot raft designed for 2 people max. It should be the perfect boat for some sneaky small water options or places with portages. Today Pete and I decided to swing for the fences on a stretch of the Blackfoot.
It is still colder and snowy up the Blackfoot this early in the year, but hardly anyone fishes it and there’s is always the chance at a really big fish. Pete started off fishing a streamer rig and came tight on a solid fish in the second run. It was a healthy 18″ rainbow that ate the big bug. He stuck a 17″ bull trout on the streamer just below that.
We worked the next good run really hard and didn’t connect with a fish. That spot had us scratching our head, but our doubts were put to rest in the next spot. I picked up a couple nice fish on a nymph rig and then Pete netted 3 on the nymphs and a couple more on the streamer. Further downriver Pete connected with a big fish in a deep run.
It was the kind of trout we were looking for today and after a tense battle he slid a 24″ bull trout in the net. A couple nice cutthroats came after that and then Pete was bent on another hefty fish.
The fish didn’t keep us in suspense for long as a big brown trout started cartwheeling on the surface. That brown jumped 3 or 4 times before Pete landed him. It was a brilliantly colored 21″ brown and a great way to end the day. I fished the last two runs with nothing before we slid the boat up on the snow at the takeout. It was great to spend the day with an old friend, and even better to see some big fish in the net.
The 2021 season arrived in a rush this year and it’s off to a good start. The fishing will be weather-dependent for the next couple of weeks, but after that there will be enough bugs around to make it an everyday affair. The early Skwala season is one of my favorite times. I will never get tired of seeing trout eating big dry flies in March and April! There is still some limited availability if you can sneak a quick spring trip into the mix this season. Schedule Your Missoula Fly Fishing Season 2021 Trip Here