Missoula Fly Fishing – Spring Recap

Lunch on the Bitterroot
Lunch always tastes better on the banks of a river

The spring Missoula fly fishing season is coming to a close as we transition into run-off.  Looking back it was the most interesting spring in my guiding career.  Snowstorms pounded us in Feb., and a warm spell at the end of the month actually blew the rivers out before we even started fishing.  Fortunately the dominant weather pattern was relatively cool and the Bitterroot river and Clark Fork shaped back up for most of the spring.

Missoula fly fishing in the snow
Cold start to the season
big snow in Missoula
Too much of a good thing in Missoula









While the local rivers did drop and clear, the flows remained above historical averages for the duration of March and April.  That translated into challenging Missoula fly fishing conditions.  The spring is famous for the Skwala stonefly hatch and a typical season brings dry/dropper fishing in the morning and then some of the best single dry fly afternoons of the year.

Missoula fly fishing, the skwala stonefly
The big bug that gets everything started

The Skwalas came sporadically this year and rarely in great numbers.  There were moments of greatness, and windows where we were able to play the single dry fly game.  However the dry/dropper rig was the rule day in and day out, and we even employed the straight nymph rig at times.  The upside was with bigger river flows it kept the big fish in play all spring.  Those hook-jawed browns and big rainbows couldn’t hide like they can in lower flows which meant some hefty trout in the net each day.  There were also some good hatches of blue-wings, especially late in the spring and the little dry stung some nice trout toward the end of April.  The big mystery was the lack of March Browns/Grey Drakes this year.  We never got the water temps needed to get those big bugs hatching in mass.

Bitterroot brown trout
The big browns were on the prowl this spring

The other storyline for Missoula fly fishing was the Missouri river.  We are extremely fortunate to have the best tailwater river in the West only a 2 hour drive away.  I spent more time on the Missouri this Skwala season than during a normal spring, but it was time well spent.  With the local rivers running above average it didn’t take much to put them out of shape for a day or two which mean a drive over the continental divide nearly every week of the spring.  The highway time was well worth it though with an incredible number of big, hard fighting rainbows and some great brown trout too.  The nymphing has been phenomenal on the Missouri, and even with the rainbow spawn going on right now there are still plenty of trout in the main river to keep anglers busy.  A couple of my long-time clients remarked that it is the best fishing they’ve had in years.

Missouri river view
Missouri river vistas are hard to beat
bright Missouri river rainbows
Chrome bright Missouri bows









Currently run-off is going full bore in the Missoula area and I’m taking a little break before I return to the Missouri river later in May.  That will be our mainstay into June when the Missoula fly fishing scene will light up again as the water starts to drop and our Salmonfly hatches kick in.  It promises to be an awesome water year, and after this cold spring I’m looking forward to some summer scenes with shorts, sandals, and big dry fly eating trout in the net!

Missoula fly fishing, Floating the Bitterroot
Bring on Summer!