The image above looks inviting doesn’t it? It is what we dream about when we think of our fly fishing trips. The reality is that it doesn’t always work out that way. Being prepared to fly fish Montana can be the difference between awesome days on the water and miserable ones.
I took the photo above on May 9 and it was the start of a 5 day run of spectacular weather on the Missouri river. By the end of it we were wearing shorts and sandals and even complaining that maybe it was a little too warm. It all seems like a distant memory now. Since then it has been cold and wet everyday. We have only seen the sun for a few fleeting moments this past week and 50 degrees seems like a lofty goal at the moment.
That kind of weather is tough on anglers and guides alike. Cold fingers make it difficult to manage the fly line and feel what’s going on with the fly rod, hoods make it hard to see and hear, runny noses, and full body chills have all been part of the package lately. But the fishing has been off the charts good.
It’s understandable that anglers don’t get excited to see the 3 day forecast for their trip with highs in the 40’s, rain and a north wind. Guides aren’t chomping at the bit in those conditions either, but there are some keys to making your time on the water more enjoyable when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Take more clothes than you think you need. It’s always colder on the water than it is in town or at the boat ramp.
Stay dry. Don’t wait to put the rain gear on. If it starts to sprinkle it’s time to suit up
Hand warmers are a day maker. Open them and stick them in pockets before you hit the river.
Extra gloves are a must. On cold, wet days I often go through 3 pairs of gloves or more. Keeping hands warm and dry is a key to being able to fish well
Surgical gloves are great for anglers. Every fly anglers knows it’s near impossible to fish in full finger gloves. Hands tend to get cold with fingerless gloves as well. Wearing surgical type gloves along with fingerless gloves allows anglers to manage their line and stay warmer
Cover your head and neck. You lose a lot of heat up top and sometimes a ball cap isn’t enough. Wear a beenie, use your hood and keep your neck protected with a Buff.
If you are just a little cold, add another layer right away. Anglers go from a little cold to too cold faster than you think. Don’t try to tough it out, just add more clothes.
The fishing in Montana is often great during periods of rough weather. Come prepared to endure the elements and it may turn out to be the best fishing of the year. The cold weather continues on the Missouri river and we will be ready for it again tomorrow.
The Skwala hatch is a big deal these days and for good reason. It is the first main hatch of the season and at times it produces exceptional fishing. But, like any hatch during the Montana fishing season it has it’s pros and cons.
The most common question we get from anglers is, “When is the best time to fish the Skwala hatch?” If I could predict that with any accuracy I would book those dates and take the rest of the hatch off and go tarpon fishing. I really wish it was like fishing the Skwala hatch with Oprah. “You get dry fly fish, and you get dry fly fish, everybody gets a bunch of dry fly fish!”
The reality is a little different. There are ups and downs during Skwalas just like all of our other hatch cycles. Over the years I have had fantastic dry fly fishing as early as the first week of March and as late as early May. I have also seen tough fishing conditions throughout that time frame as well.
The best way to think about it is, that the quality of your actual fishing relies almost entirely on the specific conditions of your trip dates for any hatch. For Skwalas your best bet is to pick dates within the historic window of mid-March through late April. After that it is up to the fishing gods.
If you show up and it’s bright and sunny everyday with rising water levels then you are definitely going to have to work for your opportunities. On the other hand, if the river has been dropping for 3 days and it’s 55 degrees, cloudy and calm then buckle up. The fishing is likely going to be lights out awesome.
The angler’s skill and the guide’s experience definitely play a part. A good combination of those two will make each days fishing better, but they are still subject to the daily conditions. Some days the conditions favor the anglers and some days they don’t.
This season, the last 5 days have been like fishing with Oprah. Just about everyone has been having banner days. In 2017 we were completely blown out in Missoula for these same dates. It is always good to do a little research on locations and best times, but ultimately pick your dates, pull the trigger, and then hope for the best.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of honesty in fly fishing these days. From the Instafamous taking pics of average sized trout just right to make them look huge to the girls posing for grip-n-grins in bikinis. Who knew long arms would be a marketable commodity, and if you’re in a bikini you are fishing for Likes not what’s in the water.
I could easily go off the rails on this one, but the topic of honesty in fly fishing came up recently with another guide talking about the guide/client relationship. As guides our job is to produce the best possible fly fishing experience on a daily basis. Good guides do this consistently, but even the best hit bumps in the road and often the root cause is a lack of honesty.
Clients don’t often lie about their skill level, but why they would lie about that at all is a total mystery. It only takes a couple minutes once we are on the water to see the skill set I am working for the day so why lie about it at the hotel in the morning? Now there’s a chance I may have picked a float that offers scenarios above our pay grade. Once we are on the water I can’t opt out for a different stretch of river that plays better to your actual skill level.
One of the bigger issues is clients being honest about who they are as an angler. Yes, we all want to catch 20 inchers on dry flies from start to finish but that’s not a reality most days. Are you an action junkie who likes a bent rod all day or do you prefer to hunt for just a few big fish? We can cater to either, but usually not both at the same time.
2 + 2 = 5
A good example is a couple guys who told me in the morning they were DFO (dry fly only) anglers. I love fishing dries and enjoy that approach. Based on the conditions I picked a float where I thought we had the best chance of successfully fishing dry flies from ramp to ramp. The first hour was a little slow with only a couple fish and one of the anglers turns to me and asks, “Should we be fishing a dropper?” Excuse me sir, but if I knew you guys would fish droppers I would have picked an entirely different river for the day.
Honest expectations are in short supply on some days. The classic example is when an experienced angler brings their spouse or child/grandchild. In the morning they say, “I’ve been fishing for years so I’ll be fine, just take care of my wife/son/etc.” At some point they realize they’re not catching as many as when they’re in the bow with their 20 year fishing partner along. They can even get a little pouty.
For the guide the dynamics are much different in a boat with a new angler versus two experienced anglers. We love introducing new anglers to the sport, but if you want them to have a great experience then we have to focus on them and that means you are not going to catch as many or even have as many opportunities in the back. If you want your new angler to love the sport as much as you then they need to have the best day possible. If they do, you will be trading off on rising fish for years to come.
Anglers not being fully honest with their guide isn’t a deal breaker. At the end of the day the guide is still going home, having a beer, and getting ready to head out again in the morning. It just makes it a little harder for guides to deliver the type of fishing experience anglers have been day dreaming about at their office for the whole year.
Next time we will talk about honest guides…..if I can find one!
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.
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