Montana Fishing Season
Throughout the year, there are several months that make-up the fishing season in Western Montana. Following is an explanation of what you can typically expect of the rivers during each month from March to October.
Although most of our rivers do not close for the season, March is the time of year when things start to wake up and come alive. It usually begins around the middle of the month when the Skwalas start to emerge. These rather large bugs are about 1 inch long and crawl out of the river bed to the rocky shoreline to molt into Adults. This makes the fish go nuts. They’ve been feeding on tiny flies all winter so the sight of a big bug like this really gets them moving. Once the water temperature reaches 42 degrees, these fish go crazy for bugs on the surface. The weather can be unpredictable, so if fishing in shorts and sandals is your thing…….well, you may need to wait a few months.
Now we’re talking. Usually by now, old man winter has given up most of his hope, but not all. This is still Montana and anything could happen. The Skwalas continue strong through the month, along with March Browns and Baetis – then finishing off the month we get blizzard-like caddis coming off. This makes for some fabulous fishing. The water temperature stays above the magic number and the fish feed actively on the surface all month long.
With the warm weather comes lots of snow melt. Depending on the snow pack and how warm it gets, this will turn some of our rivers into something that resembles the mighty Mississippi River – high and muddy. Luckily for us, we live in Montana and there is no shortage of other waters that fish well when others are blown out. This time of year we turn to the Missouri River, just below Holter Dam, outside of Helena, MT. This river resembles a large spring creek and fishing can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. Luckily for us, we fish it often and know where the fish hold. Lots of Baetis and Caddis keep the fish looking up.
Ahh, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Warm weather, plenty of fishable water, big bugs and hungry trout. If you’ve never fished GIANT Salmon Flies, I can tell you you’re missing out on something very spectacular. These bugs are about 2 inches long and the fish go crazy for them. This is like eating a prime rib dinner for us….we have a few different rivers that are inhabited with these “creatures”, but you must be in the right place at the right time to take full advantage. We know where it is!! Along with the Salmon Flies, we also get a healthy hatch of Green Drakes, Brown Drakes and Caddis. All of which can work equally as well at different times.
By now the flows have stabilized and the fishing really gets into a routine. Things are pretty consistent this time of year. And there is no shortage of bugs. The Salmon flies have tapered off, but we come right behind them with the Golden Stones. Although not quite as big as the Salmon flies, these are still a rather large bug at about 1-1 1/2″ long. Follow this with thousands of PMD’s and Caddis and you have yourself a smorgasbord of bugs that the fish are eating. This is the most predictable fishing we have all year. There is no better place to enjoy your day than on the river in western Montana.
Things really start to warm up….literally, August is usually hot with very little moisture to speak of. Lucky for us, as some rivers are drying up, we have plenty of water thanks to some of the reservoirs that hold back water for irrigation. Although these are controversial, they do provide water during an otherwise dry period. The PMD’s and caddis are still in play for the first part of the month giving way to Grass Hoppers and a little known hatch of Spruce Moths towards the end. Once again the fish are looking for these big bugs.
The kids are back to school, the bow hunters are on the prowl for wapiti (elk) and the fish are eating like nobodies business as they get ready for the winter. This is a great time to be on the water, as traffic has slowed and we see a few new bugs come into play such as the Tricos, Mahogany Dun’s and Baetis. The hopper fishing is still dynamite this time of year until the first freeze. You can almost go anywhere on the river and not see another angler.
This is my favorite time of year. No one is on the water except for a few locals. There are still plenty of bugs out, with Baetis, Mahogany Dun’s and Hecuba rule the top water action. The river comes alive when these bugs are out. The fish know it is their last opportunity to eat before winter sets in and they take full advantage. Towards the end of October, we close out our season by fishing streamers for the big browns that are getting ready to spawn. These fish become very aggressive and territorial this time of year.