Montana Fishing Season
Montana has it all, snowy winters, cool and wet springs, sunny and dry summers and a fall that is second to none. Lots of people ask me when is the best Montana fishing season? I would say it’s whenever you can get out here!
Spring Montana Fishing Season
Spring is kind of the start of the Montana fishing season. I generally say that spring starts in March or April. Every year it’s different but when temperatures get in the 40-50 degree range then it’s spring in Montana. Some years it’s still winter in March and we must wait until April. Some years it’s pretty warm in March, so you never know what you’re going to get? The spring Montana fishing season can be some of the best fishing of the year. I head to the Missouri River in March and stay there through the end of June. March and April are some of my favorite months. The Nymphing is usually lights out and the streamer fishing is some of the best of the year. Pre-spawn rainbows are stacked up in the river and are chowing nymphs all day long. You can usually catch a lot of fish as the trout are stacked up in the deeper and slower runs of the river. What nymphs should you be using? Sowbugs are king on the Missouri River as well as hot bead scuds and Czech nymphs.
Spring is my favorite time to fish streamers for big brown trout on the Missouri River. While the rainbows are thinking about spawning, brown trout are waking up from the long winter and thinking about killing your streamer! Fishing 10- foot sink tips and any number of streamer patterns hunting for big browns is a game all on its own. Big browns love to blow up your streamer right on the bank, of the drops and mid-river flats. Why do I love streamer fishing in the spring? All you catch are brown trout, not many rainbows are willing to eat streamers this time of year. Streamer fishing is still streamer fishing but it’s way more active in the spring, chases, follows, grabs and full-on takes spring is my favorite Montana fishing season for streamers.
Some years we are lucky to have warm weather and perfect conditions for fishing dry flies. From the elusive Skawalla to March Browns, Gray Drakes to BWO’s and even fishing a big attractor pattern, when things line up the dry fly fishing can be nothing short of amazing. Dry fly fishing in the spring is nothing that you can ever guarantee but if you’re there when it goes off it’ll be burned in your brain for the rest of your life.
Summer Montana Fishing Season
Summer is the classic Montana fishing season. Full of sunny and warm days summer is the perfect time to fly fish in Montana. Days are long, temperatures are perfect, bugs are active and the fish are willing to eat. Summer in Montana officially starts on the first of July. PMD’s, Green Drakes, Golden Stones, Salmonflies, Caddis, and Tricos are all on the menu. The summer guide season consists of the Flathead River, Clark Fork River, and the Blackfoot Rivers. All these rivers have their personalities and strong points. The Flathead River is an amazing dry fly fishery during the summer months, with July being on the best months. PMD’s are king, fish are stacked up in the riffles and hanging on the banks waiting for your dry fly.
The Clark Fork River is one of my favorite places to be for the Montana fishing season. August and September are hard to beat. Hoppers and mayflies are kings when fishing the Clark Fork River. In July the river flows are still fairly high and the fish like to hold on the banks or out a bit in the deeper water next to the banks. As the river flows drop the fish move towards the center of the river and become oriented on the structure. Bubble lines, the center of the river drops, long flats and boulder gardens are all holding fish.
The Blackfoot River is a great early summer fishery. From late June through the end of July is my favorite time to be there. Golden Stones. Green Drakes, Salmonflies and Baetis are what drive the Blackfoot this time of year. The river is absolutely amazing! Ponderosa lined banks, tall canyons, fish water for a lifetime and big cutthroat trout slowly rising to your dry fly will make a lasting impression on even most discerning angler.
Fall Montana Fishing Season
When does the Fall Montana fishing season start? That’s a great question! Well… I would say it’s typically September. Mornings are a bit cooler, the sky is a bit bluer, the sun changes it’s angle just a bit, the days start to get a bit shorter, bugs get more active and the fishing… Well… It just gets better and better.
The Flathead River undergoes a big change in the Fall. Fish from the upper reaches of the system start to move back downriver. The Main Stem of the Flathead River starts to see a new push of fish from these upper reaches. The Main Stem of the Flathead River has a new breath of life with bigger fish and more numbers. With winter in sight, this is when the big fish come to eat! Big bugs and big fish!
The Clark Fork is also in prime shape for the fall season. No more fishing the banks it’s time to fish structure. Out off the shelves, the center of the river bubble lines, big insides, big drop offs and back eddies are all prime spots.
Once the heat of summer leaves and the coolness of fall slips in the Blackfoot River comes back to life. Tricos and hoppers are where it’s at. A morning Trico fall lets you know it’s time to put on dry flies. As the day heats up hoppers start to show up. Snip off the small mayfly stuff and tie on a hopper. Hopper chugs in September make you feel like you’re cheating life.
Late Fall and Early Winter Montana Fishing Season
What? is this a season? For the fly fisherman, it is! The days are getting even shorter, mornings are colder the fishing on the Missouri River is getting hotter and hotter! The late fall, early winter Montana fishing season on the Missouri River is the secret season. Most people are thinking about hunting this time of year, leaving the river mostly boat and angler free but fish full. Bugs come out for one last push, Pseudos, BWO’s and caddis are making one last push to reproduce. The trout start to notice the drop in water temps and begin to start to fatten up for the winter. It’s almost like a light switch turns on, they need to eat now! This happens in October and lasts until it gets cold, usually after Thanksgiving.
Winter Montana Fishing Season
We all love the perfect weather of the summer Montana fishing season but as with all good things… It must come to an end. The first snow of the year marks the beginning of the winter Montana fishing season. Fish have moved into their slow water winter spots. Deep slow water is going to be their homes for the rest of the winter.
Nymphing on the Flathead River can be very productive during the winter months. Pink nymphs are whats on the menu this time of year. The river is cold, the water is slow and what trout could resist a pink orb drifting right towards them? Are you a streamer junkie? The winter Montana fishing season is not a bad time to dig up some big fish on the Flathead River. You don’t always find them but when you do they’re usually the fish of the year.
The Missouri River is an amazing winter fishery. The consistent flows and bug life of the Missouri River tailwater make for some very productive nymphing, even in the coldest months. It’s safe to say that you can catch great fish every day of the year on the Missouri River, that’s what makes the Missouri River one of the most productive trout rivers in the country.
Montana Ice Fishing Season
Once it has been cold enough and long enough to make water molecules no longer move it’s time to go ice fishing. 4” of ice and it’s time to get out there! Why ice fishing you ask? Why not I ask? You’re dying to catch some fish and get your fix so don’t overlook ice fishing as your next Montana fishing season. Ice fishing is filled with catching, friends, sometimes whiskey, unreal views in some very isolated spots in Montana.
Sitting around a hole in the ice sounds boring, right? Nope, ice fishing is as technical as any fly fishing you will do. Sure you could just sit there for hours and not catch a fish but that’s no fun! You want to get’m! Using electronics you can see much activity you would never know was going on without it. Suspended fish, how they responded to your techniques, refusals and eats… You can see it all. Are you having refusals all day long? Change up and try to find something the trout want to eat. Not seeing any fish? Move… Go find them and see if you can pattern their activity. It’s all a game and you’ll be amazed at how fun it is!
So when what is my favorite Montana fishing season? My favorite Montana fishing season is… Whatever season it is right now!