“When is the best time to fly fish montana?”
Montana By The Month
It’s the all too often asked question, “When is the best time to fly fish Montana?”. While the question is valid, its answer really depends on the personal preferences of the fisherman doing the asking.
We put together this guide to help you determine the best month for YOU to come fly fishing in Montana. You’ll learn about the fisheries we focus on like the Yellowstone River, off-the-beaten path watersheds like the Boulder & Stillwater Rivers, and iconic spring creeks like DePuy’s and Armstrong, and if you read through multiple months you’ll get a feel for how they change seasonally.
The beauty of our area is that something is always fishing fantastic – 365 days a year.
January & February
When anyone thinks of fly fishing Montana in January or February, images of snow covered lands instantly come to mind – and they are correct! While we do see significant amounts of snow these months we also see a fair number of dry days with temperatures above freezing – aka fishing weather.
Most of our trips in this time frame are booked by skiers looking to participate in something easier on their joints. We also see a few die hard anglers that want to fish spey rods and sink tips on tailwaters like the Missouri or Big Horn Rivers. If you’re ready to fish, we’re ready to guide you.
March in Montana provides some of the best fishing with no one around to enjoy it. If we aren’t guiding in March we are out fishing for ourselves! March is when we see the first bump in water temperatures from the doldrums of winter. Fish begin to actively feed mid day, through the afternoon, and into the evening.
There are a number of fishing options we can pursue in March; often times, we look for the best weather and that is where we head for the day. For our guests that want to wade fish, fly fishing Montana in March requires us to work the productive runs and buckets out of the boat. That said, there are ample opportunities to boat fish in March.
April provides anglers with the same opportunities as March, but with more consistent weather and warmer water temperatures.
April sees the first measurable insect activity on the area freestones. Fish feed longer and harder as the water temperatures continually push ever higher as runoff looms at the start of May. For those interested in fly fishing Montana in April, we typically see a variety of hatches, consistently good nymph fishing, and exciting spring streamer fishing.
May proves to be our team’s favorite weather month in Montana. The sun is out in full force many days… the only issue is that sunshine triggers the snow melt in the high country, causing river levels to rise.
While there is an outside chance that many of our freestone rivers will have days of good fishing early in the month, it is difficult to count on that. This heavily limits our options in May. However, the three primary options we have in May are fishing at their peak.
Throw a dart! Where ever it lands we shall go! In all reality June fishing is some of our favorite. The rivers are flush with water in the mid 50’s, insects are active, and the fish are on the banks. This is a recipe for high catch rates and big fish.
June sees the conclusion of spring runoff on all of our freestone rivers. This is dependent on the river and even the section of river! As a whole, by mid-June options abound in Southwest Montana. Much of our June fishing takes place in a boat, however, there are always wade opportunities.
July is for the dry fly guy. A catchy rhyme, but the statement stands for itself. Like the springtime months, fly fishing Montana in July provides a tremendous number of options.
In July, we see the bulk of our aquatic insects hatch and replenish their population. This doesn’t mean that the other months don’t see their share of insect activity, but July sees such a range of bugs hatching at all times of the day that keep fish looking up. A few of our favorite July hatches include Yellow Sallies, multiple species of caddis, and PMD’s. There are a number of minor hatches that come off sporadically that are easily covered with a few general attractor patterns. We can still find good streamer fishing in the mornings and through the fast water, but July is truly the time to break out a softer rod and look for opportunities on the surface.
Fly fishing Montana in August means you can leave your tiny bug box at home! When the insect activity of July wanes in mid-August, we turn to our terrestrial boxes and prepare for some of the most exciting fishing of the season.
The water temperatures in August rise and that slows the fish’s metabolism somewhat, but does not in anyway turn off the fishing. August is truly the big bug season with droves of grasshoppers inhabiting the remaining green grass that lines the banks of our favorite Montana rivers. As fly fisherman we generally loath the wind; in August our view of the wind changes and we welcome the warm zephyr. The wind blows these terrestrial insects onto the water and creates a constant interest in these high calorie critters.
If a survey was conducted throughout the “Fly Practitioners” in Montana, many guides would say fly fishing Montana in September is their favorite month to fish. The first thing observed is the reduction in general tourism. Many of the summer vacationers have returned home to get ready for the school year, providing a more relaxed atmosphere in town. September also provides the greatest diversity in angling opportunities across Southwest Montana.
September functions almost as two seasons. Early in the month we see a continuation of the great hopper fishing that August had, but there seems to be a greater urgency in which the fish feed. They know fall is coming. Later in the month we see the subsurface fishing really pick up as the browns become territorial and look to gain body condition to prepare for their annual spawn.
While it might seem like it’s getting a little too close to winter to come fly fishing in Montana in October, many of our return October guests won’t try other months! October is truly fall in the Big Sky with yellow and orange leaves swaying in the gentle fall breeze.
The rivers of Southwest Montana have reached their lowest flows, and water temperatures hover in the mid 40’s concentrating fish in smooth, dancing water. We see good, but sporadic dry fly fishing on some of our freestones, but the subsurface fishing, particularly the streamer fishing, is outstanding depending on the day.
November & December
On most years there are opportunities to catch fish in multiple venues across Southwest Montana in November and December. However, our freestone season is largely over and we concentrate on dam or ground sourced water. Water temperatures on these fisheries hovers in the low 40’s concentrating fish into the easiest holding water that provides enough food.
While we do see some midge fishing, this time of year is dominated by subsurface techniques. Comfort is always a priority fishing in November and December in Montana. Because of this all trips include a jet boil for hot drinks, hot soup at lunch, a flask of fine whiskey, and a propane heater. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we have to be cold!