Montana Fishing Reports

Montana Fishing Report Overview

Early Autumn is a transition time on rivers and streams across Montana and some exciting options present themselves as nights get longer and water temps begin cooling down.  Fishing is generally very good but is also less predictable depending on the prevailing weather pattern.  Indian summer and hot days can result in some of the best terrestrial fishing of the season.  Early cold fronts and low cloud ceiling overcast days bring a hint of fall fishing.  Browns are just starting to gain their autumn color and will soon be moving out of their lairs in preparation for the spawning runs in October.  Some of the lower elevation waters that produced poor fishing in the summer turn on as water temperatures cool and levels rebound with the demands of irrigation water ending.  Many of these trout haven’t seen flies since the middle of June.  Although the lower reaches of rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone and Gallatin along with the Upper Missouri and lower Jefferson do not have high trout counts compared to the more famous sections farther upstream (or in the case of the Mo downstream below the dam) they often hold some nice trout.  September also brings fewer anglers once vacation season winds down and the go to floats of the summer like the Upper Madison, Yellowstone and others see much less pressure and the trout start to drop their guard again.   

Water levels are low and trout are hungry but spooky.  In some cases flows will soon be increasing on rivers that receive a lot of irrigation now that the ditches are being turned off.  In rivers above the irrigation they are mostly holding steady now at their base levels.  Water temperatures are declining and even though some days are still very hot the nights are so much longer that the prolonged cooling affect when the sun goes down is bringing temperatures into the sweat spot.  Almost all fisheries around the state are now an option from tiny meadow streams to low elevation waters.  The lower reaches of rivers finally cool down again and the high mountain streams are still not so cold as to put trout in a deep freeze.  The productive fishing hours are quickly transitioning to later in the day and getting out at the crack of dawn isn’t as important as it was just a few weeks ago.  Fishing conditions are all over the place and very by the day – some days they are looking for hoppers, other days small mayflies and nymphing is also productive.  Streamer fishing is also getting better by the day as the big browns become unsettled before the spawn.

Many of the aquatic hatches have run their course. There are still some late tricos on some waters and some mahogany duns and spinners are popping in the later afternoons and evenings.  It is still a bit early for the baetis hatches but on some fisheries a few will start showing up soon on cloudy and rainy days. 

Terrestrials are still very important across Montana. Hoppers are now mature and flying. The hopper fishing on the smaller meadow rivers continues to be very good and is day by day on the larger rivers depending on location and wind direction. On some rivers they aren't quite looking for them and on others the bite is very good. I waded a small stream on a private ranch the other day and the hoppers were all over the place and trout were moving aggressively for them. The quality of the "catching" over hoppers depends on the amount of pressure trout receive. They get pretty smart after they see a dozen foam hoppers a day so look for waters that see less anglers for the best hopper fishing. If you are targeting more popular fisheries you may have more luck with smaller terrestrials like small beetles and ants. In the mountains hoppers are less important but keep an eye out for spruce moths - they are flying in the mornings and trout love them.  Ants are a favorite early fall option as well.  Many species of ants produce large mating flights in the late summer and early fall and these can really get the trout moving for them.

Fly selection
Trout in most of our waters are much more opportunistic now that many of the aquatic hatch cycles have finished. The exceptions are if there is a strong hatch like the trico or callibaetis (lakes) on the water or perhaps a very windy day blowing lots of hoppers in. The reduction of aquatic hatches can be a good thing for the angler because trout are not as willing to move long distances when there is a strong hatch. For surface patterns nothing beats a hopper if you are on lightly fished waters. If you are on more waters that see a lot of summer anglers then try more subtle patterns like ants and beetles. Mayflies are starting to become more important as the mahogany duns and a few others sprinkle off and sometimes fishing small wulffs and adams can be quite effective.  For nymphing trout will start moving for a lot of sculpins but if nocturnal stones are around a size 6 rubber legs will still produce. For dropper nymphs try smaller patterns on more pressured waters. Although the beatis aren’t hatching in force, they are an important food source for the trout as nymphs and small size 20 beatis emergers can be deadly this time of year.  Smaller droppers and finer flourcarbon tippet sometimes makes a difference but no need to drop to anything below 5x unless you are on a spring creek.

Reading water
Where the trout are holding will depend greatly on water temps.  On the bigger waters where water is still warmer trout are still in the riffles but aren’t in the heaviest water like they were a week or so ago and they are already starting to drop back into the transition areas where the riffles meet the slower runs.  As we move later into the fall and water temps continue to fall start to watch the slow slicks and big seams because as temps keep dropping trout will begin moving back into the softer water, slow seems and foam eddies.   

Yellowstone River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Yellowstone has really picked up as water temps have dropped. There are still some fish in the faster riffles and heavy water but they are starting to slide farther back in the runs as water temperatures drop. Some trout are also moving into the slower tailout slicks and the...Read more

Upper Madison River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Upper is producing consistent fishing when the weather is stable. This time of year some early fall storms can push in and crank up the wind but when the weather is holding steady expect good fishing. Big browns are starting to become more active and dragging a big sculpin...Read more

Lower Madison River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Lower is hitting its stride as nights become longer and water temperatures drop. Wamer days will still produce better morning fishing but the productive window will move farther into the afternoon as temperatures continue to fall. The algae drifts on the lower river can...Read more

Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Gallatin is a solid producer right now. The entire river is productive at the moment. In the canyon stretches smaller nymph patterns on 5x flourcarbon are very good. Most of the dry fly action is still based on terrestrials and a sparse trico hatch but the surface action has...Read more

Spring Creeks Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The spring creeks are still a bit tough right now but are improving by the day and are always a great way to challenge yourself. Summer weed growth is dying back a bit and terrestrial fishing has been very good so fishing conditions are definitely improving. Nymphing faster...Read more

Stillwater River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Stillwater River is a nice option right now and is producing some very good action on both hoppers and smaller nymphs. The pressure has really dropped off and the water temperatures are terrific. The river is low and bony and best wade fished in most locations. Terrestrial...Read more

Boulder River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Boulder is low and clear with the exception of some thunderstorms that can put a bit if sediment into the lower water below the West Boulder for a short duration from time to time. There is still some good hopper action down low but smaller dries that imitate larger mayflies...Read more

Jefferson River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: Water levels and temperatures are dropping and the Jefferson is starting to produce some decent morning fishing, flows are still low but will begin rising as we see reduced irrigation in the headwaters of the Bighole and Beaverhead valleys. This is a low fish count river so don’...Read more

East Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The East is a fun option in the early fall with a few tricos still around and a mixed bag of baetis and mahogany duns. The hopper fishing can also produce a few rises. The “river” is more like a spring creek with very low flows and very spooky trout. Catch rates are low right...Read more

Missouri River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Missouri near Craig and Wolf creek is producing some good baetis dry fly action and some late terrestrial fishing. The Upper river above Canyon Ferry is improving as trout from the lake move up into the river. This is a low numbers game fishery but there are some nice trout...Read more

Ruby River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Ruby is a very fun early autumn option. Visiting anglers really drop off in numbers and the river doesn’t see much pressure. Browns start to become less moody and the catch rates become a bit more predictable. Cloudy days can produce some dry fly action over early baetis...Read more

Montana Lakes Fishing Report

- Red Hot
Current Conditions: The smaller private ranch lakes that we target are still producing some great fishing. Sight casting small nymphs or dries in the morning has been productive along with slow stripping damsel flies. In the afternoons beating the banks with hoppers can produce some explosive takes...Read more

Other Waters Fishing Report

- Red Hot
Current Conditions: The smaller streams around Montana are a great option to get away from it all and find some off the beaten path fishing. The hopper fishing has been epic on some of our smaller stream ranch leases and should continue into the early fall. These fish see few flies and motor boat...Read more