Montana Fishing Report Overview
We are currently entering early Summer here in Montana and runoff is in full swing. Do not be discouraged by the fact that some waters are high and muddy, the waters that are fishable are spectacular right now and this is one of our absolute favorite times to target local waters. There are few out of state anglers and often you can have incredible fishing with light pressure. The only fisheries that you will see a good number of other anglers on right now are the famous tailwaters like the Missouri or Bighorn. In a few weeks to a month the freestone rivers will be getting ready to fall out of runoff and we will experience a golden period of casting to trout who have not seen flies in weeks or even months. The most anticipated hatch of the year on the Spring Creeks, the Pale Morning Duns, will be starting any day now and Salmonfly Fever is slowly building.
Warm weather is currently melting our snowpack and water levels are up on all fisheries except spring creeks and stillwaters. In general, freestone fisheries are a tough option right now. Freestone rivers and streams are those that rely heavily on overland flow from rain and snowmelt. These streams and rivers (think the Gallatin and Yellowstone) become high and dirty with sediment during run off and are not fishable most of the time. Spring creeks are fed by groundwater and are completely unaffected by run off. Some rivers are also fed from reservoirs that trap sediment. These tailwaters (Bighorn, Missouri, Madison etc) do increase in flows during spring run off but they retain good water clarity and often great fishing. Stillwater reservoirs, ponds and lakes are also a very good option this time of year.
We are currently in a holding pattern between the spring and summer hatches. The BWO’s, March Browns, and Caddis (for the most part) of spring have dissipated but summer hatches are right around the corner. Stonefly nymphs like Salmonflys, Golden Stones, and Yellow Sally’s are extremely active subsurface right now and will begin to hatch soon. The Pale Morning Dun’s, which are the main event each year on the Spring Creeks, are days away as well. Some Caddis are still hatching as well and will pick up steam quickly. This is a time to imitate the subsurface bugs that will soon have the trout rising voraciously to dry flies.
The safe bets right now are the waters that are protected by run off. These include tailwaters below reservoirs, spring creeks and still waters. The good news is that these three categories of fisheries are lights out right now and occur in abundance across Southwest Montana. Spring creeks have some lingering baetis and Caddis hatches and the PMD’s, the best hatch of the year, will soon be starting to get going. The fish are still fresh and haven’t seen a lot of artificials yet so catch rates are often high. Tailwaters are also fishing well right now as water temps rise and the trout put on their feedbags. Dry fly fishing is variable and depends on flows and if they are bumping the dam releases or not. Nymph fishing is predictably good. If flows are on the rise fishing closer to the dam is often better because moss can often get dislodged and if you are too far downstream it can foul hooks. Stillwaters are also a great option and catch rates can be very high slow stripping streamers. Early Callibaetis mayflies can also produce good dry fly action on some waters.
Wild card options
While most of our freestone rivers are still experiencing heavy runoff, each river system behaves differently and will exit runoff at a different pace. Generally speaking, the smaller the stream/drainage, the quicker runoff will subside. The Yellowstone River, which is a large river draining an immense area, is typically the last river in the state to clear up. However, some smaller tributaries like the Boulder or Stillwater will be fishable up to several weeks earlier than the main river. Knowing how to read hydrograph data will help you determine when runoff is coming to an end. During runoff, the hydrograph looks like a series of waves as the water rises and falls each day with snowmelt. As the melt subsides, the graph will start to flatten out and decline steadily. You only need a foot or so of visibility to catch fish along the banks as the water is dropping, so don’t be afraid to target these kinds of conditions even though other anglers might consider the river to be unfishable.