Montana Fishing Report

Montana Fishing Report Overview

We are in the midst of the pre-runoff part of the season here in early May. Most of the freestone rivers have a week or two of good fishing left before the brunt of runoff hits but fishing conditions can be day by day. Warmer than average weather will cause some rivers of the freestone rivers like the Yellowstone to rise quickly and become off color while cooler weather with freezing temps at night result in falling and clearing waters. We have some of our heaviest hatches of the year on many of our waters with baetis, March browns and Mother’s Day Caddis all in healthy supply – often over the course of the same day.  Tailwaters, spring creeks, and lakes are not affected much by runoff and fishing will remain good.

On the freestone rivers, the most important thing to pay attention to is water flows and clarity. This is a very dynamic time of year on our rivers and what happened yesterday is not a great indication of what is going to happen tomorrow. Trout feed best on stable and falling water levels and rising water usually puts them off the bite. The water level and clarity is very important, but whether the water is rising or falling to reach that level is equally important, if not more so. In general, rapidly rising waters will almost always spoil good dry fly fishing, but slowly rising waters may produce some color in the water but fish will still aggressively eat subsurface. On tailwaters, such as the Missouri and Lower Madison, the flows will be bumped up incrementally during runoff. The fishing is generally off for a day or so as fish adjust to the new level, but the fishing quickly returns to normal with the stable water levels.  The other consideration on tailwaters is that freestone tributaries will bring in mud.  Example of this are Cherry Creek on the Lower Madison and the Dearborn River on the Missouri. Be aware of this and choose to fish upstream if these tributaries are bringing in mud. Spring Creeks are generally completely unaffected by runoff.

Nymphing is going to be the best bet on all waters in the morning and during non-hatch periods. If there is too much color in the water fish may also feed subsurface even during heavy hatches. Your best chance at dry fly fishing will be found on the Yellowstone, Lower Madison, Upper Madison and Missouri, which all have daily hatches of Caddis. Cloudy days could bring mayfly hatches to any water in the region, but they are somewhat sporadic this time of year.

On freestone rivers, the best bets will be “big and ugly” type stonefly nymphs with caddis droppers. On cloudy days with heavy mayfly hatches try a baetis nymph or large hares ear to imitate the big March browns. Aquatic insect larva and nymphs are getting very active as they prepare to hatch.  “Junk” flies like eggs and San Juan Worms will produce as well. On spring creeks and tailwaters, try things like scuds, sowbugs, Czech nymphs, etc. These nymphs represent food sources that are available to trout 365 days a year.


The Mother’s Day Caddis, one of the best hatches of the year, is upon us. The Yellowstone River around Livingston and in Paradise Valley and the Lower Madison River are the best locations to chase this hatch. The Upper Madison also receives a good hatch in the lower reaches. The bugs are typically active from mid-morning on, with the most intense activity in the evenings.  The dry fly bite is sometimes good all day but tends to really pick up as the sun starts to come off the water.  The fish will eat adult imitations well, but oftentimes an emerger pattern trailed off of the back of your dry will outfish the dry by a wide margin. 

Also be on the lookout for March Browns, especially on the Yellowstone River around Livingston, the Lower Madison and the Upper Madison near Ennis.  The March Brown hatch is hit or miss, but the fish really key in on these large mayflies when they are available and on a cloudy day they can bring large fish to the surface. A Parachute Adams or large Grey Wulff will do the trick sometimes but it’s nice to have a couple more realistic imitations tucked in your box just in case.

Blue Winged Olives are starting to thin just a bit but will still be important on cloudy days, especially on the spring creeks.  As with the Caddis hatch, fish will oftentimes key in on BWO emergers, so make sure you have the fly patterns to cover all stages of the hatch.

Yellowstone River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The river is low and in good shape. Streamer fishing has been very good – not a lot of fish but some nice browns for those willing to pay their dues. Nymphing has also been very productive as long as you are working holding water. The trout are still in slower runs due to colder...Read more

Upper Madison River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Upper Madison continues to be one of the most consistent fisheries in the region. The deeper, slower water (a relative term on this stretch) is still fishing well but the fish are starting to move and spread out quite a bit, especially on warmer days. The best hatches will...Read more

Lower Madison River Fishing Report

- Red Hot
Current Conditions: This is one of the best times of year to fish the Lower Madison. The Mother’s Day caddis hatch is in full swing and the dry fly fishing has been excellent. You can find fish willing to eat the dry throughout the day but the action is best and most consistent in the evening. Fish...Read more

Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The Gallatin has been fishing very well both in the canyon and down in the valley when the river is not on the rise. Pay close attention to the hydrographs and avoid it if warm weather is causing rapidly rising waters. The Taylor’s Fork has been putting some mud during warm...Read more

Montana Spring Creeks Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: Spring Creeks are one of the best options for fishing right now. Rainbows are still in the creeks spawning. Give the fish on their redds a wide berth and do not fish to them, but there are plenty of post spawn fish in the deeper, heavier water as well as fish stacked behind the...Read more

Stillwater River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The Stillwater is still in pre-runoff mode and the nymph fishing has been good in the deeper pools. Hot weather can produce some early spikes on the flows but the north facing drainage is more resistant to early run off than other fisheries. The water temperatures are still...Read more

Boulder River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: Fishing on the Boulder has picked up a bit with higher flows and water temps. Clarity remains good and the subsurface fishing has been solid. The deeper, slower water is still fishing best but the fish are starting to spread out with the warmer weather. Nymphing with stoneflies...Read more

Jefferson River Fishing Report

- Fair
Current Conditions: The Jeff is pretty hit or miss right now. This is not the place to go if you are looking for big numbers of fish but you always have the chance at a true trophy on the Jeff. If you are looking to throw streamers and swing for the fences then this would be a pretty good bet. The...Read more

East Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: Nymph fishing on the East has been good lately when the river is stable or dropping. The East tends to muddy quite a bit this time of year but with the lack of low elevation snow this year it hasn’t been too bad, but you still want to avoid it during warm spells when it is on...Read more

Missouri River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The Missouri near Craig and Wolf creek is a great option in the spring. Many of the rainbows are spawning in the tributaries but with 7,000 trout per mile there are still plenty of targets in the main river. Nymphing will be very good with your typical tailwater nymphs such as...Read more

Ruby River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The Ruby can be a good spring option and has some dam protection in the lower reaches. Look towards tailwater style nymph patterns like a Ray Charles, San Juan Worm, or Zebra Midge as your go to. Streamer fishing can be really good on the Ruby this time of year as well. Brown...Read more

Montana Lakes Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The ice is off many of the lower elevation lakes, while some higher lakes are still frozen solid. The fish are hungry but the cold water temperatures and lack of hatches will keep them a bit deeper for now. Choose a sinking line or a longer leader with some weight to get down to...Read more

Other Waters Fishing Report

- Poor
Current Conditions: Smaller waters are often colder than the main rivers and are not always the best early season option for good spring fishing. The best fisheries this time of year are often the bigger rivers and spring creeks. The Month Ahead: Smaller waters will only get tougher as we enter...Read more