Montana Fishing Report

Montana Fishing Report Overview

Fall is here and it is time to swing for the fences!  Late season in the Big Sky state is well known for dramatically increasing your chances of landing trophy sized brown trout.  Browns will be beginning to spawn in November but they are already moving in the rivers and becoming more aggressive.  The fish are colored up and spectacular right now.  We have already seen several big browns over 22” come to the net in the last few days.  The hunt for big fish should only get better as we move farther into the fall. 

So where to go to target huge browns?  Any of the larger river systems that hold big fish can produce a monster including the Yellowstone, Lower Madison, Upper Madison, Jefferson and Missouri to name a few.  There are also some interesting locations where big browns run out of lakes and into rivers that include the Madison in Yellowstone Park, the Madison between the lakes and the Missouri both above Canyon Ferry and between the lakes near Beaver Creek.  The better known fall spawning runs aren’t a secret so expect to see a few other anglers on the more famous ones like the Madison in the park and between the lakes on the Mo.  Some of the “regular rivers” like the Yellowstone and Madison are still a great bet in the fall and you won’t see a lot of pressure and you often have a great shot at roping big fish when playing with the resident population.  Big trout fall to a variety of patterns and techniques.  Stripping streamers on clouding days can be exciting and productive, especially when the water temps aren’t too cold.  As water temps become cooler traditional nymphing techniques are still productive.  Dead drifting favorite streamers trailed by baetis nymphs is a good bet.  Egg patterns also become productive again since both whitefish and browns spawn in the fall. 

Fall water temperatures result in great fishing on all of our regular summer time favorites like the Gallatin, Upper Madison and Yellowstone but there are several low elevation fisheries that come into shape in the fall.  Some of the waters around Three Forks like the Lower Madison, Jefferson and Missouri are too warm most of the summer but when temps start dropping they are a viable option.  The catch on the lower rivers is that there aren’t a lot of trout but if you don’t mind just a few hookups it can be a fresh option this time of year. 

Fall in Montana isn’t completely about catching huge browns.  There is also some great dry fly fishing to be had in the fall months.  Baetis mayflies rule the roost when it comes to autumn hatches.  These smaller size 18 and 20” insects will be in much greater abundance on cloudy days but even on a sunny day they can be important.  Don’t forget about terrestrials in the fall either.  Hoppers and ants can still turn fish on a warm and sunny afternoon in the fall on warmer than average days.  If you are a dry fly aficionado the spring creeks near Livingston are a great option with reduced rates and a daily hatch of BWO’s. 

Water levels, although still on the low side increase in the fall when irrigation ends.  In rivers above the irrigation they are mostly holding steady now at their base levels.  Water temperatures are declining and fish are adjusting to softer water so avoid the riffles and look for slower holding water.  Almost all fisheries around the state are now an option from tiny meadow streams to low elevation waters but the smaller mountain streams are tougher in cooler temps.  The lower reaches of rivers have great water temps right now and are a good place to target trophy browns and rainbows.  The productive fishing hours are now in the later morning and afternoon.  Fish are still looking for the occasional hopper but the baetis hatches are getting thicker and are driving surface action.  Streamer fishing is also getting better by the day as the big browns become unsettled before the spawn.

Baetis hatches are becoming regular and we have seen some very strong hatches on heavily overcast days and this should only get better.  There are some bigger drakes mixed in with the baetis which trout love so a larger size 12 wulff pattern can work wonders.  If you have some cloud cover be prepared to target rising fish in foam lines and seams.  Make sure you have some baetis emergers to fish behind a dun.

Fly selection
Hoppers and ants can still take fish in October even though they are not as common as earlier in the fall.  On warmer sunny days they are still worth a try.   Mayflies are starting to become more important as the mahogany duns, drakes and especially baetis duns are popping in the late mornings and afternoon.  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. Baetis are just starting to hatch in force and 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.  Browns are starting to move and egg patterns can also produce in the late fall.

Reading water
Water temps are cooler and trout have moved out of the heavy water and riffles in favor of softer holding water.  On larger rivers look for slow inside corners below riffles, slicks, slow seams and foam eddies.  On smaller streams the slower pools or transition current where it slows below the riffles is where you will find trout.  Ignore the pocket water and riffles that were so productive in the late summer and early fall – the fish aren’t there anymore.   

Yellowstone River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The river is finally turning on again after some hit or miss fishing in the late summer and early fall. Some very big browns are starting to show up and we have seen several 20”+ trout in the nets recently. Nymphing has been good to outstanding with big streamers dead drifted or...Read more

Upper Madison River Fishing Report

- Red Hot
Current Conditions: The Upper continues to produce some of the most consistent fishing in the region. Big trout and good numbers on a daily basis. The most consistent action has been nymphing big streamers trailed by smaller attractor nymphs. Large stonefly nymphs on top have also been a good...Read more

Lower Madison River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Lower has turned on recently with the longer and cooler nights. The fishing has been really good on some days with some big slab rainbows coming into the net. The monster browns are starting to move and we have seen a few really dark fish looking for streamers. This has been...Read more

Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: Water temps remain very good up and down the river. The mornings are very cool around Big Sk y and the fish aren’t moving until the late afternoon. In the valley things are starting up earlier. In the canyon smaller patterns have been better on light 5x flouro leaders (think...Read more

Montana Spring Creeks Fishing Report

- Red Hot
Current Conditions: The spring creeks are a great fall option when you want a break from tossing streamers the size a small lap dog. The baetis hatch can be awesome in the afternoons, especially with some cloud cover. The rod fees drop on the Livingston creeks making them a decent option for locals...Read more

Stillwater River Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The StillwaterRiver is low but trout are moving into the deeper slots and nymphing has been productive in the late morning. The afternoon can provide some good dry action with some cloud cover over the baetis hatch. Stripping streamers for some Yellowstone run browns on the...Read more

Boulder River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Boulder is low and the trout are spooky so making longer casts helps to reduce sending trout in the wrong direction. The good news is that fish are moving into deeper water where they aren’t as nervous. Standard fair for nymphing like stone fly nymphs and baetis patters is...Read more

Jefferson River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Jeff has better flows in it now that the irrigation season is over. Water temps are coming down and fishing has been solid. Bigger fish are still coming in on big streamers or dead drifted crayfish, zonkers and sculpins. If you have cloud cover stripping streamers can be...Read more

East Gallatin River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The water on the East is low right now and trout are spooky. Use longer leaders and plan your first cast or pay the price of spooked trout. The afternoon dry fly fishing can be very good in the afternoon with some cloud cover. Stripping small streamers can also result in some...Read more

Missouri River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: This is a great time to fish the Missouri from the headwaters all the way down to Cascade. The upper river near Townsend has some big fish that have moved in from the lake and it isn’t uncommon to find some large rainbows over 20” sipping baetis dries on a cloudy day. Stripping...Read more

Ruby River Fishing Report

- Very Good
Current Conditions: The Ruby has been hit or miss for us in the early fall but things seemed to have stabilized and it is fishing well again. The water is low and the fish are concentrated in the deeper runs. The browns are moving and this is a fun fishery to strip streamers for medium sized trout...Read more

Montana Lakes Fishing Report

- Fair
Current Conditions: This is the time to fish the big rivers for big browns. The browns are moving out of the lakes and into the rivers and most of the dry fly action is finished so there isn’t a big draw to the stillwaters now unless you just love fishing lakes. The Month Ahead: Not much Long Term...Read more

Other Waters Fishing Report

- Good
Current Conditions: The smaller streams are pretty low but still productive, especially those that see little pressure. The trout are definitely very “holed up” in the deeper lies so move a lot and skip the skinny water in between. Yellowstone Park is fishing great right now for the fall run browns...Read more