June Fishing on the Smith River

June weather, streamflow's, and summary

June on the Smith River is defined by long days and prolific hatches. Because in this month the Smith River sees the end of snowmelt runoff, the fishing changes throughout the month. The first week or so can still experience high or rising flows, but in most years by June 10 the river begins to drop rapidly. By month’s end streamflows are low and hatches are thick. Planning a Smith River fly fishing trip in early June is similar to the second half of May: equal parts calculated risk with equal parts for the hope of great rewards. However, a Smith River trip after the first week of June has great potential for ideal conditions. Starting a trip anytime during the second week of June is the most desired. 

By early June snowpack and streamflow data can paint a detailed picture to help forecast when the Smith River may crest and begin to drop—typically by June 5th. When it does begin to drop enough for the most favorable fishing and floating conditions—typically below 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and with about 6 inches of visibility—the river is one of the best freestones in Montana for the remainder of the month of June. 

Like the streamflows, June weather changes as the month progresses. Early June sees average daily high air temperatures in the mid-60 degrees F while by month’s end the average daily high temperatures rise to almost 80 degrees F. Measurable precipitation is likely to fall on nine days throughout the month. Most of those days occur early in the month. Average rainfall during June rapidly decreases, starting the month at 2.6 inches and ending the month at 1.6 inches. The highest average daily accumulation is 2.6 inches on June 2.

Because nearly all fishing trips on the Smith River require multiple overnight stays—the main access points are 60 miles apart and anglers must apply for a permit to float and camp on the river. Any fly- fishing trip on the Smith River requires careful planning and a thorough understanding of river conditions and weather patterns. 

The Smith River is the only river in Montana that requires a permit for all outfitted guests and private users. There are only a few outfitters that are permitted to operate on the Smith River. Private users can apply for launch via a lottery system operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. For launches in June, anglers must apply in February. Information can be found online at Montana’s Smith River State Park.   

Most anglers spend no less than three and not more than five nights on the river. To ensure safety and enjoyment, proper planning is crucial. This includes the following: having the necessary gear, knowing how to prep and prepare meals, some rowing experience, and a knowledge of individual group dynamics. These things are crucial to getting the most out of a Smith River fly fishing trip.

June fishing: what to expect

Because the Smith River is primarily fished from boats, knowledge of streamflows and river-camping is crucial. For a June fly fishing trip on the Smith River it is best to break down the month into early and mid/late June. 

Early June

Early June differs greatly from late June, both in terms of weather, fishing conditions, and hatches. Because the Smith River is a freestone river—its steamflow directly related to available snowpack and tributary streams—early June can vary. Due to the smaller drainage and lower elevation mountains that feed the Smith, river flows peak earlier than on other systems in Montana.

Peak flows on the Smith generally occur in late May or early June. While flows are high in early June, in most years the river begins to stabilize by June 10. During years of lower-than-average snowmelt runoff, streamflows may even be dropping by June 1. Higher streamflows in early June generally rule out dry-fly fishing opportunities. During these high flows, this is the time for big ugly patterns, and anglers have their best luck stripping streamers or fishing nymph rigs with large, weighted flies. Pattern selection does not need to be sophisticated. Choose two fly weighted nymph rigs with Pat’s Rubberlegs or San Juan Worms in sizes 8 through 12, Zonkers or crayfish in sizes 4 through 8, or Prince Nymphs or Copper Johns in sizes 10 or 12. For streamers, Zonkers or crayfish along with black, brown, or olive-and-black Wooly Buggers in sizes 4 through 8 are always good choices. 

Mid/Late June

The few weeks that make up the second half of June may be short in duration, but longtime fans of the Smith River patiently wait many months to fish a river in its ideal post-runoff condition. In most years by mid-June, the river is on a steady decline, with flows dropping each day. Water temps are very favorable and another round of hatches kicks into gear. Hatches of Golden stoneflies, Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), various caddis species, Yellow Sally stoneflies, and a few Drakes make up the hatch chart. This is one of the most variable times of the season, and fishing conditions can change from day to day and even hour to hour. On an average water year, this is typically one of the best dry-fly windows on the Smith. On low water years, warmer water temperatures can become an issue as early as the last week of June, causing the fishing window to be best early in the morning or late in the evening—which isn’t a problem because most campsites are a very short walk from the river!

For late June fly fishing on the Smith River choose dry flies that imitate the various hatches. Stonefly dry flies in sizes 8 through 10 in tan, gold, or yellow are ideal. For PMDs choose mayfly dries or emergers in sizes 12 through 16. For PMD nymphs choose beadhead Pheasant Tails in size 12 through 16. For the few Drakes that may hatch, choose mayfly dries in sizes 10 or 12 and nymphs in sizes 10 or 12. 

Streamer anglers may still find a few aggressive trout in late June, particularly in the lowlight conditions of early morning or late evening. Choose olive, black, or black/brown sparsely dressed patterns in sizes 4 through 8. A black or olive conehead Sculpzilla is a guide-favorite for mid/late June. 

Where to find June trout on the Smith River

June is a month of variety on the Smith River. Because trout most often follow the available food source, where a trout may be found early in June will differ from where they may be found later in the month. The Smith River is defined by a deep, limestone canyon. Limestone cliffs dominate many bends of the river, and many of the Smith River’s trout hold and feed along these limestone cliffs. 

In June these cliffs can be a focus of trout anglers or they should be ignored. If early June experiences high and rising flows, most of the Smith River’s trout prefer the slower water downstream of a canyon wall or the soft inside bend across the river from the faster current along the wall. If flows are dropping and clear, shift focus back to the seams and eddys along and near the cliff walls. 

If hatches of stoneflies or caddis occur trout can be found near bank-side structure and foam lines created by mixing currents or other structures. In these slower waters look for rising trout. During a hatch of caddis or Drakes target slower currents, eddy lines, and seams behind rocks. For stoneflies, focus on bank-side structure, willows, eddylines, and foamlines. For Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), target pocket water—in front and behind rocks--riffles and shelves, and long runs or flats. 

In early June if a hatch doesn’t occur, target slow eddys, foam lines, and any soft water near structure with subsurface nymphs. Trout will be in lies where they can enjoy access to food floating by without spending too much energy swimming in heavy, rapidly rising streamflows. 

In mid/late June if a hatch doesn’t occur, because the Smith River has an abundance of aquatic life and streamflows are dropping and food is prevalent in many habitats, trout inhabit many places. They are most often found along the bank, in riffles, shelfs, the heads of runs, and the tail outs of runs. These habitats all offer the primary needs for trout: available food source, cover from predators, cover from strong currents, and flowing water for oxygen. 

Important June hatches

The Smith River in June is a veritable feast of hatches for the river’s wild trout. With hatches of Golden stoneflies, caddis, Yellow Sally stoneflies, Drakes, Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), and the potential for some early terrestrial fishing, the Smith River in June can serve up a dry fly anglers dream menu. 

Beginning with Golden stoneflies and Yellow Sally stoneflies in early June, followed by hatches of caddis and Pale Morning Dun (PMD) later in the month, any day can be a “dry fly day” on the Smith River. Stoneflies, caddis, and PMDs can hatch at subsequent times as well. A variety of caddis species ranging in size from 10 to 20 live in the Smith River and hatch throughout the month, occurring at various times throughout the day. 

PMD hatches typically begin mid-morning and last for several hours. Insects range in sizes from 12 to 18, with most being size 16. As a mayfly, it is important to understand trout may feed on emerging PMDs and not exclusively on fully hatched adults. 

A few grey or green Drakes may hatch as well on the Smith River in June. Look to fish nymphs in sizes 10 or 12 or dry flies in sizes 10 or 12. 

Grasshoppers, although not an aquatic insect, can be found on bankside grasses in late June. Opportunistic trout will eat a grasshopper that has mistakenly found its way onto the water. 

Smith River fly box for June

Stonefly nymphs in brown and black in sizes 8 through 10

Golden stonefly dry flies in sizes 6 to 10

Yellow Sally stonefly dry flies in sizes 10 and 12

PMD dry flies size 14 to 18

PMD emergers size 16

PMD nymphs size 16

Caddis pupae size 12 to 16

Caddis CDC emergers size 12 to 16

Caddis dry flies with dark grey, black or brown bodies in size 12 to 16; 

Grey and Brown Drake dry flies in sizes 10 to 16

Grey and Brown Drake nymphs in sizes 10 to 16

Grey and Brown Drake emergers in sizes 10 to 16

Sculpin patterns in sizes 2 to 6

Streamers in olive, black or brown in sizes 2 to 6

Grasshoppers in sizes 6 to 10.