Fly Fishing: The Seasons
September 15 - November 15
For many anglers, there is no experience more treasured than floating the Yellowstone or Madison River in solitude on a bright, crisp autumn day. Bugling elk and the whistle of wings from migrating waterfowl fill the morning air. Dry fly fishing starts to slow down, but steady risers can still be found on cloudy days during the Blue-Winged Olive emergence. Shorter days and cooler nights mean that the brown trout will soon be getting into the pre-spawn mode and aggressively chasing streamers and big nymphs.
Late September is a time of transition for fishing across Southwest Montana as the hectic pace of summer is replaced with a much more leisurely pace of covering the water. The steady rise of trout in shallows is now the exception rather than the rule. Nymphing and streamer fishing becomes the most effective way to cover the water and we spend more time wading likely spots. Swinging streamers through deep runs on sinking lines can bring both quality numbers and the size of wild trout on some days.
The weather in late fall tends to be unpredictable but comfortable until sometime after Halloween. We turn our attention to the Paradise Valley spring creeks once the really cold weather starts to show up as their water temperatures keep the fish feeding actively on the coldest of days. The creeks are easy to wade and have warming huts along the banks for shelter from the wind and cold. Rising fish and reduced rates make the spring creeks and ideal choice all through the late fall and winter.
A fall trip to southwest Montana is a great time of year to really take in all that the area has to offer. The rivers are typically void of other anglers and in ideal conditions for both wade and float fishing. We can usually find some rising fish, but the real draw is covering large amounts of water in search of a true trophy-sized Brown. It truly is a remarkable time of year to spend a day on the waters around Bozeman.
November 15 - March 15
Winter is one of the most beautiful times of year here in Southwest Montana. Contrary to popular belief, however, there is some fantastic fishing around Bozeman, even during the coldest winter months. Typical storm patterns cover the area in bitterly cold weather a few times a year, but there are typically more days above freezing than not. These mild winter days can offer fantastic fishing in complete solitude under the snow-capped peaks of the region.
The topography of Southwest Montana results in varied weather patterns across a relatively small area; so even though it may be windy and snowy in Bozeman, the weather in Livingston can be 20 degrees warmer and calm. We typically fish the main rivers or the Paradise Valley spring creeks during the winter months and prefer to walk wade trips as many of the rivers become difficult to float in January and February. The variety of options around Bozeman makes it possible to fish just about every day of the year!
The weather can be quite variable this time of year, so we work with our guests to try to pick the best days depending on the weather. In most cases, we recommend trying to add a few days of fishing on to a ski trip or wait until a week before your planned trip to finalize a winter fishing trip. We can usually get a good idea of what the conditions will be like with a week's notice as we watch the weather very closely this time of year. Regardless of the weather, winter is spectacular around Bozeman and the fishing can be outstanding.
March 15 - June 15
The days become noticeably longer here in Southwest Montana with the beginning of daylight savings time around Easter. Early spring warm spells get the locals off the ski hills and onto the rivers in search of rising trout on just about every river in the area. For many anglers, this is their favorite time of the year as rising fish aren't too wary and can be easy to find on cloudy days. Midges and Blue Winged Olives are the primary hatches during early spring, but the Mother's Day Caddis hatch is what everyone is hoping to hit just before the runoff starts in early May.
The Mother's Day Caddis hatch consistently offers some of the best dry fly fishing of the year on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers. Timing is everything with this hatch, as the rivers will be blown out if you're too late. We encourage people to shoot for the last week of April through early May as fishing will be great even if the caddis aren't out yet.
The weather in late April is typically beautiful with daytime temperatures in the 70's and nights near freezing. The last 2 weeks of April and the first week of May is one of the real “sleeper” times of year around Southwest Montana as the crowds of summer are still months away, the fish feed actively throughout the day, and the scenery is spectacular.
Once the spring melt really gets going, the larger rivers reach flows up to 10X the summer flows. We focus our attention on the spring creeks of Paradise Valley, private reservoirs, and regional tailwaters such as the Missouri and Big Horn during the height of spring runoff. Although the options can be limited during this time of year, we're always able to find some good conditions within a short drive of Bozeman and the persistent angler can come away with some great memories.
Runoff conditions vary from year to year, but we usually see dropping river flows in early June and fishable conditions soon follow. As the rivers begin to drop, stonefly nymphs begin their migration to the banks and the trout follow them. Nymphing with giant stonefly nymphs and dead-drifted streamers, while the rivers are still high and dirty, can be really productive. We usually see some dry fly fishing on Salmonflies in early June, but the height of the hatch typically begins around mid-June on the Upper Madison and Yellowstone Rivers.
During May and June, daytime temperatures are usually mild and thundershowers are very common. The surrounding landscape is bright green thanks to the melting snow and spring showers. The river bottoms offer refuge to a multitude of wildlife species as they rear their young and it's common to see everything from baby otters to nests filled with fledgling Ospreys. In addition to some great fishing, late spring is one of those times of the year when the crowds aren't too bad and the weather is usually very comfortable all day long.
June 15 - September 15
The quality of fly fishing during this time of year is simply unmatched anywhere in the lower 48. On most days, we can get good numbers of wild trout on nymphs, dries, and streamers from dawn to dusk. Rising fish and prolific insect hatches attract anglers from around the world to the waters of Southwest Montana during the warm summer months.
A variety of hatches including stoneflies, mayflies, midges, and caddis bring the trout to the surface through the end of August. As the “dog days of summer” settle in, typically around mid-August, the hatches diminish and the trout turn their attention to terrestrial insects such as ants, beetles, and hoppers. The days become noticeably shorter around Labor Day, and the cooling temperatures often bring the return of several strong Mayfly hatches on cloudy days.
The first big hatch of the summer is the Salmonflies which are enormous stoneflies found in most of the rivers of Southwest Montana. Fishing during this hatch can be fast and furious as the fish really search these bugs out on the water, resulting in some explosive takes. It can be difficult to get the fish on the dries every day during the hatch, but it's an amazing experience if you do get lucky enough to hit it just right. Nymphing along the banks is almost always productive, even when the fish aren't keyed into the adults.
During late June, most of the rivers see an amazing amount of diversity in the types of insects on our local rivers. There are some days when you can look across a river and see several species of stoneflies, mayflies, and caddis all flying around at one time! Needless to say, it's an experience in itself and is one of many that make fly fishing the most productive method on the rivers and streams of Southwest Montana.
Insect activity begins to slow down win mid-July as we see less and less of the giant Salmonflies and Golden Stones. Although daily hatches of caddis and mayflies continue on through the hottest part of the summer, their activities are limited to the early and late parts of the day. We keep an eye out for the end of the Yellow Sally hatch as a signal that the trout will soon be turning their attention to hoppers and other terrestrials.
Long drifts and big dries can bring the biggest fish of the year to the surface on even the hottest August afternoon. We typically fish large attractor dries in the mornings and then hopper/dropper rigs as the day warms. Our guides try to get on the water early in the day, when the fish are most active, during the warmest part of the summer. Afternoon thundershowers are a welcome occurrence during August as they bring instant relief from the sweltering Montana sun and reinvigorate both anglers and fish alike.
The fishing crowds of summer are the lightest during August as many anglers are busy with the last family vacations of the summer. Also, August has a reputation for being the toughest of the summer months, especially during low water years. The abundance of water in the region, however, always seems to offer a variety of choices, both public and private, that consistently hold feeding fish, even during the hottest days of the year.
Typical weather patterns tend to bring cooler weather in early September and the rivers cool down quickly after a few nights of near-freezing temperatures. We see a renewal of mayfly hatches following these cooler nights, which quickly gain the attention of trout everywhere. Early morning Tricos are followed by mid-morning Western Red Quills and Gray Drakes and then there are still plenty of terrestrials to keep much fish looking up for an easy meal throughout the day.
More and more anglers are planning September trips as the fishing and weather are typically very good. Sudden weather changes are a real possibility in September, so anglers need to be prepared for anything from snow to scorching heat. If early snow shows up, the Cottonwood leaves begin to turn yellow and gold, making for a spectacular day…fish or not.