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When is the Best Time to Fly Fish in Montana?

Posted by: Toby Swank
Date: 03/06/2024

Montana fly fishing is among the best wild trout fly fishing destinations in the world. Timing your fly fishing vacation around the best times of the year is critical to angling success while fly fishing in Montana.

When is the Best Time to Fly Fish in Montana?

The best time to fly fish in Montana is whenever you can. There are myriad world-renowned wild trout fly fishing options across Montana, so anglers fishing here can always find trout fishing water that is fishing well.

A Bozeman Montana fly fishing vacation gives an angler the most variety of angling experiences.

However, there are a couple of caveats. Avoid winter. And the runoff from mid-May through early June.

The warmer months of June, July, and August are the best time of year to fly fish in Montana for beginners, but experienced anglers can expect to find success anytime between March and October.

Spring is the Best Time of the Year to Fly Fish in Montana for Uncrowded Conditions

Also known as pre-runoff fishing, springtime is the best time of the year to go fly fishing in Montana if avoiding crowds is important to an angler.

Local anglers begin to fish in earnest during early March when shelf ice starts breaking up and boat ramps are cleared of snow. More importantly, once the water temperatures start getting into the 40s, the trout emerge from their winter slumber. Once their body temperature rises with the warmer water, they start packing on calories, preparing for runoff and the rainbow spawn.

One rule regarding spring fishing: prepare for the weather. It might snow, even in May. It could also be sunny and 70. Most likely, you’ll get a combination of all four seasons. So, bring layers, especially a rain jacket.

Onto the fishing. The water temperatures drop during the cold spring nights, so there is no need to get to the river at the crack of dawn. The best time of day to fly fish in Montana during the Spring is late morning and early afternoon.

A go-to river for spring fishing is the Lower Madison as it’s close to Bozeman and anglers fishing this river can wade or float in the spring. It is a tailwater with generally steady flows and consistent fishing during the shoulder seasons. It’s a great choice for new anglers venturing out on their own and for the experienced angler looking for a few rising trout on a cloudy day. The trout of the lower Madison River tend to congregate in “buckets” carved by ice gorging the river bottom and mid-river weed beds. Mayflies, midges, and caddis hatch in good numbers throughout the Spring, culminating with the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch in late April.

Angler experiencing the best fly fishing in Montana

Experience the Best Fly Fishing in Montana During the Summer Months

Summer is unquestionably the best time of year to fly fish in Montana. There is no fly fishing experience quite like a long float on a beautiful Montana river during a bright, sunny Summer day. The views are spectacular, and the wild trout feed freely throughout the day on a variety of hatching insects, small fish, and terrestrial insects.

Montana fishing can be divided into two parts during the summer — hatch season and terrestrial season.

The party starts in late June with the arrival of the Western Tanagers and Salmonflies — the pinky-sized stoneflies, that are the largest hatching insects on the best fly fishing rivers in Montana. This is the busiest time of the year, but the numerous world-class trout fishing destinations in Montana disperse anglers across Big Sky country. Anglers fishing the Salmonfly hatch on the Madison, Big Hole, or Yellowstone Rivers often are rewarded with the best dry fly fishing in Montana for trophy Brown Trout in late June.

July hatches of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis are diverse and prolific throughout Montana. For the angler, this means that the fish will be active and reliably feeding. This is primetime nymph fishing for beginners. The dry-fly purists will be happy, too. Anglers can cruise the river looking for opportunistic feeders or selectively target rising fish along the banks. Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout actively feed on emerging insects throughout the day.

The upper Madison, Missouri, Bighorn, Yellowstone, and Beaverhead Rivers are each at their best in July. Diverse hatches are thematic of the freestones while prolific biomass is more indicative of fly fishing in Montana on the tailwaters. The abundance of insect activity, ideal water temperatures, and clearing water conditions all come together to make July the best month for fly fishing in Montana.

As July fades into August, the aquatic insect hatches taper off, but the Montana dry-fly season continues thanks to terrestrial insects. Grasshoppers, ants, and beetles migrate to the riverbanks as the valley fields dry out in the summer sun. These insects are poor fliers and even worse swimmers, so they make for an easy meal when they end up in the river’s current.

Montana fly fishing is busiest in the summer for good reason. The fishing is simply the best.

The Best Fly Fishing in Montana for Trophy Brown Trout is in the Fall

Autumn is a time of change across Montana. The Cottonwood and Aspen groves turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red, as do the Brown Trout.

Cold nights quickly cool the waters, reinvigorating trout as they resume feeding actively in anticipation of the looming winter ahead. Nymph and streamer fly fishing becomes standard for both novice and skilled anglers fly fishing in Montana.

Blue-winged olive mayflies are the primary hatching insects throughout the fall, with prolific emergences occurring on mild, cloudy days. Although technical, dry fly fishing during a fall Baetis is a great experience for novice anglers. Advanced anglers relish the challenge of selectively sight-fishing to the largest trout in a pod of rising fish.

Brown Trout are increasingly active with the shortening days and cooling weather. These fall-spawning trout begin to move up and down the river systems of Montana, becoming increasingly territorial and aggressive towards other fish. Streamer fly fishing elicits violent strikes from the legendary Brown Trout of Montana, making Fall the best month of the year to fly fish in Montana for trophy Brown Trout.

Brown Trout spawn in early November, effectively ending the Montana fly fishing season for the year. Fall transitions to winter and anglers fishing in Montana between November and March will have to pick their days as winter conditions are generally difficult for fly fishing in Montana.

Fall is the best time of the year to fly fish in Montana for trophy brown trout.

Plan Ahead for The Best Fly Fishing in Montana

Montana is a large diverse state filled with world-renowned trout fishing. The best time to go fly fishing in Montana is between March and October. July and August are the best month of the year for anglers of all skill levels while experienced anglers can find unique and rewarding challenges almost any month of the year. Anglers fishing in Montana for large fish should plan their travel in the fall as this is the best time to go fly fishing in Montana for trophy Brown Trout.

The winter and runoff season between mid-May and early June present challenging conditions for anglers fishing in Montana. However, fly fishing Paradise Valley on the spring creeks provides rewarding and reliable winter fly fishing in Montana. The Missouri and Bighorn Rivers – two world-class tailwater fisheries – consistently fish well during the runoff season as they run clear in the high flows.

Whether you are new to fly fishing or a seasoned angler, there is no place like Montana when it comes to fly fishing for trout in the western Rockies. Fins and Feathers Guide Service has been outfitting Montana fly fishing trips for over two decades. Rely on our expertise to help custom-tailor your Montana fly fishing vacation with choices that range from unique day trips to all-inclusive fly fishing lodge packages.

E-mail our Bozeman fly fishing guides to learn more or to make a reservation. Bookings can also be secured online or by calling us at 1-406-468-5019.

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