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Montana Fly Fishing Seasons

Splendid days afloat, a wild trout taking your well-presented fly, and affirmation from your guide of a job well-done. These are components of a Montana fly fishing trip when planned correctly. Montana, and its cadre of world-famous rivers and creeks, boasts a lifetime’s worth of waters.


Spring: March through mid-June

Spring in Montana is when local anglers slide out of winter hibernation. Most rivers in Montana will fish well at some point during spring, and because it is not summer tourist season, angling pressure is less. But knowing when in spring to fish is crucial. And that’s where you can rely on our expertise.

March is not a silver bullet because spring snowstorms regularly move through the state, but by April our weather patterns are more consistent and fishing in Montana is on our minds.

For a trip in April, anglers should focus on the Bighorn or Missouri Rivers. Their tailwater nature means consistent flows and clarity, making them less susceptible to our unsettled spring weather patterns. Experienced anglers on these rivers will enjoy hatches of midges, Blue Winged Olives, a few early season stoneflies, and possibly some early caddis. Yellow Dog has exclusive arrangements with several destination lodges with top-shelf amenities, as well as options to suit most budgets. As our staff in Bozeman, Montana can attest, when it’s time to fish after a long winter, they travel in-state to these two rivers.

From year to year, our destination lodges in the Bozeman, Ennis, and Twin Bridges areas can experience solid fishing in April. If you desire to experience these areas of Montana in a season possibly new to you, contact us and we can discuss options and create a potential itinerary.

The Smith River’s first launches of the year occur in mid-May. A 60-mile floating and camping trip through a remote canyon, a Smith River float trip is a Yellow Dog favorite. Along with the Missouri and Bighorn Rivers, the Smith can be a good option when other rivers are in the height of runoff.

Summer: Mid-June through Labor Day

June kicks off the summer season in earnest. Missoula-area rivers, such as Rock Creek, the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Clark Fork Rivers drop and clear from snowmelt first. Then moving east across Montana, typically followed by the Smith, Big Hole, Gallatin, Madison, and lastly, the Yellowstone, drop and clear. The Bighorn and Missouri Rivers typically run clear all through June.

Fly fishing in Montana in June is defined by the grandness of scale. Rivers are dropping as snowmelt runoff has subsided, so guides are fishing them at their highest flows of the season. Coinciding with the window of dropping flows is the first major hatch of the summer—the salmon fly. Known by many, enjoyed by lots, but predicted by very few, the salmon fly hatch is hard to plan for, so fishing the salmon fly hatch demands a flexible and positive attitude.

After the salmon flies and by late June, most of Montana’s rivers are options for all levels of anglers. The Yellowstone River, because its headwaters are high in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park, is the last of our rivers to become fishable. In most years the first week of July sees our local guides enjoying the Yellowstone.

July and August often serve up long days with bluebird skies. Float fishing, walking-and-wading small creeks, and fishing backcountry waters are on the mid-summer menu here at Yellow Dog. This is our most popular time to fish in Montana because, during normal conditions, all of our rivers, creeks, and backcountry lakes serve up a variety of angling choices for all abilities. Additionally, activities for non-anglers are readily available. From a destination lodge featuring one river or many rivers to a multi-day float trip on the Smith or South Fork of the Flathead to basing out of one of our larger towns, Yellow Dog’s Montana summer options have got something for every ability and every level of amenities for anglers or non-anglers.

Fall: Labor Day into October

As August fades to September and Labor Day comes, we transition out of summer and into fall. The faces of our local fishing guides are tanned and weathered—signs of another good summer season. Similar to summer, all waters are normally viable options.

Unlike summer when nearly all waters are solid choices, fall can see some rivers and creeks fish better than others. This is when our expertise and experience in Montana is invaluable. For example, the Madison River near Ennis could be experiencing a great fishing year, whereas another river may not. Fall is typically a very consistent season to fish in Montana, but where to go requires local knowledge. We’ve got decades of that.

As the days of September fade and October approaches, weather becomes less predictable as cold fronts move through. Like spring, fall is better suited for slightly more experienced anglers, both with the proper gear and the proper attitude, to enjoy a successful trip. Deeper into October and closer to Halloween, fishing action can rival early summer, however, the chosen methods change. Serious dry-fly anglers will delight in the possibility of late-season Blue Winged Olive or October hatches. Anglers dedicated to fishing streamers may land a trophy-size brown trout; they may also fish aggressively all day and enjoy only gorgeous views of changing cottonwoods and snow-dusted peaks.

Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures chose Montana to call home. Spring, summer, or fall means we can fish Montana’s best fly-fishing waters at times we enjoy them the most. We offer free and expert tips and advice from all corners of the world so contact us today to let us share our home waters with you.

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