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The Backstage Pass

When is the Best Time to Fly Fish in Montana?

May 03, 23

Montana. Big Sky Country. The Treasure State. The Last Best Place. Fly fishing in Montana is grand and planning your fly-fishing trip in our home state should be fun and exciting, not a challenge. But how do you plan the perfect trip to a state that is home to a lifetime’s worth of amazing fly fishing?

The best way to plan for a trip is to simply call us. We are Montanans to the core, so we are eager to discuss current conditions for the best trip right now or to help you plan for future trips.

Remember our expert services are always free—but we’ve compiled this article to help you wade through the myriad of trip options to help you plan the perfect Montana fly fishing trip.

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When to plan a trip to Montana to fly fish?

What’s the best answer? The good news is no wrong answer exists. Montana’s vastness and variety of fly-fishing rivers, creeks, and lakes ensure there is always a place for an unforgettable fly-fishing vacation.

Taping in at over 600 miles wide, Montana is big. From the Bighorn River near Billings to the Kootenai or Flathead Rivers and their forks near Glacier National Park, there is always a place to cast a fly and a chance to catch a wild, Montana trout.

EARLY SEASON (April-Mid June)
Our fishing season begins in earnest in April. However, consistent fishing in April is tied to weather so the more flexible and more experienced anglers will enjoy an April trip. Most of Montana’s rivers can be solid options, with the most consistent being the Missouri and Bighorn Rivers due to their tailwater nature. A tailwater river runs clear due to its flows being controlled by a dam, unlike a freestone river that is free-flowing and subject to periods of high and muddy water due to early summer high mountain snowmelt. Freestone rivers that can fish well in April are the Madison, Yellowstone, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork. Fishing in April can be good, it can be tough, but calling us for current conditions before booking a trip can only be a smart move.

May and early June mean warmer days and more consistent weather. Several options exist for a destination fly fishing trip to Montana. During this time, anglers want to focus on destination tailwater rivers like the Bighorn or Missouri or consider a multi-day float trip on the Smith River. Spending several days on these world-class wild trout fisheries should be experienced.

MIDSEASON (Mid June-August)
Come mid-June and the onset of summer our days are long, sunshine lights up the Big Sky more often than clouds, and nearly all of Montana’s well-known fly-fishing rivers are options for all levels of anglers. The lone exception is the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley due to its prolonged snowmelt runoff. In most years, the Yellowstone River is ready to fish by early July.

Aside from the Yellowstone, the Madison, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Smith as well as the rivers near Missoula, the Bighorn and Missouri, Kootenai, and forks of the Flathead all will be in play at some point from mid-June leading into fall.

Summer is the most consistent season for fly fishing in Montana. Changing weather is less of a concern and guides can choose from a selection of local waters, from large rivers to small creeks to alpine lakes. Multi-day wilderness floats or overnight horseback pack-trips are all available in summer. If you want to experience some lesser-known rivers and creeks the summer season ensures those options exist. Add to the mix non-angling activities such as hiking, rafting, arts, and music festivals, and more, a summer season trip to Montana can be hard-core fishing or laid-back non-angling, or, as with many of our Montana trips, a well-planned mix of both.

LATE SEASON (September-October)
As the warmth of summer fades into September and October’s crisp and cool mornings, fishing is still consistent on all Montana rivers. Similar to April, weather determines the consistency of the fishing options and the more prepared and more experienced anglers will take advantage of the wide array of options. This is a great time to go fishing because many of the rivers are receiving less pressure due to the hunting season. In addition, you can discover great streamer fishing for brown trout, dry fly fishing blue-winged olives for rising trout on overcast days, and nymph fishing. The fall season in Montana is also one of the most beautiful times to be out here - it is simply gorgeous! If you appreciate upland hunting, you can also tie in your fishing trip with a hunting trip for grouse, pheasant, huns, and more (depending on when you're here!).

As you can see, the "best" time really boils down to what YOU want to accomplish as a Whether you’re thinking of spring, summer, or fall or are unsure, Yellow Dog’s expanse of destinations and expertise can help you choose the best option for your Montana fly fishing experience.

+ Listen to this WAYPOINTS Podcast: JAKE WELLS - Planning the Perfect Trip to Montana

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