7 Tips for Fly Fishing the Salmonfly Hatch

-Tip #1 Slap The Dry

It’s not often we tell you to do this while fly fishing in Montana, but the Salmonfly is huge, and they don’t typically hit the water softly. Often a fly slapped on the water will entice trout to eat immediately. Many times you can see multiple fish come up after your fly at the same time. The heavy landing is a trigger to the fish.  However, trout react differently in different situations, and they will tell you what they want. Some days an aggressively twitched Salmonfly will drive trout crazy. The next day a dead drift presentation is the only way they will eat.  Whether it’s an aggressive bug slap, twitching the fly or dead drifting, the trout will tell you what they want. If one presentation isn’t working, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try another.

-Tip #2 Fish Tight In The Beginning

Salmonflies start hatching in June around Missoula. While runoff may be over, the water is still big and fast. High water limits the holding water for trout, which means you need to fish tight to the bank. The water is slower near the bank, the Salmonfly nymphs are migrating to the banks to emerge, and the adults are found in overhanging foliage. Combine that together, and 90% of the fish you catch at this time will be within 5 feet of the bank. As the rivers drop through late June and July, new holding spots form for trout and they move into more summer like runs. The lower the water, the farther the trout can roam from the banks.

This big Brown Trout couldn’t resist the Salmonfly inches from the bank.

-Tip #3 Heavy Tippet

High, fast, off-color water is the perfect time for heavy tippet. Combine speed with no clarity, and the fish are not leader shy. Following Tip #1, you’re banging the banks. An inaccurate cast can put your fly in the bushes and heavier leader improves your chances of getting your bug back! Heavy tippet also helps you hold larger fish in the fast water encountered during this Salmonfly hatch. Our guides often run a dry/dropper, and during the Salmon Flies, the dropper can be as big as the dry! Using a 1x tippet for your big foam dry allows you to use 2X tippet to your big stonefly dropper. Some years the Salmonfly hatch will go until the end of July and we’ve even seen a few in early August. As the hatch continues and the water clears and drops, you can size your tippet down, but we rarely go below 3X.

-Tip #4 Start Low

The Salmonfly traditionally starts hatching on the lower sections of the stream, and progressively moves up-stream for the duration of the hatch. For example, the Salmon Fly hatch on Rock Creek moves upstream at about a mile a day. So if the hot section is mile 7-12 today, it should be mile 8-13 tomorrow.  Which is why you hear this question asked in fly shops and around Missoula, “Where’s the Salmonfly?” Early in the hatch, focus on the lower sections of the stream, where the majority of bugs are hatching. Then, if you choose to, you can follow the hatch up the river. However, being behind (lower on the river) the hatch can provide some of the best Salmon fly fishing in Montana. The trout have gorged themselves, and are on the lookout for more! But since there are fewer actual bugs, they are more apt to take your fly pattern. When you’re behind the hatch, the trout are hungry, greedy and very active. A great combination,

-Tip #5 Filled To The Brim

The Salmonfly is such a big bug, the trout can actually get too full. We’ve seen hot fishing turn cold even with naturals everywhere. No dries, no nymphs. The fish have eaten so many, they can take no more in. They need to digest before they can eat again. This explains why one day a section will be smoking hot, and the next day cold as ice. You’re competing with the trout’s metabolism, and if the trout can’t fit more in, they can’t eat! Going back to tip #4 as the bugs progress upstream there are sections with so many bugs the angler is sometimes competing with the trouts metabolism. The guides usually meet at the fly shop to share reports, putting together the pieces and figuring where the hatch is heaviest. It’s been our experience that the super hot stretch today will be slower tomorrow. As the hatch moves upstream from that section, the fishing will stop fluctuating from great to bad, and become a steady section where the trout consistently rise. This is why fishing can be more predictable when you are fishing behind the hatch.

-Tip #6 Go For The Gold

When the Salmonfly hatch is on around Missoula, everyone and their brother is throwing big orange bugs, and for good reason! However, when everyone’s throwing Salmonfly patterns, the fish start to get wise. As the hatch progresses, you’ll see fish charging your fly from the river depth, just to turn away at the last second. While this can be due to other factors like bad drift, often the trout recognize your bug looked eerily similar to one they’d eaten before, with poor results! When you start getting refusals to your Salmon Fly, switch to the Golden Stone. By this time in the Salmonfly hatch, the Goldens have also made their appearance. This can be a game changer for the angler toward the end of the Salmon Flies. At this time our guides often throw a tweener, which is basically a hybrid Salmonfly and Golden Stone. This fly pattern is a mix gold and orange dubbing on a size 8 hook, which is a bit smaller than the Salmon Fly and a bit bigger than the Golden Stonefly.

-Tip #7 Think Outside The Box

Believe the hype! Rock Creek has a world class Salmonfly hatch, maybe the best in Montana. People flock to Missoula for a very good reason. But with hype comes crowds. Think outside the box! The Blackfoot River, Clark Fork River and the upper stretches of the Bitterroot River all hold excellent numbers of Salmon Flies, with larger than average trout eating them. Typically, the hatch on these rivers starts later than Rock Creek. There are also plenty of tributaries around Missoula, Montana that also produce fantastic Salmon Fly fishing. While we love taking people on guided float trips for Salmon flies, there is also a lot of great small stream DIY options for fly fishing during June and July. Our fly shop staff and guides are always happy to help you out in your quest to hit the famed Montana Salmonfly hatch whether you’re one of our guests on the boat or someone who’s looking to go out on their own and wade fish. Don’t hesitate to stop in and get some help in finding a place to fly fish this amazing hatch.

Additional Salmonfly Resources

Missoula Montana Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Come enjoy a day on the river with Missoula’s best fly fishing guides. We float the Bitterroot River, Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River. All gear, lunch and transportation provided.

Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip