Best Flies For Montana Fly Fishing
Montana is a big state. Even though it fits on the same size page in the Road Atlas as Rhode Island, we’re a bit larger. But despite the size, there’s a lot of the best flies for Montana fly fishing that work from the lower Clark Fork to the Bighorn River.
The best flies for Montana go way beyond the Stimulator, Elk Hair Caddis and Pheasant Tail Nymph. While they still work (especially the PT nymph), there are many new, less universal flies that work better. Our choices for Montana’s best flies aren’t as simple as the classics, but they are a lot more effective. The Missoulian Angler fly shop takes fly selection seriously- we may have the largest fly selection in Montana and one of the largest in the world. While not verified by us, we’ve been told by many travelling anglers and industry reps that our selection is unparalleled across the state. It’s the business end of your tackle. We take flies seriously.
Early Summer Montana Flies
- June to Mid July
Most years, run-off ends in Montana about mid-June, and the Salmon Flies start moving all across western and central Montana. The first couple days of the hatch, anything big and orange works, like an Orange Stimi. But as the hatch extends, the fish get more familiar with the naturals, and then fussier in their eats. Clearing water doesn’t help either! When trout start to get persnickety, try a Gould’s Half Down Salmon Fly or Rogue Stone. The Half Down floats with a submerged abdomen, and the Rogue is a naturally low floater. Low in the surface film is a key to Salmon Fly success, and both those flies fit the bill. If you need to float a dropper, or want an easily seen fly, an Orange Chubby Chernobyl floats like a cork with bright white wings for easy location.
Rogue Stone Salmonfly
Half Down Salmonfly
In the middle of the Salmon Fly hatch, the Golden Stones start to hatch. According to Missoula’s best fly fishing guides, Salmon Flies get the ink, Golden Stones get the fish. Golden Stones range anywhere from size 6 through 16 (the small ones are known as Yellow Sallies) The best Golden Stones across Montana are the Henry’s Fork Golden or an El Camino Grillos. Again, both are low floating. The Henry’s Fork Golden works better in size 10-16, while the El Camino is perfect when you need a big Golden. When you need the best point fly for the Dry/Dropper rig, look to the Golden Chubby Chernobyl. If you’re going to be in Montana in late June, check our pre-loaded boxes. These boxes have the best Montana flies, pulled together by us. We’ll make sure you have what you need to meet the fishing across the state as summer begins.
Henry’s Fork Golden
Chubby Chernobyl – Gold
Pre-Loaded Montana Fly Box
Up till now, we’ve only talked about dries, but with stonefly dries you get stonefly nymphs. Big and deep is the key for subsurface stonefly nymphs, and without doubt, the most popular stonefly nymph across Montana is the Pat’s Rubber Leg. Available in multiple colors and sizes, this easy tying fly works every where you find stoneflies. Quickly following the Pat’s is the T.J. Hooker. Part Pat’s, part Bugger, the T.J. is alive in the water, and takes trout on any freestone river in Montana. If you want something a bit more realistic, the Double Bead Stone in Peacock or Hare’s Ear will cover every stonefly species in Montana. If you decide to get a pre-loaded box, check the option for nymphs and Montana’s best early summer nymphs will be added.
Pats Rubber Legs
Double Bead Stone
For those who can forego the amazing hatches action across Montana as summer starts, streamer fishing will be at it’s best. If you want to check out what streamer fishing can be like with a standard trout rod (5-6 wt.) you can’t go wrong with the Sculpzilla or the Dirty Hippie. Both flies are easily cast on lighter lines, and are incredibly active in the water. For those who carry the big streamer stick, we can’t recommend the Gonga or the Sparkle Minnow enough. Both these flies swim like crazy. The Gonga gives a great profile with minimal flash, while the Sparkle Minnow does exactly what it’s name suggests, and glitters in the water like no other streamer we have. For the lighter line angler who yearns for articulation, check out the Mini Sex Dungeon. Same great action but in a castable size. Even if you limit yourself to these four streamers in Montana, you’re going to find a lot of success.
Baby Gonga Tan
Sparkle Minnow Sculpin
Check out our top fly patterns for each hatch for early summer by clicking links below.
Early/Mid Summer Montana Flies
- Early July to Early August
The PMD is the premier mayfly hatch across Montana. Starting in the last week of June, you find blanket hatches on the Clark Fork, Missouri, Bitterroot, Madison and Beaverhead, with PMD’s found on every trout river in the state. If we had to limit ourselves to one PMD, it would be the Quigley Cripple or a variation like the Last Chance PMD cripple. When bugs cover the water, trout key on the emergers or cripples. The Quigley covers both stages, and is the most productive mayfly imitation in our PMD arsenal. If you need a back up PMD, look to the Tiltwing or the Film Critic. The Film Critic is an emerger, while the Tiltwing imitates the dun.
Last Chance Cripple PMD
Film Critic PMD
The Rusty Spinner gets it’s own listing. We prefer the Hi-Viz Rusty Spinner, and it is one our best flies in early summer. Both the PMD’s and PED’s spinner stage is rusty, so not only are the numbers doubled, they fall at different times. When you’re focused on PMD’s, make sure you have Rusty Spinners. When it comes to subsurface action, the Pheasant Tail or Tungsten Pheasant Tail jig is still unbeatable as the all-around best PMD as well as Pale Evening Dun nymph. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Hi Vis Rusty Spinner PMD
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Jig Pheasant Tail Nymph
Same with the Elk Hair Caddis! When the Caddis are out across Montana, the Elk Hair is still the number one go-to fly. If you want a little variation, then jump on the X-Caddis. The trailing shuck will bring fish to the surface. Remember, when Caddis are covering the surface, the bottom is covered with Caddis Pupa. The LaFontaine Sparkle Pupa is still the best subsurface fly when caddis are on the move. Make sure to have Elk Hair and Caddis Pupas in Tan. Olive and Black also work but Tan covers most Caddis species this time of year. We can set up a preloaded box for Early July that will guarantee the best fly selection- just tell us the river and your dates, and we do the rest.
Elk Hair Caddis Tan
X Caddis Tan
Sparkle Pupa Tan
Check out our top fly patterns for each hatch for early/mid summer by clicking links below.
Mid Summer Montana Flies
- Mid July to Late August
As we reach mid-summer and the hatches begin to wane, attractor flies start to work. On the surface, the Hippie Stomper and Micro Chubbies are really starting to make their presence felt. Enough action to attract fish combined with great silhouettes have made these two flies some of the best flies for Montana fly fishing. When you go subsurface, make sure to have some Firestarters and G Kes Tungsten Jigs. The Firestarter will move fish in the warm weather- sometimes towards the fly and sometimes away! But the fluorescent body is un-missable on the bottom. The G Kes is one of our most generic tungsten jigs. It covers so many different species- mayflies and smaller stones- so it’s pretty much taken year-round in Montana. If you want to bulk up your subsurface attraction, throw in the Duracell. Good everywhere it goes. If you want nymphs in your preloaded box, make sure to check that option and we’ll get you the bugs that work.
Hippie Stomper Purple
Micro Chubby Gold
Micro Water Walker Royal
Two flies that deserve special mention are the Purple Haze and the Brindle Chute. Both flies were developed on the Bitterroot River, and proven themselves all across Montana. The colors are close enough to match some hatches, but their real magic comes as searching flies. When fishing a dry when there’s little surface action, the Purple Haze and Brindle Chute are two of the best flies for Montana fly fishing. They’re imitative enough to be a recognizable food form, while using distinct colors that bring the fish up. While the Purple Haze is more known across the state, the Brindle Chute is just as effective.
As attractor season starts, so does terrestrial fishing. The Ant Acid produces across Montana, in all the colors it’s available in. When it comes to beetles, the foam beetle is still on top, and our favorite is the Jake’s Gulp Beetle. Both float well and are as easily seen as any other low floating terrestrial! But when people think Montana and terrestrials, they’re really thinking about……
Grasshoppers! Montana has some amazing hopper fishing. Under the Big Sky, we get some big hoppers. We have hoppers from size 4 to size 14, and they all work. No matter where you go fly fishing in Montana, the Parachute Hopper is a winner. It’s one of Umpqua Flies top sellers, and there’s a reason for that. But there are some new-school hoppers that work tremendously well. The Morrish Hopper and the Sweetgrass Hopper are the dynamic duo. The Morrish Hopper provides a slim profile, while the Sweetwater Hopper is big and broad. With these three hoppers, you’re completely covered wherever you go in state. Want a fourth Hopper? Take a long look at the Henneberry Hopper. The realistic body provides a great silhouette and is one of our newest and most popular, but that’s not it’s best feature. No hopper has the “splat” factor the Henneberry has, and serious hopper anglers know trout will sometimes respond to a heavy water entry. That’s the Henneberry. Missoula fly fishing guides buy these by the handful!
Ant Acid Red/Black
Parachute Hopper Tan
Morrish Hopper Tan
Pav’s Yellowstoner Hopper
Something few anglers think about is streamer fishing in the heat of summer. It’s not just a dawn/dusk thing either. There are always little fish in the river, and there are always fish eating them, so it’s just a matter of sizing your fly appropriately. The Gonga and Articulated Sparkle Minnow are often just too big for low water, but we have excellent midsummer streamers. The Skiddish Smolt and Baby Swim Coach land lightly enough to not spook the pool, but have enough weight to get the fly down on a longer leader. Big fish eat little fish 24/7/365, yet most anglers go to them as a last-ditch effort. Try a small, lighter streamer when the water is low- the big fish you saw in late spring are still in the river. Light streamers bring them back into play throughout the day. Don’t tell anyone we told you!
Baby Swim Coach
Check out our top fly patterns for each hatch for mid summer by clicking links below.
Late Summer Montana Flies
- Early August to Early September
While not everyone looks forward to them, the Tricos appear on almost every trout river in Montana starting late July and August. At a time when food sources are scarce, Tricos bring some big fish to the surface. We take our own custom pattern Ron’s Trico all over the state, where it outfishes most every other pattern. The silhouette is perfect, as is the coloration. When we feel we need a second Trico, we’re torn between the Hi-Viz Spinner and the Brooks Sprout. You can see the Hi-Viz, but the Sprout is an excellent emerger/cripple. 6 of one, half dozen of the other. But it pays to have some variation in your Tricos, because with so many insects on the water, the trout can get fussy.
Ron’s Trico Spinner
Hi Viz Trico
Brooks Sprout Trico
STRAIGHT UP SALES PITCH No one likes tying on tiny flies, but the C&F company has somewhat simplified the process. They sell a slit foam box with six fly threaders. Using the same principle as a sewing needle threader, you load the C&F threaders with flies at home, using big magnification if needed. 6 threaders allow you to have an assortment of different fly patterns ready. On the river, you simply take the tippet, stick it through the large wire opening, and slide the fly over the threader onto the tippet. Now the leader is through the eye of the fly. All you have to do is tie a clinch knot in your 5.5X or 6X. That’s enough fun. This box doesn’t solve all the problems attendant to fishing small flies, but it helps. It’s not cheap but it does work. The C&F Threader Box may keep some anglers on the water with small flies. As we said, straight sales pitch.
Check out our top fly patterns for each hatch for late summer by clicking links below.
Fall Montana Flies
- Early September to Mid October
When the fall rains come, so do the Blue Winged Olives. Fall is many angler’s favorite time to fish- great wading and a strong, consistent hatch. The BWO’s hatch spring and fall in Missoula, and are a for-sure fall hatch across Montana. Our best BWO pattern is the Split Flag Quigley. It imitates an emerger as well as a cripple, and the high, dark post stands out on cloudy fall days when BWO’s hatch with more intensity. You can back that up with a Hi-Viz Spinner, and feel like you’ve got the BWO’s covered. If you want a subsurface BWO imitation, look to the SR Bullet Olive. Sinks like a brick, with the correct color and profile when the nymphs are moving.
Split Flag Quigley’s BWO
Hi Viz Spinner BWO
SR Bullet Olive
The list of best flies for Montana has gotten more complicated over the years. The Missoulian Angler fly shop has been in business for over 35 years, and we’ve seen the changes that have come to Montana fly fishing. We love seeing new visitors, and showing off all our state has to offer in world class fly fishing. But with more anglers comes more pressure, and the flies of yesteryear, while functional, have been displaced by more accurate, innovative patterns. It’s gotten a bit more complex, and we know it. That’s why we offer pre-loaded fly boxes- we can make sure you have the correct flies for the hatches or the time of year, on the waters you’ll be fishing. Because the classics, while still classic, have lost a step on today’s waters. Because we’re a FLY SHOP, first and foremost. It’s what we do!
Check out our top fly patterns for each hatch for fall by clicking links below.
Preloaded Montana Fly Box
We see it all the time. Anglers come into our Missoula fly shop and are immediately overwhelmed by 1,997 separate fly bins. With thousands of varieties of flies we carry, we get it. We ask if they need help, can we point out some flies, or would they like us to hand select the flies for them. A significant number decide to let us pick them out. After 35 years in business, our customers, new and old, are confident we will pick the best flies. We’re confident they left with the correct fly selection, pretty sure they’ll be back in the future. We’ve decided to put that expertise online! Click below to order your loaded Montana fly box. Select the date you will be fishing in Montana and quantity and we’ll take care of the rest. Tell us what river system you’ll be fishing in the notes at checkout, and the flies you need are on their way.
Montana Hatch Chart
Not done researching?
Check out our expansive hatch resource page below. We break down every Montana hatch that includes tips to fish each hatch, best Montana fly patterns for each hatch, insect life cycle, Hatch Chart of when each insect hatches and so much more! Click image below to start exploring.