March

Hatches:

  • Skwala (8-12) 
  • Nemoura (14-16)
  • March Brown (12-14)
  • Capnia (16-18)

Weather

Variable/Mix Of 55 and Sunny To Cold And Snowy

The Fishing

March is transition time for Missoula fly fishing. it starts cold and ends hot, in more ways than one! Early in the month, the water is still cold, and the weather can be too. Which doesn’t mean the fishing isn’t excellent. There are more full grown and mostly grown nymphs in the river in March than any other time of the year, and the fish know it. The Skwala and Nemoura nymphs are starting to stage, becoming more available to the trout. With so much food on the river bottoms, the fish are still gorging in their Winter lies. When you find the fish, they will willingly eat most any nymph presented properly. The trick is finding the fish in their winter lies.

On March 8, Daylight Savings Time kicks in, so don’t forget to Spring forward. Just as important, remember the good fishing you had on the 6th will now be one hour later on the 9th! Fish don’t do DST, so make sure you adjust your time to the fishes time.

If you get a few days with temps in the 40’s in early March, you will find trout moving to midges on the Bitterroot River and Clark Fork River. It can be very challenging fishing, since the trout have been eating midges for a while, and know exactly what they’re looking for. But if you need to fish to a rising fish, then a string of days above 40 will make that happen.

Those 40-60 degree days in mid-March are also warming up the water in the Bitterroot River and Rock Creek, and that’s what we’ve been waiting for. When the water temperatures hit a steady 45 degrees during the day, the Skwala stoneflies will begin to hatch consistently. Traditionally, they hatch first on the Bitterroot, and are followed about a week later on the Clark Fork River and Rock Creek. While the Bitterroot is known world-wide for its Skwala hatch, and rightfully so, Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River are excellent choices as well. Monitor the Blackfoot River. If the temperatures get warm enough, the Blackfoot may fish before run-off. But it takes perfect air temperature to get the Blackfoot fly fishing started without bringing run-off. If you’re looking for Skwalas, the Blackfoot is choice 4!

The last week of March can be some of the best dry fly fishing of the year in Montana. The skwalas are big, and the bigger trout are looking for them. Big trout become active sooner than their smaller brethren, so that last week, when water temps aren’t high enough to move smaller fish, can be epic dry fly fishing. Don’t neglect your streamers, and keep an eye out for consistent risers. Consistent rising indicates mayflies, like the BWO or Western March Brown. If you can see what they’re rising for, it’s the WMB. If it’s tough to see the insect, it’s the Blue Winged Olives! Big trout like big meals, so if you’re a streamer person, now is the time. Warmer water temps will get the trout to move much further to take your streamer, making it a lot more productive than it was just 3 weeks ago. Get your tackle ready, so when March offers up the first excellent fishing of the year, you want to be ready.

April

Hatches

  • Skwala (8-12)
  • Nemoura (14-16)
  • Blue Wing Olive (14-16)
  • Mother’s Day Caddis (12-16)
  • March Brown (12-14)

Weather

Average low 60’s

The Fishing 

April starts out hot as a pistol, but as air temps and rivers rise, quality Missoula fly fishing drops off faster than a perdigon sinking in slow water! Early in April, warmer temperatures consistently move fish to the surface to feed, and now you’ve got more trout coming to your Skwala dry fly. The Clark Fork River and Rock Creek have caught up to the Bitterroot River, and fishing is good across the Missoula area. The cooler, cloudy days kick out a lot of Blue Winged Olives, while the sunnier days will get the Western March Browns started. The Nemoura stoneflies are on the water. You won’t see them unless you’re looking, but the fish know they’re there. Early April can be T-shirt weather, or you can be bundled up in layers. Make sure you bring a few extra layers, no matter what the weatherman might say. Montana weather, especially in the valleys, can change on a dime.

As April progresses, the water continues to warm. Now the WMB’s won’t need the sun to activate them, and of course a cloudy day is always better for dry fly fishing than a sunny day for Montana fly fishing. The Skwalas are beginning to slow down, as the early hatchers are beginning to exit the scene. This is a time to start using a smaller, darker Skwala imitation. With all stoneflies, as the hatch progresses, the adults start to shrink in size and darken up. Add the darker females to the already dark males, and a less bright, smaller imitation is the way to go. The fish are getting wiser to the ways of the Missoula fly fishing angler, so it pays to try and get off the beaten path as much as possible. Remember, the tributaries are still closed, so don’t go too far off path! But get to places that aren’t as accessible- walk the extra half mile or float a section of river that’s less traveled!

As April fades away, the comfortable temperatures start to catch up with the rivers. The warmer weather starts to bring down the snowmelt, and the river levels start to fluctuate. The fluctuation also brings some discoloration to the water, but the color changes as the fluctuations change. This is the time to pay close attention to our Missoula fishing report. Just because the river had 6” visibility today, it might be clear enough to dry fly fish in two days. It also may be worse, so the fishing report and the USGS web site are invaluable. If you’re a streamer fisherman, this is absolutely prime time. The fluctuating rivers push the little fish out of their homes, disorienting them and making them easy prey. The big trout are looking for these easy meals, and whether the river is rising or falling, the baitfish are homeless, and trout are eating them. It takes a bit more investigation to fly fish Missoula at this time, and every once in a while you run into an unfishable river, but that’s joy of fly fishing Montana at the end of April.

May

Hatches

  • Skwala (8-12)
  • Neumora (14-16)
  • Blue Wing Olive (14-16)
  • Mother’s Day Caddis (12-16)
  • March Brown (12-14)

Weather

Average High 60’s

Fishing

The Merry Merry month of May was not written about Missoula, MT! If run-off hasn’t hit full bore at the beginning of the month, it will have by the 10th. The water is cascading down the mountains, bringing the mud that drives us all so crazy. The Bitterroot River, Rock Creek and the Blackfoot River are pouring their discolored snowmelt into the Clark Fork River, which is the last river to go brown. That’s not to say you can’t fly fish Missoula rivers at this time, but it takes more effort. It’s a dangerous time to float, as the rising water will carry all the debris deposited by the river in the last year, including downed trees and logs. The lack of visibility means you can’t see the problems under the surface. All in all, it’s a good bet it’s a terrible idea to float the rivers at this time.

Wading is little better. By the end of May, the river is establishing the high water mark used to separate private land from public land. This doesn’t give the wading angler a lot of room to legally navigate the river. The trees that make floating unsafe also make wading a dicey choice as well. You don’t want to get caught up in a tree’s branches as it floats by. Yet fly fishing opportunities are there.

If the weather takes a colder turn, which happens more often early in May, then run-off may temporarily let up. Here’s a tip for the locals. The Clark Fork is the last river to go off color. It’s also the last river to clear. Just because the Clark Fork is brown in town, it doesn’t mean that every Missoula river is off color along the length. The headwaters of Rock Creek, Bitterroot and Blackfoot may well be clear enough to fish. Because of its makeup, Rock Creek clears more rapidly than other local rivers. In a cold snap, you may be able to sneak a day of Rock Creek fly fishing in. Don’t judge everything by the Clark Fork under the Higgins Street bridge!

The third Saturday in May is the official beginning of the Montana fly fishing season, giving access to a lot of water that will be less affected by run-off, as well as watersheds that clear more rapidly. The tributaries may also have some Mother’s Day Caddis moving around, and that’s always a bonus. They start hatching mid-month, and will last for about 3 weeks. The Mother’s Day Caddis also hatches on the main rivers, but it’s a rare thing to be able to fish dries in May.

You can also find trout walking the edges of the bigger rivers. It takes a convergence of a lot of different factors, but the trout are there. You’re looking for a place of shelter, like a back eddy, or a place where an abutment comes out and breaks the current. Once you’ve found a likely spot, tungsten beads and lead weight are your friend. Your fly needs to get down quickly. You’ll need to work your fly through a spot multiple times to let the fish find it in the brown water. They can- it’s their job to find food! Be very careful. If the footing looks dangerous, don’t do it. You don’t want to end up in the river. With some precautions, and some planning, you can fly fish Missoula rivers in May. We haven’t even gotten into still water! Call the shop for more details!


Additional Spring Fly Fishing Resources