Spring Streamer Fishing

There are two distinct phases to Spring Streamer fishing in Montana, early spring and then pre-run-off. When anglers start floating the rivers in early March, hoping for Skwalas, the mornings are often filled with streamer fishing. The water is warming a bit, and the fish are starting to look for bigger food to begin the season. The water is low and stable, and the trout are very comfortable in their homes.

Early Spring Streamer Fishing

Early spring streamer fishing is more a game of accuracy and presentation. The lower water can make the use of a 6” articulated streamer a bit problematic as it enters the water. The fish are very tight to their lies and may not range out far for food in the cold water.

A sink tip is not required at this time but can certainly be utilized. A smaller, slimmer streamer will look a bit more realistic in the low, clear water. Accuracy is critical, as the trout will not want to move far from their established lies. Early Spring streamer fishing is also about where. With cold temps and sluggish trout, make sure you’re fishing the prime lies, and leaving the secondary water that will fish well later alone.


Spring streamer fishing in Montana changes as soon as the water levels begin to fluctuate due to warm weather, spring rains or a combination of the two. Most anglers dread heading to the river to fly fish after the water has risen, but not the serious streamer angler. Rising water displaces almost every fish in the river. Displaced fish are more interested in establishing new homes than feeding, and the displacement definitely affects the smaller fish to a greater degree.

The smaller fish are swimming around, moving to try and find a place of shelter. The larger fish see the smaller fish moving and take real advantage of their predicament. The streamer fishing can be epic as the smaller baitfish are much more exposed in rising water, and the bigger trout know this. So when the water rises, and other anglers abandon the rivers, grab your streamer box and take advantage of the homeless baitfish!

Depending on water levels around Montana, a sink tip may be very useful at this time. And as water clarity diminishes, your bigger streamers will start to become more important.  With the correct set-up and attitude, you can take those rising water days that befuddle so many anglers and make them pay in a big way.

The Bitterroot River, Clark Fork River and Rock Creek are the first streams to warm up around Missoula and often will be your best options for spring streamer fishing. However, even though the Blackfoot River might be the last stream to warm up, it can produce some of the best streamer fishing in Montana.

Guided Fly Fishing Missoula Montana

Post Runoff Streamer Fishing

For Montana Fly Fishing, post runoff Streamers are the best choice for big trout fishing. The waters are clearing, but not completely clear. Run off hinders a trout’s feeding ability, so as the water clears the trout are hungry and ready to eat. The dropping water level is changing every day in Montana, which constantly causes fish to find new homes. Combine run off hunger, fish on the move and the relative safety of high, off color water and you have the perfect time to throw big flies for big fish.

Tactics For Fishing Streamers In High Water

At this time of year, the high water is pushing the fish to the banks or the bottom. Structure is critical at this time, so be ready to put your fly in some danger! 15# Maxima is your friend in getting some of your flies back. A sink tip is also extremely useful at this time of year, putting your streamer down where the fish are. Every year, the line companies are improving the sink tip experience, and these lines throw and accurately. Run a short leader off a sink tip, to keep the fly down in the zone.

15# Maxima may sound like overkill for trout, but not as much as you think. The biggest fish in the river are moving, and the water is very big. The story is that run-off is over, but the flows are nowhere near low. When you hook a camera worthy fish in fast, moving water, you need all the help you can get bringing that fish in when it streaks out into the current. A 7wt also handles the sink tips favored at this time of year, and allows for more accurate and safe casting some of these bigger flies. All in all, you need big tackle to bring in the big fish at this time of year

Picking Streamer Patterns For High Water Fly Fishing

Don’t be afraid of the big streamer at this time, especially if the water is a bit off-color, Give the trout something easy to find! A large head that pushes water also helps the trout locate your fly. A standard rule of streamer fishing is bright day, bright fly, dark day, dark fly. In stained water, a dark fly stands out more than a light fly. So in off color water, bring your dark streamers.

Missoula Brown Trout On Streamer

Summer Streamer Fishing

Throughout Montana, big fish eat little fish, and that happens year round, including the height of summer. Streamers are not everyone’s first choice for summer fly fishing, but that just means they work that much better!

Summer Streamer Fishing Tactics

Summer streamer fishing in Montana has its pitfalls, no doubt. It takes a slender, lightweight fly to provide a soft entrance into the water. That style of fly also provides a slimmer profile, more in keeping with the myriad baitfish seen swimming in all the shallow waters in the Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River and Rock Creek. Hot weather streamers tend to work better near the edges of the day, when the light isn’t as bright, but the accurate caster can fish streamers all day in midsummer and be confident of moving fish.

Summer streamer fishing is an excellent example of contrarian fishing. Since no one is doing it, I’m going to! On the theory the trout have seen every hatch matching fly known to man but haven’t seen a streamer for a while. Something new and different to catch the trout’s attention. Another way to contrarian fish is on a crowded stretch of river. If there are 7 boats ahead of you, that can be a problem.

Those 7 boats are floating down the river, each one hitting the most obvious area- high banks, soft inside and all the places most trout congregate. So as a contrarian angler, fish the opposite bank from the popular bank, True, there are only 10% of the fish on the “off” bank, but they haven’t seen a fly all day! You’re fly fishing to fresh trout. It’s a different way of approaching a river, just as summer streamer fishing is a different way. Not many are doing it, so take the chance and show the trout a different fly. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Fall Steamer Fishing

Fall streamer fishing can be the icing on the cake of a great fishing season. The Brown Trout are moving to spawn, and every fish in the river is looking to feed before winter sets in. When it comes to spawning Browns, all of a sudden the tributaries will have giant fish in them, all looking for the perfect place. They congregate at the mouths of all the tributaries as well, and they are aggressive. Take advantage of this behavior and don’t miss those spots.

Meanwhile, all trout are feeling the onslaught of winter. Knowing they won’t feed well for 5 months, they are out in Autumn looking for some calories to get them through the winter. Fall streamers in yellows and browns work extremely well at this time. As to size and tackle, if you’re on the Blackfoot River, you can go big with sink tips. You can do the same on the lower Clark Fork River. But that tackle may not be appropriate for the Bitterroot River or Rock Creek. Size your tackle for your destination!

Late Fall/Early Winter Streamer Fishing

Fall streamer fishing goes later in the season than most people think around Missoula. A lot of people put the streamers away after the first good frost, assuming the fish have slowed down in their feeding. Not true. The trout will take a streamer until the water gets cold. And by cold, we mean below 40 degrees. Trout will take a streamer year-round, but slow down in winter water. But it takes a lot to get the water cold, so don’t put away your streamers away until the fish tell you it’s time. And that’s going to be later in the year than you think.

Additional Streamer Fishing 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