Missoula Fly Fishing Report

Missoula Fishing Report 7/23

Fly Fishing Report Brought To You By Our Missoula Fly Fishing Guides And Fly Shop Staff.

Enjoy and Good Luck!

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot river is under Hoot Owl restrictions from the west and east fork of the Bitterroot confluence to the confluence with the Clark Fork. No fishing between 2pm and midnight on that section. Get on the water early and stop fishing by 2pm.

If you’re on the water early enough, you might run into a Rusty Spinner fall. The Hi-Vis Rusty Spinner or standard Rusty Spinner are both effective. They’ll also work during the PMD hatch, as well as dusk. Make sure you have a couple if you head to the Bitterroot.

This will surprise no one- the Purple Haze is a consistent producer along the length of the river. Make sure you have a couple for searching. And while searching have some terrestrials as well. The Ant Acid Black/Purple, Stubby Chubby Tan and Jake’s No Sink Ant are working well on the surface. Get serious and drop an Ant Raid off the back of a small foamy. The sunken ant is often overlooked by anglers, but not by trout.

The hoppers are starting to appear just as the Goldens are falling off. Make sure to have some smaller Tan Hoppers, like a Morrish or Henneberry. Both will cover hoppers and a golden. Bring your yellow sallies as well. They hang on a bit longer on the Bitterroot. The PMD’s are still bringing fish to the surface as well. The Last Chance Cripple, Brooks Sprout and the Missing Link will move some of the fussier fish. A longer tippet will be of benefit.

Stick your trico box in the bag. They haven’t established yet, but sporadic clouds have been seen. The heat is bringing that hatch on, and you don’t want to get caught with rising fish and no tiny bugs.

The evening hatch of Pale Evening Duns and Tan caddis is still occurring, but the hotter the day, the later the hatch will occur. If you’re chasing those bugs, be ready to be on the water till afterwork. If you do hatch match till after dark, fish a mouse home, because you just never know.

When you head subsurface, make sure you’re deep. 3-5 foot fluorocarbon droppers will put your nymph where it needs to be. Nothing is standing out in the standard nymphs, but the Firetstarter has been more effective than its color would suggest. The Yellow Spot Pheasant Tail and Bullet Quill have been successful.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips for each hatch

Blackfoot River

Despite the heat, the Blackfoot River has been holding it’s own. Some of the sections are getting a bit bony for floating, but the wade fishing is starting to get very good. With the heat, the lower sections are unfishable in the afternoon, due to recreational floaters. If you want to float Johnsrud to Weigh, or Weigh to Spray, be on the water early and off by noon. You’ll have some floaters, but not the insanity of a hot summer day.

Early mornings have been strong with streamers, and remains that way till the sun climbs over the canyon. A small articulated Baby Gonga or Swim Coach are small enough to not spook fish in low water but mobile enough to get action. If you have a slow sink tip, use it, but it’s not necessary.

Or you can work the nocturnal stone hatch. A big Pat’s Rubberlegs or a TJ Hooker will get it done sub-surface, while the Sweetwater Hopper or Fluttering Stone will bring them to the top.

The Goldens are petering out but the hoppers are starting. Put on a small Golden like an ODB, Evan’s baby Stone Tan or a Morrish Hopper for a fly that does double duty. The PMD’s are still about, but bring your A game and some cripples, because the trout have been eating these for about a month and know what they want. Presentation is critical.

Presentation is less critical with the Spruce Moths, which are starting to move. The Parachute Spruce or the Spruce Almighty are good in the slower water, while a Tan Micro Chubby floats in faster water where fish are holding in the heat.

The nymphing has been good up here as well, with the Duracell and Orange Spot Pheasant Tail standing out for performance. It’s more about getting the fly to the fish, especially as the heat of the day comes on, so add some more depth to your dropper for better results.

The Pale Evening Duns are still out, as are the Tan Caddis. However, the evening rise is defined by the heat- the hotter the day, the later and shorter the hatch. Be ready to be on water after sundown on the hot days.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Clark Fork River

There is Hoot Owl restrictions on the Clark Fork River from the confluence with the Flathead River to the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and Silver Bow Creek. This means you can fish to 2pm. Get on early and off by 2pm. There are also a few mouths of tributaries that are closed listed here .

Clark Fork has been fishing extremely well in the last week, and we expect that to hold for a while. It’s worth rising and shining to be out by dawn, especially on the lower sections. You expect the streamer fishing to be good at that time, and it is, but the nocturnal stones will pull big fish up to the surface. A Sweetwater Hopper with the back legs cut off or a Flutteriung Stone are very good imitation of the big nocturnal bugs.

If you see steady risers early, put on a Rusty Spinner. They can fall in the early morning, so be ready.

The PMD’s will still show up, but they are definitely waning. Have a Brook’s Sprout, Last Chance Cripple or a Sparkle Dun for the pods that are still forming. A little longer tippet will pay dividends for presentation to fish that have been eating these bugs for about 3 weeks. A double dry with a Rusty Spinner as the dropper greatly increases your odds.

The golden Stones are on their last legs, but the hoppers are just starting, so a “tweener” fly like a Henry’s Fork Golden, Morrish Hopper Tan or an ODB Stone will look like both a hopper and a stone fly. Make sure to have some Yellow Sallies as well. They’re still out, and can be quite effective as the a double dry dropper.

When you go subsurface, make sure you go sub! A Pat’s Rubberlegs or TJ Hooker about 7-8 feet from the indicator always works on the lower section. Not always a joy to cast, but proven. Smaller droppers also work, and again, get them deep. Work the faster water where the oxygen content is higher.

As the heat of the day comes on, start thinking about pike on the lower section. As the trout seek shelter from the heat, the pike are just finding their comfort zone. Choose the fly according to your rod weight, and have a wire bite tippet. If you have a dedicated streamer rod (7-8 wt), a big Cote Whitefish Fly or FireTiger is a strong choice. On lighter rods, a gray articulated streamer like a Boogey Man or Dungeon will get pike’s attention.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Rock Creek

Rock Creek is in full summer mode right now, with the last few golden stones still being eaten, but we’re pretty sure some are being taken as hoppers. The Henry’s Fork Golden in size 10-14, a Tan Henneberry Hopper and Plan B Golden are working equally well. You can still find some PMD’s and Pale Evening Duns, and of course the Tan Caddis is producing throughout the day.

Get your game face on for the PMD’s and PED’s. The fish have been eating them for a while- they what they want and how it needs to be presented. A little longer tippet with a Missing Link, Film Critic or Brooks Sprout has been effective, but be ready for a few refusals as well. Make sure to have a couple of Rusty Spinners for the refusals- it’s often exactly what they’re looking for. A great combo has been your choice of dry with a Sunken Rusty Spinner on about an 8” dropper. Covers all your bases.

The Tan Caddis is till working as a searching pattern- either Standard or X-Caddis, as well as in the evening. You can work that in the faster water for surprising action.

Atractors and terrestrials are starting to move fish as well. The Ant Acid, Jake’s No Sink Ant and the Tan Micro Chubby are taking fish from classic terrestrial hiding water. Work the grassy banks and under branches. Take your Purple Haze and Brindle Chutes as well. While not a “hot” fly, they are steady flies.

When you go subsurfaces make sure you’re getting deep enough. Size 12 to 16 Perdigons are never wrong- pick the pattern you’re comfortable with and use it. MAKE SURE to get deep enough. In the heat, the fish go deep and hang there, so get your fly to the trout- they may nt travel to you. Streamers through the deep centers will move more fish than you think- as always, the Sparkle Minnow Sculpin is a top producer.

As the heat rises during the day, the fish move into the riffles for more oxygen. When you hook a fish in 90 degree heat, fight it hard and fast, ands stay as close to where you hooked it as possible. Minimal net and photo time- get the fish back into the cooler, oxygenated water. Be ready to lose a fly or two to strong fish fighting- putting the rout back healthy is worth a fly.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

July Hatches

Click any photo below to find out more information on each individual hatch. Includes life cycle, best fly patterns, helpful tips and where to find these hatches in your Western Montana fly fishing adventure.

Missoula Fly Fishing Report

Missoula Fly Fishing Report 6/1

Fly Fishing Report Brought To You By Our Missoula Fly Fishing Guides And Fly Shop Staff.

Enjoy and Good Luck!


The general report on all the local rivers is they’re dropping, and dropping fairly hard right now. This is providing fishable water in the upper and middle stretches of the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and Rock Creek, and the upper reaches of the Clark Fork as well as on the tributaries that opened last weekend. For simplicity, the further you get from Missoula, and the closer to the headwaters, the better the fishing will be. It’s almost all subsurface, and the fly has to be where the fish are. While the rivers are dropping, they’re nowhere near low, so where your fly is is a lot more important than what the fly is. Find the softer water, the places where trout can hold, and fish them carefully. You’ll have to search those places out, but the trout will be there. Some of the Missoula fly fishing guides are out fishing the mid to upper Bitterroot and Blackfoot with decent success.

If the rivers continue to drop at this rate, we may get an earlier Salmon Fly hatch than we’ve seen in the last couple of years. That will also translate into earlier Goldens as well. It will depend on water temp and flow, but with the trend right now, it might pay dividends to be ready earlier rather than later. We’re expecting fishing on the Blackfoot and Bitterroot to start producing good fishing in the next one to two.

Bitterroot River

The upper and middle Bitterroot river are fishable, with the visibility varying with the latest rain. Find the softer water, and get your flies deep for the best success. Don’t mess with dry/dropper, go indicator and a double nymph. Most anglers have been using a big point fly, like a Double Bead Stone, Jig Pat’s Rubberlegs or even a smaller Chicago Overcoat. As a dropper on the double nymph rig, an Hot Spot P-Tail Orange Jig, G Kes or Umpqua Jig Pheasant Tail.

The smaller fly has been doing the majority of the catching, while the larger fly gets the rig to the depth it needs to be. You can certainly run two smaller nymphs, but you’ll want some additional weight to get the flies to the zone.

The streamer fishing has been very good as well. Don’t be afraid to go big, and use a fly with a sizable head, like a Dungeon or a Boogie Man. A sinking Tip or a sinking leader will be very useful with those flies. If you’re using a floating line, lengthen your leader and work a Sculpzilla, Chicago Overcoat or a Kreelix to get the fly down quickly. Color hasn’t been critical, though darker flies have been working better. Again, it’s about where the fish are in the faster water. Make sure the fish has a chance to make a decision- find the softer water.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips for each hatch

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot river is dropping very quickly, and there is visibility along the length, though the lower section hasn’t really rounded into shape as much as the upper. Give the lower section a day or so and it should be fishable subsurface. The middle and upper sections are fishing, though certainly not lights out. But Salmon Flies are coming and may be here before we expected if the future forecasts stay true.

It’s more important where your fly is in the water column than what your fly is. The double rig nymph with a large point fly and smaller dropper is working in the softer water along the bank and behind rocks and boulders. Think TJ Hooker or Double Bead Stone as point fly, with a Duracell Jig, Z-Stone Yellow Sally Jig or a simple Hare’s Ear Jig as a dropper. Some anglers have been running a double rig nymph with 2 larger bugs, both for the depth and working the Salmon Fly nymphs that are starting to move to the banks getting ready to hatch soon.

The steamer bite hasn’t really gotten started on the ‘Foot, but with the water dropping and clearing, we expect to see some good streamer fishing in the next couple of days. If you head to the Blackfoot, take your streamer rod and give it a run, but be ready to work the nymph if things are slow. Give it a bit of time, the bite is coming.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Clark Fork River

If you plan to fish the Clark Fork river, you’re heading east as least as far as Drummond, and for better fishing keep driving till you find clearer water. Also note the Hog Hole and Pond Three opened on May 25, so if some still water angling for enormous fish is something of interest, drive all the way to Warm Springs with some scuds and balanced leeches. On the upper river, a double nymph game, with location being more important than pattern. Find the slower water, and get your flies there.

On the way upper sections, where the river gets small, the Euronymphers have been doing very well. They’re not wading, but are capable off getting to the holding water with the long rod. It might be worth the drive to find that water. Down lower, the double nymph with big and small gas been getting eats on both size nymphs.

The streamer fishing has been good enough to keep anglers satisfied, but it can and will get better. A Baby Gonga, Mini Dungeon or a Zoo Cougar on a sinking leader have been working in the darker colors. It’s not light’s out, but it’s worth tying a big fly on and ripping it through the holding water.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Rock Creek

The top of Rock Creek has been fishing decently as the flows drop. The double nymph rig has been the most effective, with a heavy point fly like a Jig Girdle Bug, 20 Incher or a Black Double Bead Stone. Use a Hot Spot P-Tail Orange, Duracell or Black Blowtorch as the dropper. The bite has been about 50/50 up here between the big and little bug, so varying size is useful from both a fishing and a sinking standpoint. Salmon fly nymphs are starting to move and getting ready to hatch- the fish are recognizing bigger food forms.

Don’t miss the streamer opportunities either. Go a bit lower to the bigger water with a bit less visibility, and streamers are moving fish. Work the structure- fish are staying out of the faster currents. Bigger flies, to a point, are better. So is a bulky head, but make sure you can cast the fly on the line weight you’re using. Think of a Baby Gonga or a Mini-Dungeon- a good mix of size and bulk. A sinking tip or sinking leader will help in the deeper water, but much of the water is fishable with a long leader and front weighted fly, like a Sculpzilla or a Chicago Overcoat.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Missoula June Summer Hatches

Click any photo below to find out more information on each individual hatch. Includes life cycle, best fly patterns, helpful tips and where to find these hatches in your Western Montana fly fishing adventure.

Flat Water Of Clark Fork River

What’s A Good Day on the Water

One of the WORST things I ever did in a fly shop happened in early summer 2000. Yes, I remember the year- surprised I don’t remember the date. A guy came in the shop simply bouncing, telling me he had the best day he ever had on Rock Creek. It was epic! He’d never caught so many fish! He was so excited. I joined in his excitement, and said, “Hey, you must have caught like 40 or 50!

He looks at me and says, “I caught 6”

You can imagine his face. You can imagine how bad I felt. In one sentence, I’d crushed his day. Just crushed it. Still, to this day, I think about that. He’d HAD a good day….until he talked to me. I’m still haunted.

About 2007, I found myself back on the Bighorn in a 7 boat guide trip. I’d fished the Bighorn in the early ‘90’s, and spent two guided days following a huge polypropylene indicator. I caught 50 fish a day. It was terrible. I vowed I would never do that again.

That morning in 2007, the guide introduces himself and says he’d like to take a look at my rod. I said, “Don’t touch my fly rod. Do not put a bobber on my line.” You can imagine the look on his face. He starts to tell me it’s the best way to fish, catch the most fish, etc. I say I don’t care, I don’t care how many fish I catch, do not put a bobber on my line. By this time, every guide in the group is watching this exchange, wondering what it’s going to be like having this @sshole in their boat, and who could blame them. After about 2 more minutes of the same conversation with my guide, including asking him to keep my friend Tom on all the fish, I reach into my wallet and tip the guide $150. In the parking lot, before the boat is wet. He looks at me and says, “I guess I have to believe you.”

I caught 7-8 fish that day, including a smallmouth bass, the guide’s first in that watershed. I was casting my streamer into some REALLY random water! Meanwhile, Tom is hooking up consistently. It must have looked pretty funny, the boat pointed into the bank for Tom, while I’m flipping a streamer behind the boat. Once in a while, I floated a dry fly, fruitlessly, and watched it drift along the bank. It was a great day on the water.

What’s up with that? 50 is terrible, 8 is good? It’s what I wanted on the water. It can’t be any simpler. I like fishing the way I like fishing. That makes a good day on the water.

Take A Kid Fishing!

When the Missoulian Angler fly shop books a guided fly fishing trip, we ask a lot of questions, trying to find out what the guest wants from his/her day on the water. Instruction? A shot at a legit 20” trout? A lot of trout? Only dry flies, or do they want to Euro nymph?

Can we guarantee a big trout, or a lot of fish? No. It’s fishing! But we guarantee our guides, the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, will do everything possible to make the day live up to expectations. We can’t stress this enough- talk to your guide, tell them what you’re looking for in a day. No matter what it might be. Our guides are good, but you’re input makes them better. That information will do a lot to make your day on the water a good day.

My Dad traveled the west for years, alone and being guided. He was happiest tossing a dry and catching fish 8-13” long. It made him happy. One day a guide, who knew my Dad was a “stick” (Guidespeak for a good angler) was floating Dad down a river. He stopped, and said, “George, let’s take a walk.” 45 minutes later, they’ve come to a slough. The guide gets excited, and ties on a little dry. “Cast it just above that log.” So Dad casts just above the log, and a 28” Brown Trout slides out from under the log and starts to rise… but halfway up, decides against, drifts back down and back under the log. “OOOOHHHH, that’s the farthest up he’s ever moved!” groans the guide. And then says, let’s get back to the boat.

About 2 hours, one cast. That was absolutely NOT what my Dad wanted. That was his memory of the day. The guide thought it was a magic chance for a huge Brown on a dry! That was his memory of the day. Straight up miscommunication. Just that simple.

There are anglers who go fishing for the Instagram moment. (Not my Dad!) They’ll walk or float anywhere to take one trout that garners the Big Looks! A day without big is a bad day. A one fish day over 20 inches, and it’s a great day. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s changing the concepts of fly fishing and fly tying. Some is good, some not so good.

We have pictures lining the ceiling beam at the MAngler. What shop doesn’t have a bragging board! Big trout and happy anglers! We get questioned about those pictures all the time. Is that the average size of trout around here? Were they caught this week? And the answer is always no. They got on the wall because of their rarity. But it gives some anglers an inferiority complex, because they’re not catching those trout. Sometimes it crosses my mind to take those pictures down, because it raises expectations and may make an angler’s trip less enjoyable. Not always, but it does happen.

The same happens with magazine articles. In the mid ‘90’s, I worked at a catalog fly shop in New Hampshire, where I spoke with anglers all over the country. I got a call from a man in Texas. He’d just finished reading an article about trout fishing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I’d fished the Housatonic fairly often- the Smallmouth Bass fishing was pretty good. He was asking me about lodging, and when the best time to come for the Housatonic trout fishing.

I was baffled. I barely drove 3 hours to get there, and thought it was a bit of drive for the fishing. I went because one of my best friends lived close by, and I would hang out with him and his Dad (who still remembers me as “the guy who falls in the Housatonic.” It was very slippery, and I was too young to need a wading staff. Hence, falling). I asked the customer why he was even considering coming? He said he’d read the article, and was ready to make the effort for that type of fishing. I zipped out front of the shop, got the magazine, and started to read the article. Hmmm….

I’ve been to exactly ONE place where the fishing was as good as the magazine said, and that was New Zealand. What I was reading about the Housatonic was as close to fiction as you could get, without downright lying. I’m sure what was described happened on one magic day, but it was not anywhere close to what I experienced on that river in my 14-15 times fishing it. Think about magazine articles you’ve read about rivers you’ve fished- was the reality anywhere close to the actual experience?

That’s what I thought.

I told this gentleman about my experience on the Housatonic. I told him he was going to an airport, and standing at a gate. He had a lot of gates to choose from! Missoula. Bozeman. West Yellowstone. Colorado. So many options where I KNEW the fishing was actually good. None of those gates included Hartford, CT. No dis on the Housatonic, but there are better rivers in the United States. Yet someone had written an article about it, and people from away were reading it and believing it. I think he would have had the worst days of fishing there- the reality would never have matched the expectations created.

This dovetails with a fascinating conversation I had with the caretaker of DePuys Spring Creek in Livingston, MT. I found myself on this amazing stream in early August in 2009. I was there with two friends, and there was a fourth rod on the water, but he was gone by noon. My two friends went to their spot and stayed there. I basically had 3 miles of spring creek to myself. It was amazing!

In my wanderings along the river, I saw the caretaker and we started talking. I said how pleased I was to be there when so few where fishing, and he said yes, that’s the new way of fly fishing. When I asked for an explanation of that statement, he told me this.

He’d been the Depuy’s caretaker for 20 years, and had seen a huge change in booking patterns. He said at this point, when the hatch chart said there was a strong hatch, all 16 rods were filled. But when there were no hatches, no one booked a rod. In early August, no hatches, so no anglers. Again, I was baffled. He elaborated, and it has stuck with me.

20 years ago, people came to Montana to fish when they could. They went fishing, and caught some trout. But since The River Ran Through It, a lot of anglers needed a REASON to be there. It wasn’t enough to go fishing, there had to be a reason to go fishing. To come when “nothing” was happening didn’t have enough ROI, it didn’t have punch, not enough to be GOOD. It made me think about my experience in destination fly shops and booking trips, and saw his insight was correct. There are many anglers out there who travel to something. Not to the fishing, but to the expectations of what fishing could be. There needed to be more than just fishing. An event was needed.

I caught about 30 fish that day, all on the surface. Hoppers, ants, beetles, micro caddis and there was even a rusty spinner fall for about 30 minutes. No, the rises didn’t make it look like it was raining. But if you think 30 fish on the surface isn’t a good day, you and I aren’t calibrating our fishing days the same way. The sky was iridescently blue, the mountains so close you thought you could touch them, but so far away. A good cast was rewarded often enough that subsurface never crossed my mind. It was a great day.

When nothing was going on.

Instagram and Facebook. So many magazines about fly fishing. I get it, I’m old and crotchety. I’ve been fly fishing for 49 years, and I was taught that a day on the river is better than a day doing anything else. Sometimes you hit it right, and lite the world on fire. Other days you got your fanny handed to you, and went home smelling of skunk. But it was never about the end result. It was always about the journey.

I feel that’s changed in the last 25 years. Now, it’s less about the process and more about the result. Guides have reported getting in a boat with anglers who have a counter with them. Yes, a finger activated counter. When they caught a trout- not a fish, a trout- the counter was clicked and the event recorded. Next.

Some of those anglers return year after year, and they will definitively let you know they had better fishing 8 years ago. As you speak with them, you find they aren’t enjoying the fishing as much. It didn’t meet their expectations. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve been told that the 25 fish day just wasn’t as good as the 40 fish day they had in the past. I get it. This is their vacation- it needs to be what they want. But every year is different, hell, every day is different.

I get a unique perspective in the shop. I see guides every day, I know how the fishing is. Everyone in the shop does. I know when a 5 fish day is a GOOD day. Here’s a thought. Missoula is blessed with over 300 miles of floatable water an hour’s drive from town. That means everyday, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides have a big decision in front of them. Some days, you make the call and you’re the hero. Some days you’re the goat. It’s all part of the experience. The experience………

I try not to be old and grouchy. Older is actually easier to deal with! We’re lucky enough to be close to a college- I see young, enthusiastic anglers every day. I wish I still had their legs! They go places and do things I used to do, and it makes me happy. It keeps me young. When asked (and often unprompted!) I’ll tell them something I think is important. Sometimes they think it is, sometimes not.

Grouchy is tougher some days. When the going gets tough, some customers get grumpy. Not enough surface action, not enough fish, not enough big fish, too many people. I want to ask them, did you look at the iridescent sky? Did you watch that little cloud form, and then simply fade away across the vast panorama of the mountains? Did you watch a storm move up the valley? Were you aware of the herd of Elk behind you, watching you, wondering what you might be doing in their river? What did you miss in your quest for fish?

We know all the hackneyed phrases. “It’s not called catching, it’s called fishing” and others are bandied about when the conditions go against you. Said with a laugh, but meant with a purpose.

Again, I get it. I used to fish so hard for so long. Nose to the water, complete focus on the cast. Drift. Cast again. Drift. Cast, drift, cast, drift. Next thing I knew, it was dusk. Where did the time go?? It went fishing. And I went with it. Some days hero, some days goat. But always, at the bottom line, I went fishing. And that was good.

To sound like a jackass, I can truthfully say I’ve caught enough fish in my lifetime. I’ve been lucky, and I know it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I go fishing and it’s important to catch fish. It’s not as often as it used to be, but it’s still there. I’ll never lose that. But it makes fishing a lot more peaceful when the day doesn’t always rely on a result. Some days are about the journey, and those are turning into my good days on the water.

Do I tell my customers I went out and caught nothing? Not a chance! I use my father’s stock phrase, “I caught a couple.” Never more, never less. But I do tell them about the eagle’s nest and the circling adult, looking for food for her babies. I think about the play of light across the water, and wonder how many crayfish might be in the shallow rocks I’m walking through. I hope I don’t see a snake, and secretly hope to see a bear…..on the other side of the river! I talk about the ones I didn’t catch, and tell them how I plan to take them later. It always requires a new fly!

Missouri River Guided Fly Fishing Trip

So as you contemplate what a good day on the water is, think about what it is that really matters. Ask yourself if it matters all the time. Think about the things that do matter all the time when you go fishing. And think if you’re giving each day on the water a fair chance. Every day on the water is good- if you have to search a bit deeper to find it that’s OK. And never forget Robert Traver’s words about why go fishing;

“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that people are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
― Robert Traver

And as a final note in this somewhat contained rant, I ask you to look up one of my favorite fishing stories. It’s short, fun and to the point. It defines why we fish, and why the bad days are so important. Because they are!

George Kesel Mssoula Fly Fishing

George Kesel

Frank Scott

Minimizing the Guide Footprint

The fly fishing industry in Missoula felt the razor sharpness of a double edged sword in 2021. Our outfitting has never been so busy! That’s great for us. Our outfitting has never been so busy!

We’ve never seen the rivers absorb so much usage. From every aspect, including float fishing, wade fishing and recreational floats, we saw unprecedented river use in Missoula. Let’s not kid ourselves, these aren’t the busy Bighorn or Madison angling numbers. While this may not be considered busy compared to other states and fisheries, it’s what we call Montana busy, slower than most places but busy compared to what we’re accustomed to. Missoula has never really been on the map as a destination- we don’t know why and we don’t complain. Missoula’s experienced guides were concerned about the higher traffic and substandard etiquette shown by novice guides and new boat owners. While guides make up less than 15% of the boats on many local rivers at any given time, pressure is a big topic of conversation with many local guides and outfitters. How to minimize the guide footprint, maximize client experience and do right by the rivers that provide so much more than employment.

As a shop, led by owner and outfitter Taylor Scott, the Missoulian Angler has decided to respond to the new normal. Whether others decide to follow this lead is beyond our purview- we can only do what we feel is correct for the resource, and best for our clients while making sure the oldest fly shop in Missoula keeps its doors open.

The Missoulian Angler has been outfitting for 35 years. We know what makes an exceptional guide and superior experience on the water. We understand every guide has to start somewhere, and use new guides every year. With our background, we’ve built and continue building an amazing core of Missoula MVP’s- guides who know our local rivers like the back of their hands, are comfortable with experts as well as newbies and capable of creating the best river experience for every client.

With that core in mind, with the resource in mind, we have decided to limit our outfitting to 6 boats a day, with no more than 3 boats on any given stretch of Missoula’s rivers. Is this in granite? No. There are always exceptions to the rule. Families needing more than 6 boats, or a corporate client providing Missoula’s best guiding experience for their employees, will be taken care of as we always have. Accommodations will go both ways. If you need more than 3 boats on a single stretch of river, we might choose a section of river better suited to handling more boats, with the fishing being the secondary factor. Again, this only applies to more than 3 boat groups on a stretch.

The Missoulian Angler will absorb a financial hit for this stance. That’s a short-term ramification. We feel 6 boats a day provides a good enough income level, balanced by the cushion to the resource. In the long term, it’s the rivers that bring anglers to Missoula. As outfitters, if we don’t notice and respond to situations or pressure, the resource will deteriorate at more rapid rate. At heart, every angler is a conservationist. The exceptional local and national support for our local West Slope Chapter and MT Trout Unlimited, The Clark Fork Coalition and the Watershed Education Network here in Missoula is extremely impressive, while groups proliferate along the Blackfoot River, Rock Creek and the Bitterroot River as well. The basis of each of these groups is to PASS ON THE RIVER IN AS GOOD OR BETTER SHAPE THAN WE FOUND IT.

The lead photo is Taylor’s great grandfather Frank Scott, fishing the Blackfoot River. At the time this photo was taken, he’s already a second generation Missoulian who introduced his son and grandson who eventually passed along to Taylor the joys of fly fishing, who in turn plans to pass this joy to his two young children. While time changes a river’s characteristics, it shouldn’t change the angling. Yes, we know it does, but as Dylan Thomas wrote,

Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

This is Taylor Scott’s way of raging against the dying of the light. Now a 5th generation Missoulian angler, Taylor is saying we have the ability to change the trajectory for future generations to come. It has a cost, and the Missoulian Angler will pay that cost. We take this stand so others see conservation can be congruent with angling. It simply takes everyone taking a step back, reviewing their footprint, and modifying it to be just a little less. It’s how every journey starts, with someone making the first steps.

We’re not doing this to brag about our guides. We judge no one for the stance they take. This is the stance we’ve taken. We’re looking at this as a business, looking as local anglers, looking at the resource and making a decision based on our definition of a responsible business. We hope others see this and think it’s a good idea. It’s not necessary, but we sure hope it does. It’s our response to the summer of 2021. We pay attention to the resource, we pay attention to the clients, we pay attention to the situation. If the situation changes, we will as well. And when we make a change, we’ll let you know. What the change is, why we made the change and how it will affect our valued customers close and far from Missoula. Feel free to tell us what you think.

We could brag that capping our boats at 6 a day provides a superior experience for every Missoulian Angler client. Because it will. We could be passing judgement on other outfitters who don’t follow our view of how things should be. We’re not.

We’re not doing this to brag about our guides. We’re not judging anyone for the stance they take. This is the stance we’ve taken.

Floating The Blackfoot River

Best Guides In The Business

Sure, we’re completely prejudiced- what did you expect! But we feel Missoula fly fishing guides are the best guides in Montana, and we can back that up. On June 30, every guide in town has a huge decision to make before they even start their day on the water.  From the Missoulian Angler, they can head 80 miles west, east, south, northwest or southwest, choosing to fish on the Bitterroot River, Upper or Lower Clark Fork River, the Big Blackfoot River or Rock Creek. There are over 300 miles- yes, 300 miles!- of floatable river in about an hour’s drive from Missoula. That’s a lot of water to know and cover! Not trying to pick on our good friends on the Missouri, Bighorn and other tailwaters, but those rivers have limited areas to fish. Those guides know the fishable sections like they know their own face, but it’s not as much water to learn, not as many flies and not as many techniques to master.

Every river in Missoula has it’s own unique characteristics. When you’re floating on Rock Creek, you’re moving fast! Covering 20-25 river miles is not uncommon on that river in the last weeks of June. It’s narrow and popular, which means the guides need to be on the lookout for wading fishermen (of which there are many), sweepers, and all the other hazards that come with any river. Add tying on flies and providing drinks, and a guide has his hands full when floating Rock Creek.

The Bitterroot is almost the polar opposite of Rock Creek. Rock Creek flows along the base of a canyon for much of its length. It rarely changes its channels, so where you floated last year will be the way to go this year as well. Not so on the Bitterroot. Every June, Missoula fly fishing guides need to relearn the Bitterroot. Channels change, so you need to make the right choices when floating. That spot that was so good this spring? It’s gone. Post run-off, the best Missoula guides are scouting the Bitterroot, trying to locate where the fish have relocated to. Sure, the 10-14” fish are where they always are, but the big boys are a different story. They have to be relocated every year. Our guides definitely pool their resources on the Bitterroot, finding out what channels are open, and where it’s best to float.  As the river drops into summertime, new challenges pop up- finding the channels with enough water to float, and finding the trout that have become skittish in the bright sun and warm temperatures. It’s what makes the Bitterroot such a challenging, demanding river. It’s a changing, and every year it takes a knowledgeable, skilled guide to find the fish and get them into the net.

The Blackfoot can be one of the trickiest rivers to row in the state. Those magnificent boulders and deep shelves that give this river character are also definite navigational challenges. Late June can be a very exacting time on the river, with the boulders, crags and sweepers getting up near the surface where they can some damage, but with so much push from the high water that a guide has to get his rowing line through some stretches perfectly, or you’re going to find yourself in a bit of mischief. And like the Bitterroot, as the Blackfoot drops, the guides again have to find the sun shy fish and navigate a river that may be 1/8 the size it was 5 weeks ago! It takes a guide with the skill of a white water rafter to navigate the Blackfoot, and Missoula can fill any two local taprooms (day off) with guides who can row like fury, fish with passion and instruct with grace and elegance.

When it comes to the Clark Fork, it’s a tale of two rivers. The Upper Clark Fork River is narrow, tricky to row and fish from a boat, and can be a bit stingy. But when it’s on, it’s fire, and no one is there. It can provide an amazing experience on a smaller river. As the Clark Fork transitions from a smaller river to the largest in the state, the water varies wildly, from huge logjams to the urban town float, where you can fish a great river and stop at 3-4 riverside bars in Missoula and enjoy a cold beverage or a hot lunch! Better know which town channel to take, or you’ll miss the take out by 4 miles! Once the Bitterroot enters, the Clark Fork gets big and slow. You can find some amazing technical dry fly fishing to the largest rising fish in Missoula. The nymphing can be spectacular, and streamers can move a Brownie fatter than an average trout is long on almost any cast!

Let’s toss this in. We’re a two hour run to the Missouri river or the upper Bighole river. Three to the Beaverhead river or the headwaters of the Missouri. Don’t think Missoula guides aren’t familiar with these waters as well.

It’s 7:30 am and Missoula’s best fly fishing guides are texting, talking and planning their day. What’s hot, what’s not. They’ll be meeting their guests, and having a conversation with them. What are they expecting fom their day? (Missoula’s Best Guides) Lots of fish, dries, scenery, technical? This all goes into the mix as the guides ponder their four distinct options, the four distinct personalities that make Missoula such an eclectic fly fishing destination.

That’s not all that goes into a float trip, not by a longshot. Gas, clean boat and rig, delicious lunch and a positive attitude are a given. The guides need to know the water they’re going to take you to. It doesn’t work to see the take out 2 hours after putting in, or still see the put in 9 hours into the day. Missoula guides can manage a day on the water to perfection, having you home for dinner or squeezing the most out of the day. They know every shuttle driver in 100 miles from the shop. They’re prepared to fish any river at any time. While all the rivers have much of the same hatches, each river has its favorite flies and best angling practices. The guides need to be tricked out with the best flies for wherever their fancy takes them.

The Missoulian Angler has the largest fly selection in town, and over the course of the year, we see just about every guide in Missoula. Matt Robb, Russell Parks, Damon Cox, Tony Reinhardt, Chase Harrison, Dustin Stenson, Joe Boone, Greg Inglis and Scott Stanko– we see them all. And it’s the same thing every day, where am I going to fish. Decades of experience walk through our shop daily, and we watch the wheels spinning. We hear the slyly crafted questions and the tell-tale hints that might lead to the mother-lode.  Or it could be as simple as calling Tommy at Four Rivers Shuttle or Pat Bond and ask where they have the fewest boats! So many strategies employed to find our guests the best fly fishing in Montana.

But it all boils down to one thing. Once you’ve committed, once the best fishing guides in Missoula have decided on, that 6 mile float, 9 mile float or 13 mile float, you know there’s still 290 MILES of river you’re not fishing that day.  Was it the best call? Was it an average call. Did you float lockjaw territory? When you’re as diverse as Missoula, when you can basically dial up about any type of fishing you’re looking for, from blanket hatches to technical Euronymphing, Missoula, Montana always has that mystery about it. You’ll know about how your day is going to go tomorrow morning, when todays fishing is grist for the mill! And once again, the choice is there.  That’s the face every guide wears in the morning, what is he missing. But here’s a fact, and you can take it to the bank (Haha!), whatever water you’re fishing, Missoula’s guides will fish the ever-loving crap out of it.

Missoula’s best guides have a skill set that is rivalled by few. They can row. The best guides in Missoula row the trickiest and rockiest rivers in Montana on a daily basis, adjusting as the rivers change from day to day. Imagine the skill set needed to work in 4 separate buildings, separated into multiple offices, that can change on a daily basis. That’s a guide’s life in Missoula. It takes a while to get familiar with all the water around Missoula, knowing the best flies and techniques for each river. Luckily, the city and the rivers are a magnet, attracting and keeping guides for decades. When we say Missoula guides are amongst the best in the state, we can back that up with diversity, skills and preparation.

It’s a passion, but it’s a business as well. Missoula fly fishing guides approach each day as craftsmen, knowing each day will be different, and confident they will rise to the challenge. They have the option of fishing over 300 miles of river, know what’s fishing, finding out what their guests want, balance that against where the best fishing is, and make the call. With fly boxes stuffed to the gills (Haha) with the best flies for every river, they have a full tank of gas, and their sunglasses are on! These guides are ready for their clients, ready for the rivers, and ready to make your day the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer!

Looking At Flies

A fly box is a lot like your underwear drawer. It holds what’s important, it keeps our secret treasures, and we use it as often as possible! There’s nothing so personal in fly fishing as your flies. Say what you want about your rod, reel, waders etc, there are others with the same stuff. We all dip into the same well for our big tackle, we all have access to the same sources. But our flies, that’s a completely different picture. As we move through the fly fishing world, the only thing that truly separates us as anglers is the flies we take with us to the river.

Every fly box is a story.  Open any box and the memories come flooding back. The salmon fly you got from that crazy guy on the river. You said howdy, and next thing he’s giving you flies he tied, and telling you it’s the only fly that works on Rock Creek right now. With his sun faded hat, wispy gray hair and wrap around glasses so dark you can’t see his eyes, he makes you take two, because one isn’t going to be enough to sustain you through the day. If you hadn’t lost one in some overhanging branches, it wouldn’t have been tugged all day, but you’ll never forget the kindness, the joy of his fishing, and the nagging thought about who thought it was a good idea to use a green and red fly during the salmon fly hatch!

You open your nymph box, and see the rows and rows of flies slid into their foam homes. Except the one section that’s bare. You know that means a trip to the fly shop, because of all the flies in that box, those are the ones that work. Why you’ve honed in on the SR Quill Body Bullet, well, you just don’t know. But it works, and all of a sudden, all those other flies feel lost without a fresh supply of the new favorite. It will take its place beside all the old favorites, some so out of favor the rust has stained the foam. But there they stay, because you just never know . . . . . .

Once in a while, we look back and think, what if we just had one fly box, like when we were first starting out fly fishing. We hear rumors of anglers who can do it! Look at those Tenkara people, roaming the river with technology that harkens back to Dame Juliana and maybe a dozen flies. If only we had that intestinal fortitude and certainty in our choices.  But some anglers can’t, and more just won’t! The fly is the one piece of tackle that comes into contact with the fish. Your flies are a beacon of hope, the answers to our fishing prayers, the path that could make us king of the river. What if today is the day a green and red salmon fly is the magic? Can we really leave it at home?  The what ifs start to accumulate. So you rationalize. Do I really need a sandwich in that vest pocket? Just how critical is a pocketful of snacks. And then you go hungry, for flies. And its not the first time, as you think back to the last time you went to the fly shop!!

Ultimately, the fly is the thing you have the most control over on the water. You don’t design rods, you don’t manufacture lines. But if you choose to, you can make your own flies. Or you can haunt the fly shops, looking for the one fly that will turn the ship around. So often, as we work the shop, a customer will enter. Asked if they need help, the answer is no, they just couldn’t pass by a fly shop. Hope springs eternal! We know it’s at least a $20 sale, whether it’s flies or materials. Because they know, they just know, that the secret could be in our fly bins. What the secret is, well they’re not sure as they walk through the door, but they’ll know it when they see it.

We see the best fly fishing guides in Missoula on a daily basis during the season. It’s so much fun watching the different ways they shop for flies. Some will look at every fly they buy, holding it up so they can see it from the bottom, examining each wrap for its placement and balance. Some assiduously count their flies, never buying an even number. Some just reach into a bin and grab what looks like the correct amount, like they’re buying by weight. Some come in groups, discussing the various patterns and what’s hot, what’s not. But always, they’re on the lookout for something new, something fresh, something to guarantee their guests have the best Missoula fly fishing possible. They trust us to have what they need, when they need it.

Because, truth be told, we’re the exact same way. We believe the fly is the answer, the game changer, the key to our happiness. Sure, we mend, we change tippets, we get new line, we look at new rods. But when it comes to flies, we are constant tinkerers. What can we add that makes us better. What fly is so hot it scorches the wooden bins? People marvel at our dollar box. “How can that fly be there?” Every fly in the dollar bin is a hope that wasn’t answered as well as we thought it would be, every fly is there because we thought it was the answer, and then, not so much. But none of those flies that have been relegated to that bin are so silly we wouldn’t try them again at some point, maybe when the scorcher has lost its fire. That’s when we look for the rust spots in our nymph box, hoping that absence has made the trout’s hearts grow fonder.

Because no one cleans out their fly box. The rust? It may work as an attractant. A red and green salmon fly? Funnier things have happened. And what if it turns out you do need a Purple Haze with no hackle? There it is again, what if. That’s what flies are all about. Each one has the potential to change the day. Each one has the ability to be the next big thing. Again, it all boils down to what if. So they stay in the box, in all their glory, some ragged, some rusty and some ridiculous. But all carrying the possibility, all carrying the potential, all with a chance to solve the riddle, charm the snake and make your Montana fly fishing day!