Fly Tying – Take Your Season Indoors

Lets start by saying the Missoulian Angler is at the far right on the bell curve. If left is the very casual angler, center is Missoula’s standard out fly fishing 50 days a year, we live on the far right. And if you bell curved the far right, we’d STILL be far right!

All our employees tie flies. Most have been professional tyers, and we all tie flies for the shop.

We started the same way. Someone told us we might be able to save money by tying flies (HA!) or there was a purer joy in catching fish on a fly you tied yourself (true). Now, we tie because we don’t know any other way.

It’s been said that every fly you tie is a little bit of hope for the season. Every wrap of thread is a plan for the next time you hit the water. And let’s not make any bones about it- you think you can build a better mousetrap! As you bend the materials onto the hook, you can’t help but wonder if THIS is the fly that will turn your season around. That’s what fly tying is about . . .

But it doesn’t happen over night, and there’s the rub. Customers come in all the time and say, “I want to tie the Sex Dungeon and the Royal Wulff. Those are my two favorite flies and I’m always out of them.” We always respond with tying flies is great, but you may need to set your sights a bit lower to start. How about a Pheasant Tail Jig and a Pat’s Rubberlegs? Sometimes it’s yes, and sometimes it’s no.

Because fly tying isn’t an art- it’s a hand skill, like hitting a baseball or knitting a sweater. For the same reason you don’t learn to hit facing major league pitching, or start knitting with a multi color, zipper back pant suit, you have to start easy in fly tying. Choose two simple patterns, and start to tie them, like a Pheasant Tail Jig and a Pat’s Rubberlegs! You’ll need tools for tying flies, a place to tie, and the time to spend behind the vise.

And here’s what you get when you start to tie flies. Complaints from your significant other that there’s fuzz all over the house. A bunch of flies that look nothing like the picture on Instagram. Small punctures on the ends of your fingers where the hook inexplicably ended up. A much more varied and colorful way to express yourself when the thread breaks for the 3rd time on one fly. You’ll be in closer contact with your fly fishing buddies, all asking you for “just a couple” of your best bugs. You wonder what possessed you to even start this silly habit.

Until you start to see the other side of the coin. It’s more subtle and far reaching, and it doesn’t come immediately. The moment you tie your first Pheasant Tail, you have to think about proportions. The Abdomen is 60% of the body- the Thorax is 40%. Next thing you know, you find out all mayflies have the same proportions, they just vary in size. Pretty soon, you’re looking under rocks and seeing that the flies you’ve been tying aren’t exactly the right color, so you modify that. Your bugs start to look better to the fish.

All of sudden, the shucks on the side of the river begin to mean more. You’re looking at size and shape, and now comparing it to what you’re making. You begin to make changes to your flies, and they begin to work better.

A grasshopper flies by, and it’s no longer just a hopper. You start to notice the hoppers are different sizes. Some have bright red legs, some don’t. They vary in color, and even a bit in shape. Some have very prominent legs, some are smaller. All this goes into the hopper (get it?!?!) and the next time you’re at the bench, you start to make adjustments to your patterns. They start to look more like a hopper you see on the water, not what others think a hopper should look like. You begin to scope the internet, looking at hopper patterns. You see things you like, you see things you don’t like. You begin to steal like an artist!! You take a body from one hopper and the wings from another. Legs from a third and a head from a fourth. You’re observing things as you’ve never done, and now you’re mixing and matching, learning more every time about what a hopper is and isn’t to a fish. Not all will work, but with every modification, you get closer to a hopper that works for you, that you have confidence in.

That’s the real secret about fly tying. Not that you’ll have flies when you need them, not that they’re better tied and more durable. The real secret of fly tying is now you know so much more. You’re looking at the naturals with a brand new and critical eye. They’re no longer random bugs. You’re no longer reading a fishing report and wondering what it all really means. Without knowing it, you’re learning about insect life cycles, and how and where trout interact with them. You’re seeing how the river works- how water, insects and trout all come together. Wait till you find out about clingers, crawlers and burrowers. All of a sudden, a riffle makes more sense. It’s the breeding ground for insects. No wonder trout stack up in there. You’re a better angler.

All because you took your fly fishing indoors. The moment you set up the vise for the first time, and started bending thread to hook, you’re taking giant steps to be ahead of the curve. Soon, you’ll be looking back and wondering how did I ever catch a trout? I had no real clue what was going on on the river! If you really get the bug (get it?!?!) you’re going to expand your pattern listing. You’re going to take some chances with new and different flies- always with the knowledge you’ve earned, knowing they have a very good chance of working. You’re a smarter angler, you’ve traveled further right on the bell curve.

It’s all about success on the water. At the Missoulian Angler, we learn as much from our customers as they learn from us. A fisheries biologist told us that when minnows hatch, they have no air in their swim bladder. They can’t swim until they surface and take in air. Before that time, they just sort of drift with the current. You have a Eureka moment. You have had nymphs taken as if they were a streamer. This explains it! The trout think it’s a minnow unable to swim. We all tied up some very thin, very small minnow imitations to be used under an indicator. They crush fish when the minnows are hatching. We learned more, and that made us more effective anglers.

Learning never stops on the water. It never stops at the vise either. Not just tying techniques and skill level, but that knowledge that seeps in while concentrating of fly fishing. Everything gets ratcheted up just a bit more, and keeps going. You find yourself stepping into the water with more confidence and greater skill. It’s an upward spiral that never really stops. We tell you that from our combined 100+ years of fly tying experience in the shop.

As the weather changes, and opportunities on the water get fewer and farther between, it might be a good time to think about taking your fly fishing indoors. You’ll thank us next year!

Bitterroot River Fall Fly Fishing

Best Flies For September Fishing In Montana

September fly fishing in Missoula is arguably the best time of year. The water is low, reaching prime temps with longer, cooler nights with the most comfortable wading of the year. The bugs are diverse in size, ranging from size 6 hoppers to size 22 Blue Winged Olives. Subsurface, the nymphing is excellent with so much insect activity, while the streamer fishing comes on as September progresses. It doesn’t matter what type of fly fishing you’re looking for, if you’re in Missoula in September, you’re going to find it. Lets take a look at some of the best flies for September fly fishing in Montana.


September starts with the same flies as you’ve been using since August 10th. The grasshoppers have established, with fish on the prowl looking for a big, easy meal. Missoula hopper fishing starts in late July and depending on weather, may last into November! That’s over 3 months of fish seeing naturals, and their imitations. September is a good time to do a little experimenting with different hopper variations. We carry Pav’s Hopper in 5 different colors, and variations on the Morrish Hopper in 4 different colors. We have gray hoppers, blue hoppers and many pink ones. Why do they work? No idea, but they do. We watch Missoula’s best fly fishing guides shop every morning, and in September they will be looking for full fly bins. The theory is no one is buying them, so the fish haven’t seen too many. Think about expanding your hopper game in September to show the trout

something new and different.


The same can be said for Tricos. In early September, you can almost set your watch by the trico hatch. The fish have been looking at naturals for almost a month, and they can get a bit snotty at this time of year. Think about some Trout Hunter tippet in 5.5X. Trout Hunter tippet is much softer than Rio, and allows your bug to float more naturally. The half sizes of tippet provide more stealth without sacrificing as much strength. Move to trico cripples and emergers, like the Sprout or the Quigley Cluster Midge. Ron’s Trico Spinner will produce consistently as well, though by this time of year he is way tired of tying them! Be ready to drop down to a size 20 as well, so make sure you’ve got your readers when you hit the water.

Blue WInged Olives

We’re all waiting for the magic moment in September- the first real rains of fall. If we’re lucky, the rain comes in about September 10th, and the entire complexion of fly fishing in Missoula changes. The weather change brings cooler temps and some clouds. The tricos trade out for Blue Winged Olives. Same size- different color. The week after the rains will prove to any angler that fish can see color! If you fish a trico through a BWO hatch or vice versa, you’re not going to be anywhere near as successful as you could be. Look for the classic figure 8 of a trico spinner cloud above the water, or get your nose close to the water and check what’s floating by. It makes a big difference!

As the BWO’s start, the basic patterns will work. A simple Parachute BWO or Comparadun will take fish consistently at the start of the hatch. But as the BWO’s extend through September, growing in numbers, the fish get a lot more selective. The Last Chance Cripple or Quigley Split Flag Cripple will start to be more effective for fussy trout. Again, shift down with your tippet size to give your fly the best chance at a drag free drift. Watch rise forms very carefully when BWO’s are on the water. Many fish focus on emerging nymphs, and while you’ll see concentric “rise” rings, it’s the fish’s back that breaks the surface, not the mouth. Drop an unweighted Size 18 Pheasant Tail about 4 inches off the back of your dry and watch your catch rate skyrocket.


In the middle of the month, the Mahoganies start to make their annual appearance. This size 14 mayfly is tough to miss on a Fall afternoon, and provides a steady hatch for the next 3 weeks. The Parachute Pheasant Tail, Purple Haze or Brindle Chute all in size 14-16 are excellent choices at this time, with the Brindle Chute out performing most other flies when the Mahoganies are on, especially on the Bitterroot River where it was invented. Again, as the hatch progresses, start to get a bit more technical with your flies. Bring some Last Chance Cripples or Sparkle Duns when the fish are ignoring your standard fare.

October Caddis

At the end of the month, you can start looking for the October caddis to appear. If you think you can’t miss the Mahoganies, you REALLY can’t miss the October Caddis. This size 8-10 orange caddis is a favorite of fish on the Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River. If you see one, tie one on. The fish are looking for them and will eat even when the naturals aren’t strong. Both the Orange Elk Hair Caddis and the Orange Goddard Caddis will float a small dropper as well, so make sure to utilize that option as well. The Birds of Prey October Caddis Pupa is deadly subsurface, and if you’re not getting the action you’re looking for on top, get down with the pupa to bring your fish count up.


With all the hatches across Missoula’s rivers, the nymphing can be off the hook! With lower water levels the droppers are shorter and easier to control, especially on the Bitterroot River and Rock Creek. Don’t be afraid to go small. Early in September, the SR Bullet Black in a size 18 is a great trico nymph. When the weather changes the rivers to BWO’s, switch to an SR Bullet Olive and keep raking in the fish. A Pheasant Tail Jig will outperform most anything for the Mahogany nymph, and don’t forget the October Caddis Pupa. It should be said again, if fish aren’t eating on the surface, they’re eating underneath- dry flies get the ink, nymphs get the fish. Especially at the end of the month, when the cold weather tells the fish winter is coming, and they need to eat.


The same weather that moves trout to nymph hard also moves fish to eat streamers. When the days start to get cooler and shorter, a great way to start the day is working a small to midsize streamer around the likely areas. If your streamer choice is comfortable to cast on a 5-6 weight, it’s proabably the correct size. This is conventional wisdom, but there are exceptions. In the big water of the lower Clark Fork River and the lower Blackfoot River (which is now bereft of tubers due to the cold) a big streamer run deep will still work its magic. If you’re a streamer-maniac, the last week of September can be prime time, moving bigger fish looking to take in a few calories before the real weather gets here. Pick your spots to run the Mongrel Meat or Sex Dungeons, or go smaller with a Baby Gonga or Dirty Hippie.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you’re looking for when you head to the water, September fly fishing in Missoula has the answer. Whether you want technical dry fly fishing, prospecting with dries, focused Euronymphing, Hopper/dropper or streamer action, somewhere on Missoula’s diverse rivers you’re going to find it. The weather is relatively mild, the wading is easy, the rivers are at good flows and better temps, and you can expect good days on the water. If you live here, carve out some time to fish during some of the year’s best fly fishing in Missoula. If you’re traveling from out of town, get ready to see some of the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer. We’ll see you in the shop, or hear from you online! 

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.

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Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip
Mahogany Nymph

Low Water Nymphing

In the low, clear water of summer, many anglers really focus on the surface action. Less water means less current, making a rise much more energy efficient. The fish are in clearly defined areas, and easy to prospect for. Clear water makes the dry fly appealing, and many anglers ply the surface all day, hoping for the slash to a hopper, spying the subtle sip of an ant or the plop of a beetle. Waning PMD’s, Tan Caddis and PED’s can keep your focus on top, but you’re missing out on where feeding fish are most of the time! Trout don’t like the sun- it hurts their eyes and makes them easy targets for predators. They want the bottom when the water is clear.

You see a single rise, and the adrenaline rushes. Rising fish! You stare at the rings, and wait for another rise, but it’s not happening. Missoula’s best fly fishing guides call this one and done. Whatever that fish came to the surface for, it seems to be a one off. No reason to stay and wait for another rise- it’s going to take a while to bring that fish back to the surface.

But you’ve learned something. There’s a hungry trout in that spot. An old phrase comes to mind, fish where the fish are! That fish has alerted you to its presence, and willingness to feed. Set yourself up with a nymph, and go after that hungry fish. The hard part is done. You know where it is, and know it’s feeding. Take advantage of what the trout tells you.

Low water nymphing can be as easy as rigging up a dry/dropper rig. Pick a high floating fly and tie it on the end of your leader. Check the depth of the holding water for your chosen fish, and use 1.5 times the depth as your dropper length. If you think the water is 2 feet deep, make sure your dropper is attached to three feet of leader. We strongly recommend fluorocarbon tippet for multiple reasons. It’s much denser than standard tippet, so it sinks faster. It’s as close to invisible underwater as you can get, and it’s extremely abrasion resistant. That’s important because banging the bottom with light tippet weakens its strength. We also recommend going with the lightest indicator you’re comfortable with. Additionally, if you’ve been fishing dries on a 12 foot leader, cut your leader back a bit to control your rig. Accuracy is critical, and if you’ve built a 16 foot leader with two flies on it, it can get pretty unwieldy.

There’s a huge difference in dry/dropper fishing, depending if you’re in a boat or wading. When floating, you’re less worried about landing the fly in the water, and more worried about the floatation of the dry. With good mending, you may get a 100 yard drift from a boat, and your dry fly needs to have sufficient buoyancy to handle repeated mends. The Morrish Hopper, Plan B or Chubby Chernobyl provide exceptional floatation, recovering from the mend and resurfacing to maintain your drift.

There are two distinct ways to low water nymph for the wade fisherman. The first is to go dry/dropper, or run an indicator and two nymphs. Using a high floating fly/indicator, the angler casts to likely water, mending as needed. The indicator returns to the surface when mended, keeping the nymph at the depth set by the angler. Fish the likely spots, just as if you were in a boat, with vigorous mends, using the floatation in your fly or indicator to bring it back to the surface after mending.

This may not be the approach to use when targeting a specific fish, like our friend that went one and done 4 paragraphs ago. Often, the larger dry or indicator will create quite a disturbance when it lands on the water, alerting the fish to your presence. For targeted nymphing, use a very light indicator, like New Zealand Wool or Palsa indicators, or a fly like the Royal Wulff. The reasoning goes this way. A wading angler is lucky to get a 3 second drift. Try it sometime. Cast your dry out and count how long it floats before dragging. You’re going to find that 3 seconds is long! Aerial mends, like the reach cast or steeple cast, are critical for the wading angler’s arsenal, extending your drift to the 3 second mark!  

You’re using the Wulff as an indicator, not really as a fly. The water is low and clear. The targeted nymph fisherman may tie a size 14 Tungsten Bead Head Jig to a size 12 dry. No, it’s not going to float your nymph very well! But that’s not the point. Your fly is an indicator, and in clear water, it’s visible even if it sinks. React to any movement in your point fly, whether floating or drowned, just as if it was on the surface. The light touch won’t spook your fish, and as long as you can see your “dry” in the water column, it’s still your indicator. Stealth is the name of the game in low water. A light indicator fly might not control depth like an Airlock, but still tells you when your nymph has been eaten.

Back in the dawn of fly fishing, like pre 1970’s!, nymph fishermen fished without indicators. I know!!! It seems crazy in this day and age, but nymph fishers didn’t use an indicator. They watched for subtle movements in their leader or line tip to alert them to the “quick brown wink underwater.” Believe me, they would have used them if they could have, but they weren’t available. The first indicators were made of fluorescent orange fly line peeled from the core, and they revolutionized nymphing. They were a pain in the tuckus to use, but they made all the difference.

Yesterdays nympher would quickly recognize Euronymphing today. The old timers “high stick”, now we euro nymph. Using a long rod often extended way above shoulder height, euro nymphers keep as much line off the water as possible, controlling depth and drift with the tip of the rod. They work the best water, and after a few careful drifts, can have the fly dancing along the bottom, adjusting for structure, current speed and depth. It’s amazing to watch a good euro nympher at work- they will take fish all day long, because they’re where the fish are at all times. Euro nymphers use a variation of the lightweight indicator, and will use it on the surface or submerged if necessary to get the proper drift.

Which brings us to THE MOST DIFFICULT Missoula trout fishing you can find- sight nymphing. Lets start at the beginning. You need to be on your game enough to spot a feeding fish underwater. No gimmes here, like concentric rings of a rise. You need to spot the fish before you spook it. Then ascertain how deep the fish is, and find the best position for your presentation. You need to know exactly how fast your nymph sinks, how fast the current is moving, and then gage your cast to get the nymph to the proper depth, at the proper time in the correct feeding lane. With no drag. After that, it’s a piece of cake . . . unless the trout is focused on a specific nymph, and then you have to figure that out as well. Many sight nymphers wil pre-scout an area for feeding fish, just as a hatch matcher will find where the fish are rising. It takes some of the guesswork out of the process.

Sight nymphing makes dry fly fishing look like spinfishing. It’s a 3-D presentation to fish in clear water, with all that entails. On the Henry’s Fork, anglers often work in pairs, one on a bluff watching the trout while the other is in the water casting. The spotter relays if the drift was good, if the fish moved and any other pertinent data. We’ve not seen that done in Missoula, but there are places on the Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River and the lower Bitterroot River where that approach would work. If you’re hanging around the shop, and someone says they’ve taken some fish while sight nymphing, it will pay to eavesdrop on their conversation. You’re probably going to learn something! Do it with stealth though, just like nymph fishing in the low, clear water of summer and fall!

Best Fly Rods For Fishing Missoula

The smartass answer? The most expensive rod we can sell you is the best fly rod for Missoula!! But you already knew that, and were probably hoping for something a little more informative. We can do that too.

Let’s start with some basics. Missoula fly fishing is primarily a trout fishing destination. While our largest trout will go over 10 lbs, there’s a good reason you don’t see many pictures of them- they don’t get caught very often! Just as a pint’s a pound the world around, 20 inches is a BIG trout anywhere you go, especially in freestone rivers, which is what Missoula has for fisheries. All our rivers are fed with a combination of rainwater, snowmelt and springs. Some years the water can be high through July, other years the water can be so low by mid-summer that we have restrictions in place to safeguard the trout. We are like every trout destination in the world (other than New Zealand, and no one knows why!), the average size trout you’re going to catch is about 12 inches long. Average! Some will be bigger, and some will be smaller, but that’s the average trout for the Missoula area and pretty much across Montana. Instagram and all the fly fishing magazines don’t lie, but they don’t show all the fish. There’s a good reason those fish got to pose for a picture!

The Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, the Bitterroot River and the Blackfoot River all have separate and distinct personalities, but they share many of the same hatches, and these hatches are incredibly diverse. The Salmon Fly can be up to 54mm long (2.1 inches), while the Tricos and Baetis (Blue Winged Olives) can be as small as 5mm long. That is a tremendously diverse insect population, demanding a lot from the angler and their tackle. Add fluctuating water flows into the mix, and you could find yourself reaching for many different fly rods in the same day!

Missoula’s fishing season is divided into three distinct categories. Pre-runoff fishing, post runoff fishing and late summer/Fall fishing. Post runoff fishing is the most demanding of your tackle. The biggest flies in Missoula come off from mid June through mid July, just when the water is highest. The 54mm adult Salmon Fly doesn’t come from a ½ inch nymph- it’s as big as the dry! If you’re fishing a dry/dropper in high water, a 6 or even a 7 weight rod is not inappropriate. With all trout fishing, accuracy is paramount, and a heavier rod will help put that big rig exactly where you want it. The larger rod also helps you fight fish as they enter into what can be a massive current- get a 17 inch fish sideways in the river on June 25th and you’ve got a tussle on your hands! A bigger rod can help turn the tide in a positive direction.

Pre-runoff fishing, and late Summer/Fall angling often requires a little different approach. The water is as low and clear as it gets on March 25 or September 25, and the BWO’s can be out in force. Fishing a size 22 on a 6 wt rod can be a challenge. The heavier line definitely makes more of an entrance into the water, with the potential to spook fish as it lands, especially with an errant cast (not something WE do, we’ve just heard of it from others!). For smaller flies in skinny, clear water, you can use a 4 weight, or even go as low as a 3 weight rod to match the conditions. But Pre-runoff fishing has Skwala stoneflies, which can be 30mm long, and later season fishing includes hoppers, so the lightest line may not always be the most perfect throughout the day.

Calculating all the variables- extremes of fly size, high or skinny water, wind and the distances required to fish effectively, we think you’ll find the 5 weight rod for fly fishing Missoula to be the most versatile rod for this area and throughout Montana. It can handle a large fly with a bit of effort, and can be scaled back to take on the smallest flies in the shallowest water. You don’t need 22 fly rods to fish Missoula- the bread and butter 5 weight will do most of the work most of the time!

Missoula, MT fly fishing also offers up some excellent streamer fishing, as well as pike fishing in the Bitterroot River, Clark Fork River and a handfull of lakes. While the pike is an invasive species, they are there, and a 38 inch fish is nothing to sneeze at! If you want to try your hand at pike fishing, or throwing out a few giant flies like the Beast Master to see if you can move the big boys, a 7 or 8 weight rod can be just the ticket. Many of the best Missoula fly fishing guides carry sink tip fly lines for these rods, in order to get the fly right where the bruisers live. If you’re fishing for pike, we highly recommend a wire or 80-100lb bite tippet to keep those razor-sharp teeth from slicing your fly off on the strike.

You’ve read this far and heard us talk about fly rod weights, but you haven’t heard anything about fly rod length for. The standard fly rod in Missoula is 9 feet long, and very few anglers head out to our larger freestone rivers with anything shorter than an 8 ½ foot rod. There are excellent reasons for this. A longer rod is a more powerful lever, more capable of casting longer distances with more accuracy. Wade fishing in Missoula often requires a longer cast to get the job done. Add the large size of some of the flies we throw, and the extra power generated by the longer rod comes in very handy.

Anyone who has fished with a guide has heard this word- MEND. Getting a drag free drift is THE most important skill to master when trout fishing. Line control, or the ability to manipulate the line, leader and fly so it floats with the current, not against it, is the key to successful dry fly and nymph fishing in Missoula, in Montana, and around the world. It is not by chance that Euronymphers use a rod that may be anywhere from 10-11 feet long. Euronymphing relies on pinpoint drift and depth control for success, and the longer the fly rod, the more line you can keep off the water, where it’s not affected by current. Additionally, the longer rod is a better mending tool, allowing for more reach on a reach cast, and more line to be lifted off the water when you water mend. Some of our Missoula fly shop staff have been using 10 foot rods for over 30 years for just that reason. The 10 foot rod also has the power to really step up and make a long cast when needed, because the additional length brings additional power. Not going to lie, casting a 10 foot rod all day is more tiring than casting a 9 footer, but it is worth it to many Missoula fly fisherman.

Time for a bit of a tirade! The long cast always looks impressive, and can make an angler go oooh and aaah like they were watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Your dry fly or nymph rig goes buzzing out 65 feet, and you think I’m really doing something. All we can say is you had better have a perfectly balanced leader, (building leaders) or that cast is going to start dragging pretty much the moment it hits the water. It’s been said that drag is like garlic, there’s no such thing as just a little! The moment you cast beyond your ability to mend, you’ve lost control of your drift and therefore 90% of your chance at catching a trout of any consequence. While the 9 foot rod is the standard across the fly fishing world, it’s worth thinking about a longer fly rod for all the reasons we’ve just listed.

You can come to Missoula with 7 fly rods, ranging from 2-8 weight and know you have the correct tool for any situation on our freestone rivers. Or you can arrive with a single 9 foot, 5 weight and be able to handle 90% of the fishing 90% of the time. Fly fishing in Missoula, like anywhere else, can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. Some anglers collect fly rods like others collect matchbooks, so if you got ‘em, bring ‘em. But if you’re an angler with one fly rod and a box of flies, don’t let that be a deterrent. Fly fishing in Missoula is as diverse as you will find in Montana. If all you have is an 8 foot 3 weight rod, then the Missoulian Angler will direct you to places where that rod will work! You might be 6 miles up a tributary, or waist deep in a glide on the Bitterroot River, but the fly rod you have is going to get the job done!

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!

Montana Stonefly Hatch

Best Flies For July In Montana

For Missoula, and most of Montana, July fly fishing comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It starts like a house afire, and it often ends up just being hot! Montana rivers start the month high, cold and green, and end it low and clear. For the wading angler, this can be a blessing, for the floating angler, not as much. For those who float or row, early July can be the trickiest time of the year. As the water drops, the rivers teeth start to stick up and come into play. But the water isn’t actually low, it’s just lower.  Still a lot of push in the river, and the snags, rocks and sweepers are now a lot closer to the surface, and a lot more dangerous. Pay attention when rowing in early July! But we digress. . . . . . .


If you want, July can start BIG! Not as big and bright as June, as the Salmon Flies are starting to wane, but they’re still around, coming back to the water to lay their eggs. The Rogue Salmon Fly or the Morning Wood Special in a size 6-8 can work very effectively, as the adult salmon flies are shrinking as they return to lay eggs. They get smaller and darker as the hatch progresses, and your flies should reflect that. However . . . .

The best fly fishing guides in Missoula will tell you the moment the Golden Stones appear in numbers, it’s time to drop the big guy and go for the gold. The goldens are a more consistent hatch along the river, and the fish will rise more readily to the golden. Maybe they taste better? We don’t know that, but we do know they’re usually more productive as we head into July. If you’re not ready to abandon the salmon fly altogether, we can suggest a few “Tweener” flies. A tweener is a fly that does double duty- could be a golden, could be a salmon fly. A great example of this is the El Camino Grillo Golden in the larger sizes. Fits the bill for a big golden or small salmon fly.  A long time stalwart in Missoula is the PK Golden, and don’t sleep on the Plan B either. While it may sound like a second tier fly, the Plan B is a go-to for Missoula fly fishing guides.


Lets go back to big for just a second. At the beginning of July, when the rivers are full and maybe still a bit off color, a streamer will often move the biggest fish in the river. The lack of clarity in the water helps them feel safe, and the higher water means the fish are hugging the banks looking for an easy meal they don’t need to move far for. A streamer worked along the shoreline doesn’t give the trout a lot of time to make up its mind, and the vicious hit of a big trout bent on making the most of what the river rips by can about knock the rod out of your hands! Agreed, the surface activity can be so good that you don’t think past the meniscus, but the trout are feeding at all levels of the river. If you’re on the water early and there’s no movement on top, it’s a great time to mobilize big fish with big flies.


The Pale Morning Duns and the Pale Evening Duns are also out in big numbers in the month of July. Look for the PMD’s to come off anywhere from 9:00 am  to 1:00 pm depending on weather. Soft water and longer glides can offer some of the most exciting fishing in Montana and locally, with blanket hatches of PMD’s coming off steadily for 1-2 hours. Have a good selection of bugs, as the fish can get a bit snotty. The Tilt Wing PMD and the Last Chance Cripple cover a lot of the stages of the adult life cycle, and are go-to flies when the hatch is on. The Parachute PMD is easier to see, and is also very effective.

The Pale Evening Duns can be a bit trickier to find. They’re extremely weather dependent. If the day has hit 95 degrees (not uncommon in mid-July- bring your sunscreen!) the PED’s might not come off till about 15 minutes before dark. Be ready, so you’re not trying to tie your fly on in twilight! The same bugs that work for the PMD’s will work for the PED’s as well. If the day was cool or cloudy, they may start to appear as early as 7:30. Make sure you’re ready on the water when they come off, because they are going to. It just depends on the day.

The Rusty Spinner deserves a paragraph all its own. Both the PMD’s and the PED’s will morph into Rusty Spinners, so there are a lot of them on the water. The spinner is a spent mayfly that has returned to the water to die. Their wings are flat to the surface, and they are very difficult to see if you’re not looking for them. They will  come off at dusk or dawn, or both. If you’re an early riser, you might find some early risers! If you’re out late, and the trout have spurned your classic PED patterns, switch over to a Hi-Viz Rusty Spinner. You will be astounded at how popular that darn near invisible (to us) fly is to the trout.


The reason you might not be ready for the PED’s is the Tan Caddis. When they are on, they are ON! They will also come off around dusk on the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, the Bitterroot River, the Big Blackfoot River and all across Montana. The Tan Caddis may be the most popular fly in the entire state.  If you run across a blanket hatch, and there are few fish rising, move directly to the Deep Caddis Pupa Tan or Translucent Pupa Tan. Those insects on the surface didn’t appear from nowhere, and if the fish aren’t feeding on the surface, they’re feeding underneath! If you find them rising in faster water, nothing works better than a Tan Elk Hair Caddis. Find them in some slower water, and the X-Caddis Tan is often the answer. The Tan Caddis is also a great searching fly throughout the day, and will move fish at the strangest times in the strangest places!


These hatches are huge as the month of July starts, but wane as the month goes on, until what was once a blizzard is now a mere localized squall. As the water drops and clears, and the aquatic food sources begin to dry up, the fish need to widen their gaze, and start looking for alternative meals. The big hope is the Spruce Moth. They can be huge in the last weeks of July, depending upon the weather.  You can hear the landowners curse as the tops of their trees are destroyed, but to the trout, they can be a huge bridge between the cornucopia of early July and the tricos of August. Ron Beck’s MAngler Moth is every guide’s favorite fly, but don’t lose sight of the Spruce Almighty, or even a big tan caddis when the Spruce Moths are on the water.

This is also the time that your Ants and beetles begin to shine. The hot days get those bugs moving around, and every time the wind blows, more enter the river systems. We enjoy the Foam Beetle, as it floats well, and is almost easily seen. The Ant-Acid has become very popular in the last couple of years, as has the ????. It’s a bit early to look to the hopper, unless July has been brutally hot, but the hopper days are coming, rest assured. Patience is required when fishing terrestrials, as the fish aren’t always looking up when we think they should be . . . . .


So go to the nymph!! Pick a good, basic nymph in a size 14-16 and fish the crap out of it. Jig nymphs sink faster- never the wrong choice. The fish are missing their regular meals, and will move a good distance to find some food. If you come across a good deep hole, the Pats Rubberlegs is still a top producer, especislly on the Clark Fork River. Stoneflies nymphs in Missoula have a 2-3 year lifespan, so the Pat’s is always a good bet in the deeper parts of the river.  A Double Bead Stone may be a bit much, but you’re sure going to get down to the bottom of the river with that fly in late July!


There’s another terrestrial that deserves special mention in July, and that’s the mouse. Yes, the mouse. Late in the month, when the rivers have calmed down, and the heat of the day has driven the big fish deep into the shade, the mouse can be magic. It takes a little intestinal fortitude to fish rodentia, as the best mouse fishing is found after dark. We find its best to do your mousing in water you’re familiar with- a little prescouting doesn’t hurt either. A flashlight or headlamp is also highly recommended. The big Browns across Montana come out to feed after dark, and its not what you think it is. Darkness hides them from predators, and they will move into shallow water to feed. Work the top of a pool, right where the riffle comes in, and the tail out, where the water shallows back up again. At night, the big fish are in skinny water, and that’s where you need to be. If the mouse isn’t producing, switch to a streamer. Same place, just sub-surface. The takes can be brutally hard. But truthfully, we’re looking for the sippers, the trout that’s so big it takes your mouse with hardly a sign. That’s why you’re on the water after midnight, for the fish that hasn’t seen the sun for 3 years!

Final Thoughts

In like a lion, out like a lamb. The wading is tough in the beginning, awesome at the end. Reverse that for floating. You start the month with 2X tippet, and can find yourself with 4’ of 5X on July 31st. That’s what July is in Missoula and across Montana, the month with the biggest change. Be ready to match the hatches, be ready to make your own with some terrestrials, or get down to where the fish are when the hatches wane and the sun comes out. You get to see it all in July.

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.

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Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip