Fish Rising On Clark Fork River

5 Best Hatches on the Clark Fork

The Clark Fork River covers lots of miles in western Montana, with many hatches along its length. The upper stretch is smaller and bit faster, making it prime water for stoneflies and caddis. The middle and lower stretches, especially below the Bitterroot River, are slower and broader, perfect for blanket mayfly hatches, stoneflies and caddis. It’s difficult to nail down the 5 best Clark Fork River Hatches, but we’ve done it! They’re listed in our preference.

Pale Morning Duns

Pale Morning Dun Hatch

This is the quintessential western mayfly hatch, and the Clark Fork River is covered with PMD’s from the 3rd week of June through the 3rd week of July and sometimes later. PMD’s hatch between noon and 3:00, depending on weather, and consistently provide about 2 hours of steady, excellent technical dry fly fishing. Be prepared, because when PMD’s come off, they come off in sheets. The fish will definitely focus on very specific stages of the hatch, and can be insanely fussy. Which is part of the fun!

The Clark Fork trout, especially in the lower sections, pod up to take these flies. Characteristic of the Clark Fork, the pods tend to hold fish of relatively the same size. If you come across a pod of fish, and the first nose up is about 2” across, slow down! Most of the fish in that pod are going to be big, and you need to be very stealthy on approach. If the rises are a bit smaller, most of the fish in that pod will be smaller as well. Don’t know why, but know it’s so. You can do some serious head hunting on the Lower Clark Fork River.

The PMD’s love the soft insides of bends in the river. It’s easy to miss these trout as you go by, as the rises in the diamond chop have to be spotted carefully. It’s well worth checking out the inside seam at every bend in the river for rising fish. They also hatch in the long glides below riffles, and along the edges in the rock gardens. The Clark Fork River is fertile and large in the middle and lower sections, and like every river, has its own secrets.

The PMD’s can test the width of your fly box. To effectively meet this hatch on the Clark Fork River, you’ll need cripples, emergers, duns, unweighted nymphs and klinkhamer style flies, like the PMD Sprout. Special mention needs to be made of the Rusty Spinner. All adult PMD’s (as well as adult Pale Evening Duns) return to the river as Rusty Spinners. Our favorite fly for this stage is the Hi Viz Rusty Spinner, so you can see this low riding fly. The spinners can fall at any time, though are most often seen at dawn and dusk. Be ready for this stage, as the fish will move for spinners whenever they’re on the water.  

Golden Stones

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Clark Fork River is a sneaky good stonefly river, especially the middle and lower sections. The upper Clark Fork, with its more rapid descent and faster water is an obvious choice for stoneflies, but the slower middle and lower sections don’t look very stonefly-y. The Golden Stones will show you how good the Clark Fork is for stoneflies!

Throughout the middle and lower Clark Fork are rock gardens. That’s the second time we’ve said this, and it’s time for a definition. A rock garden is found next to the shore, in water 1.5 to 4 feet deep. Cinder block size rocks sit next to larger rocks, providing excellent cover for trout and habitat for Goldens. The Clark Fork is so big and fast that the water looks quite still over these sizable rocks. Wade the edges for a while and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. A wading angler is tempted to go waist deep and cast to the likely water in the middle. Mistake! 75% of all fish are found within 15 feet of the bank, and the Clark Fork is no exception. Work the edges, over these rock gardens, and watch your fish count rise on Missoula’s largest river.

The Goldens hatch heavily from late June through July, and bring strikes all across the river. Our favorite flies include the Rastaman Golden and PK Golden. If the surface action slows down, drop a Pat’s Rubberlegs in Tan/Brown off a long dropper. On the lower Clark Fork, a 7-foot dropper is often exactly what’s needed during this hatch. Interesting casting, but the catching will make it worth it. If you’re an early bird, the Clark Fork has some excellent dawn fishing with a Golden, and then expect to nymph or streamer till the day heats up and they begin to fly in earnest. Keep in mind the Golden Stone is not a single species, but a variety of species all imitated by the same flies. The Golden hatch can be anywhere from a size 6 to a 12. Be ready for size variations throughout the day.


Mahogany Dun Hatch

This big brown mayfly is a staple for the Clark Fork River hatches from the first Fall rains in September through the last frigid days of October. Mahoganies hatch in the heat of the day, usually from 1-3:00, and once established, hatch in sun or clouds. The Mahoganies can be a blizzard hatch on the Clark Fork, and again the width of your fly box may be stretched when the Mahogany is out in numbers.

Mahoganies are most active below riffles. Look for fish rising in slower water below riffles, and if the glide is short enough, in the tail out as well. As a slow water bug, additional preparations may be needed to effectively fish the Mahogany hatch. Add some fine tippet to your leader, 4.5X or 5X, and make sure to leave enough distance between you and the fish. The late season water is low and clear, and nowhere is the term fine and far off more apt than the Clark Fork River. The fish pod up just as they do for the PMD, and a bad cast can move a lot of fish, negatively! You can have an epic day with Mahoganies on the Clark Fork. 

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

The Salmon Fly is really a thing to see, this giant insect flopping back on the water as it lays its eggs for the next generation! Coming in at 54mm long, the Salmon Fly is a dry fly you can see on the water, and the fish rarely miss it as well. When fishing the Salmon Fly on the Clark Fork River, don’t expect the numbers found on the Blackfoot River or Rock Creek.

Surprisingly, this is a distinct advantage when fishing the Salmon Fly. If you see one, tie one on and start prospecting. The fish aren’t gorged on this fly, and take them opportunistically. The lack of crazy numbers means the fish are looking for them all the time, a real advantage to the angler. If you’re looking for a photo op of Salmon Flies crawling everywhere, the Clark Fork isn’t your first bet. But if steady fishing with giant dry flies sounds appealing, the Clark Fork is a good answer!

Big Salmon flies, like the Super Gee or El Camino Grillo are good flies on the Clark Fork. They also do double duty if you need to drop a dark Pat’s RubberLegs off the back. Those big foamies do a great job as an indicator as well. The Salmon Flies start hatching mid to late June, and post run-off the Clark Fork can be a very big river at this time of year. Eyes on the river whether rowing or wading.


Hopper Hatch

The Clark Fork can offer up some spectacular hopper fishing from mid-August right through mid-October. While we don’t like to mention it out loud, it’s due to the wind. There, we whispered it! Everyone who rows in Missoula has a horror story of the wind blowing up the Clark Fork River so hard in the summer that the boat can’t be controlled. It’s not normal, but it can happen. And when it does, it’s hopper time!

Hoppers are ungainly flyers at best, and the middle and lower sections of the Clark Fork River are WIDE! When hoppers fly over the middle of the river, with a little breeze activity, you’ve got a recipe for hoppers on the water. You don’t often hear us say this, but don’t be afraid to shorten up your leader, and go with 2-3X tippet. Big flies in the breeze can create interesting situations for the rower and others close to the action, so a short, stout leader can be very useful on the Clark Fork.

Don’t be afraid to let the hopper land with a splat to alert the fish. Also, if you’re getting hits just as you start your back cast, that’s a sign the fish are looking for a hopper with a little movement. Not a 3-foot strip, but enough jiggle to let the trout know it’s struggling. Switch to Pav’s Yellowstone Hopper or any rubber-legged hopper to accentuate the struggle on the surface. Other strong Clark Fork hoppers include the Henneberry Hopper and Morrish Hopper. Later in the season, the less traditional colors really start to work on the Clark Fork.

Honorable Mention

Clark Fork River hatches honorable mentions include the Tan Caddis. There are nights the Tan Caddis are so thick you can barely breathe, but the fish don’t seem to care. The occasional rise is more often to a PED than a Tan Caddis. WHERE DO YOU THINK THE ADULTS COME FROM? The Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa is one of the most effective flies on the Clark Fork from dawn to dusk. We say it all the time- we don’t sell enough of these flies! Go deep with a Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa on the Clark Fork River and your fish count will quickly rise.

Additional Resources For Clark Fork River Hatches

Blackfoot Salmonfly Hatching

5 Best Hatches on the Blackfoot River

The Big Blackfoot River is where A River Runs Through It takes place. Home of the Big Fish, and it was taken on a big fly! The Blackfoot River hatches are prolific and is a perfect habitat for stoneflies and Caddis. We’re going to start big!

Here is a list of our favorite Blackfoot River Hatches

Golden Stone

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Golden Stones, comprised of many stonefly species all imitated by the same flies, are the premiere hatch on the Blackfoot River. Not by size, but consistency. The Blackfoot River is the highest altitude and northernmost river in the Missoula area. It’s often the last river to heat up after run-off and usually the first to shut down in the fall. While the Salmon Flies can be epic on the Blackfoot, the Golden Stones are a guarantee year in and year out.

The Goldens begin to hatch in the last week of June, and as soon as they establish themselves, Missoula’s most experienced fly fishing guides tie on a Golden. They’re smaller, running from size 6-12, which makes them more accurate in the high water found at the beginning of the hatch. The high gradient Blackfoot River will push fish up to the banks in high water, and often the difference between success and rejection is 6 inches. The smaller fly goes where it’s aimed, and moves fish in the water they’re comfortable in.

It’s easy to talk all day about the dry fly fishing provided by the Blackfoot River Goldens, but anglers do themselves a serious disservice by ignoring the subsurface Golden activity. Take one look at the Blackfoot River, crashing through boulders and cascading against bluffs and rock walls, and the water just screams nymph. You know big trout are hanging behind boulders and rocks, and those trout haven’t been to the surface in 4 years. Drop a Brown/Black Pats RubberLegs paired with a Peacock Double Bead Stone. Don’t be afraid to run the point fly 6 feet deep and the dropper 8 feet deep! It’s a big, roiling river, and the fish get deep and stay there. You’re going to get a lot more done if you get to the fish on their level, not make them come to yours!

Which isn’t saying the dry fly fishing is no good! The Golden Stones on the Blackfoot River can provide the best dry fly fishing in Missoula for the season. It’s that good. Early in the hatch, go with big and foamie, like Clook’s Floater In The Pool or an El Camino Golden. These will also hold up a dropper if that’s needed. As the season progresses, and the fish start to move away from the banks into summer water, think a bit smaller and lower floating. A Demoe’s Mill Creek Golden or Morningwood Golden are top producers when the fish start to slip away from the banks. If the dry fly action slows for some reason, throw on the Chubby Chernobyl Golden and run a dropper. The Chubby may be the best indicator fly in your arsenal, with its high floating, easy to see wing and foam body.

Word to the wise for the Goldens. The Blackfoot is a tricky river to row in early to mid-July. All the teeth are sticking up, and there’s a lot of push from the high flow. Be vigilant on the sticks- no one wants a yardsale!

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

We know there’s a lot of blowback here. Why isn’t the Salmon Fly the number one of the Blackfoot River Hatches? Because while its big, and when it’s on every fish in the river is up and eating, it can be inconsistent in a cold spring/Early Summer. But when it finally comes on, it is ON! The Salmon Fly will start on the lower sections first, but it moves much more rapidly along the length of the river. The Salmon Fly can establish from Weigh Station to Ovando in about a week. We like to start the season with the biggest, highest floating Salmon Flies we can find. Super Gee, Damien’s SUV Salmon Fly and other gi-normous foamies! Don’t worry about them floating too high, the big roiling river will keep them in the film. If you can do it, these flies will take a dropper as well, doubling your chances of a hook up on the bank.

Don’t be afraid to run a 6 or 7 weight rod during the salmon fly hatch on the Blackfoot River. Running 1-2X tippet, you have the ability to apply the wood to the fish once they’re hooked. And you’re going to need it! Get a slab-side brownie sideways in that current, and you’ll know why Brad Pitt decided it was easier to float with the fish than fight the current. Be ready with a big stick for the Salmon Flies.

The big stick is also useful at the end of the Salmon Fly hatch, as the Goldens are starting to make their presence known. How often do you get to run a size 6 dry fly on point with a size 10 dropper? The Blackfoot River hatches offers the perfect venue for the big double dry rig. Can’t decide what to throw? Let the trout decide. The Blackfoot River is also a great river for a “tweener” fly. That’s a fly like a size 6 Rogue Golden or Morningwood Special that COULD be a darker Salmon Fly, or it could be a Golden. Let those flies do double duty. You don’t care why they took it, just that they did!

Go back and refer to the nymphing paragraph in the Goldens. Same thing for Salmon Flies, just substitute a Black Pat’s Rubberlegs or a Black Double Bead Stone. ‘Nuff said about subsurface.

Spruce Moth

Spruce Moth Hatch

While not a true hatch, when the Spruce Moths are on, the Blackfoot River can look like it’s raining on a clear August day! The Blackfoot runs through a corridor that is surrounded by pine trees, especially along the recreational corridor. While the bird watchers and forestry people are watching the tops of the trees whither and go brown, the angler is firmly focused on the adult Spruce Moths returning to the water. Why they return to the water is up in the air, but they come down like a bee to honey, and the trout take advantage of this unexpected August food bonus.

Our best Spruce Moth pattern is Ron Beck’s MAngler Moth. It’s spun deer hair body perfectly mimics the moth’s variegated body coloration, and it floats like a cork. If you’re looking to run a different bug from the back of the boat, try a Spruce Almighty or size 10 Tan Caddis. Both these flies will move fish when the Spruce Moths are out. Don’t worry about a Spruce Moth larva dropper. While we’re sure a few find their way to the river, the immature Spruce Moth is not really a thing, making the Spruce Moth a Dry Or Die favorite!


Grasshopper Hatch

Again, this isn’t truly a hatch, but the hoppers come right on the heels of the salmon Flies and Golden Stones. The trout are looking up for big flies- why would they stop when the hoppers come out to play! The Big Blackfoot is a wide river as it heads into Missoula, and hoppers aren’t very good flyers. Many find their way to the surface, where the trout are looking for the unlikely meal. The natural forestation that surrounds so much of the Blackfoot is great hopper habitat, and the hoppers are in play up here from late July until the end of the season.

We like to start with a natural colored hopper early in the hatch, like a Morrish Tan Hopper or Parachute Hopper. Though many of Missoula’s most experienced guides will use a Gold Morrish Hopper or a Peach Fat Frank. They do this to jar the memory of the trout back to Golden Stones and Salmon Flies, giving the trout one more reason to come to the surface for food. As the season progresses, get some big hoppers and make use of those as well. Size 6-8 can really produce along the recreational corridor. A great dropper off the hopper is a Solitude Pheasant Tail Jig or FireStarter. Both have proven themselves in the hot summer days on the Blackfoot River.

October Caddis

October Caddis Hatch

The October Caddis can start as early as mid-September on the Blackfoot River, so be ready. They’re tough to miss when they’re on the water, and the trout will look for them from the moment they first hatch. Not sure if the October caddis are out yet? Drop an October Bird Of Prey off the back of a big hopper, and let the trout tell you if the October Caddis are out and about.

Our favorite October Caddis dry on the Blackfoot is the simple Orange Elk Hair Caddis or Orange Stimulator. Both are high floating flies- very useful in the fast, roily water found along the Blackfoot River. Both will float a dropper, to a point, and are very effective when the October caddis are flying. If you want to throw a change-up to the trout, run a Brindle Chute. The orange body is a perfect copy of the October Caddis coloration,  and the parachute post is easily seen.

Honorable Mention

We’re stretching the honorable mention “hatch” on the Blackfoot River, and going with streamers. While not technically one of the Blackfoot River hatches, streamer fishing is an important tactic for this river. The nature of the Blackfoot River, with deep pockets and steep banks, make it the perfect river to throw streamers at any time. The old adage of big fish eat little fish is never wrong on the Blackfoot, where the turbulent water will muffle the biggest streamers entrance even in the lowest water conditions. If you’ve decided that for today’s angling, size matters, then take a fistful of streamers to the Blackfoot River. Go deep or go home!

Additional Resources For The Blackfoot River Hatches

Mahogany Nymph

Matching The Hatch And Identifying Insects

It’s a complicated world out there, the first time you dive in. Pteranarcys Californicus, Ephemerella Guttulata. It’s enough to send you back to the Royal Wulff and a Prince nymph. Which makes sense, because the only good description we’ve ever heard about why the Prince works, is it’s the nymphal form of the Royal Wulff! That’s a fly joke. You’ll get it before the end of this article, promise!

Insect identification is much easier than you think. Look at it this way. A guy walks down the street with a Chihuahua on a leash, and you think, nice dog. Right after comes a woman walking a Great Dane, and you think, nice dog. Now what on earth made you think those two animals were related to each other? Well, it starts with familiarity. 4 legs. Elongated snout, fur, canine teeth. Despite the size and color disparity, you know they’re both dogs. Because you’ve grown up around dogs, seen them all your life. it’s familiar.

As you spend time on the water, the sight of the insects will also become familiar. They’re smaller than a Great Dane, and no one will have them on a string, so you need to pay attention and look for them! The different ways aquatic insects fly, the way they emerge. As you start looking for insects, this all becomes nature, second nature, just as recognizing a dog did. And here’s another very positive thought about insect ID. You don’t need to know the latin name, or common name, of every bug that flies by. If a pale olive bug 11mm long flies by on July 5, find a fly in your box that’s pale olive and 11mm long, and tie it on. Simple as that. If the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop has done its job, you have that 11mm pale olive fly, and what they are is less important,

But there comes a time when you do want to know, and we get it. The MAngler has created a large online resource page called Hatches, which if we do say so ourselves, is pretty spiffy! Look at it, and the images will give you a good idea of what a caddis fly, mayfly and stonefly will look like. When you’re on the water, if you carry a net, looking at the real thing is a very simple task. Get a stocking  and stretch it over your landing net. Instant bug net, suitable for subsurface or in-flight grabbing. It’s easy to carry and store, and you don’t have an extra piece of tackle with you. There are also commercially available bug seines for this purpose as well. Start by kicking a few rocks directly upstream of the net, which is touching the bottom directly downstream of where you’re moving rocks. Look at what precipitates into the stocking. It will take a minute to get the hang of keeping the seined materials of the face of the stocking, but you will. You’re going to find more in the seine than just bugs! You’re going to have to move some stuff around to find the insects. Look and see what you’ve found. Are they big? Small? What color are they? How many of each are you finding? And once you’ve done that a couple of times. You’ll have identified the prevalent insect. If its brown, and 11mm long, tie on a nymph that’s brown and 11 mm long

Think about this. You’re a predator. An average hunter knows his quarry. A good hunter knows what his quarry is after for sustenance. We’re not on the plains of Africa, where predators congregate around water holes. Our prey lives in the water, so that doesn’t work! We have to learn about what our prey needs in other ways. When walking to the river, you’re paying attention.  See a spiders web? Look at it carefully. What’s in it. Shake a few branches next to the river as you walk AWAY from the put in. Let’s emphasize that. Most fishermen get no further from their car than it takes to drink a beer and get a new one. We tend to walk to where the path gets to be only a suggestion, and then start fishing. It makes a big difference. But we digress…..

You’re paying attention to your surroundings. You’re looking, and making the proper moves, to ascertain what the most abundant food form is. Shaking branches, looking for shucks along the shore, these are all things good anglers do to figure out what the trout are most likely to be feeding upon.

Aquatic insects are cyclical. If you see that pale olive insect in July this year, you’re going to see it again next year at the same time. The MAngler has a Hatch Chart in our Resource pages as well, detailing every insect important to the trout. The chart will say what species the insect is, and when it’s like to be found on the Blackfoot River, Clark Fork River, Rock Creek and the Bitterroot River. When you’re out on July 5, look at the hatch chart. It will give you a starting point to insect ID, because you can eliminate a lot of insects that won’t be on the water at that time of year. And you start looking at the bugs on the water.

On July 5, you see fish rising, and there’s a bug on the water that’s pale olive and 11mm long. You catch one, and it has an elongated body that curves upwards, 6 legs, large eyes and the wings stick straight up and back over the body. You’ve done some research, (or used your phone to access the Hatches Resource Page) and you ID the shape as a mayfly. Boom! It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s like figuring out your first dog. The hard step is over. Now, any time you see that shape, regardless of size or color, you KNOW it’s a mayfly. The rest will follow, names, emergence times, etc.

The same will happen for stoneflies and caddis. You’ll ID your first one, and all of a sudden those worlds open up as well. And then, the river will start to look like a bug hatchery. When you’re not sure what exactly you’re looking for, it’s really difficult to find it! But as you spend more time on the water, and start to see the insects as stoneflies, or caddis, all of a sudden they seem to pop out for you.  You’ll be surprised you could have missed them all the other times you came to the river. You’ll start to understand what the birds are doing, wheeling across the surface of the water, and use their actions to locate insect activity. Patterns will start to emerge on the river, patterns that will provide you more successful angling in Missoula, and anywhere else you take the long rod out for trout. 

It’s a big step, learning to ID the different insects on the river. We know anglers who aren’t comfortable without knowing latin names, the range where they’re found, life cycles and the factors that trigger their emergence. Some just want to know the name so they buy the right flies! Other could care less, and just go a-fishing. Find your own comfort level, and don’t be influenced by others. At our Missoula fly shop, we have customers who really care, and we have people who used to care. It’s all good! Fly fishing is supposed to be fun, and it’s up to you to decide the level of fun you plan to attain. No matter what level of entomologist you plan to be, the MAngler plans to be there helping you get to the level you’re striving for, online and in the shop.

One last thought. You can look a little silly, running down the river in waders, waving a landing net in the air and cursing as your swipe completely misses the mark. Get over it! We’ve all been there, we just don’t talk about it anymore!!

Best Flies For October Fishing In Montana

How can you tell a Halloween costume has been designed in Montana? It has snow pants! That’s the way October fly fishing in Missoula is going to end. But it sure doesn’t start that way! The Fishing and hatches can be incredible. Let’s take a look at some of the best flies for Montana in October.

October Caddis

October’s most well known bug is the October Caddis. Makes sense, right? This is a big caddis, size 8-10, and very difficult to miss on the water. As with so many other fall flies, like the Hecuba, it’s orange in color, and is best imitated with an Orange Elk Hair Caddis or an Orange Stimulator.  If you don’t have an October Caddis with you, a large Brindle Chute will work as well. If you see one October Caddis on the water, tie one on. The fish will be looking for them, even if there’s not a full-blown hatch. It’s a bit like Hopper fishing- throw to the likely water and be ready for the rise!

The more productive way to fish the October Caddis is subsurface, because it’s rare to come across a full hatch of these bugs. The big pupa are moving, and easy meals for trout looking to fatten up for the winter. The Bird of Prey, Red Fox Squirrel Nymph and the Orange Mop Fly are all very effective as a dropper or on a double nymph rig. Big and orange is the key to getting the trout’s attention. We recommend fluorocarbon leader when fall nymphing- the water is low and clear.


You have the chance of running into three or four different mayfly hatches in the month of October- Tricos, Hecubas, Blue Winged Olives and Mahoganies. The tricos are waning, but on warm, sunny days you will often find a spinner fall in the early afternoon. This can be a bit tricky, as the BWO’s will often be hatching at the same time. If you’ve made good presentations to a fish with a Blue Wing, and you’re not getting any eats, try Ron’s Trico Spinnner or a Hi-Viz Trico Spinner. It’s not fool proof, but it’s a good option if the BWO isn’t working.

The BWO is a very strong hatch in October, especially on the colder, cloudy days. BWO’s are not a single species- there are many types of Baetis that hatch at this time. Luckily, they are all imitated by the same bugs. On the surface, be ready with a Tilt Wing BWO, Split Flag BWO or a Swishers Clumpa. These three flies cover adults, emergers and cripples quite well. The BWO is a tiny fly in October, and is best imitated with an 18 or 20, so have a light leader ready. There is also a BWO coming off in October that is very gray in color, so have a few small Parachute Adams or Purple Hazes in your kit to cover that hatch.

If you choose to go subsurface for the BWO’s, have some SR Bullet Jigs in Olive to get deep. If the fish are near the surface, but not taking the insects off the surface, and unweighted Pheasant Tail is an excellent pattern for “smutting” fish. Drop it about 4’ off a dry fly (don’t worry if the dry sinks, it’s just an indicator at this point) and send it over the fish. The short dropper length will keep it near the surface, but not on the surface- just where the fish are taking the emerger.

The Mahogany is also a very strong hatch for fly fishing Missoula in October. Once established, they come off like clockwork starting at 1:00 in the afternoon, and will continue until the water temps get too cold. The Mahogany Thorax is very good for this hatch, as is the Tiltwing Mahogany. If you’re going subsurface, a Caramel Specialist Jig or Solitude Pheasant Tail jig will take fish all day.

The Mahogany’s will hatch in sun or clouds, though of course cloudy days are better. Again, the water is low and clear, so a longer, finer leader is called for. Think about some TroutHunter tippet in half sizes (4.5X, 5.5X) to get a little more stealth and a better drift. The Mahoganies are a size 14 at the beginning of the hatch, but as October ends, they will be as small as a 16, so have those sizes with you in nymphs and dries when you hit the water.

There’s an off chance you’ll see a Hecuba hatch as long as temps stay mild. You won’t miss it if it comes off, as the bugs are about a size 8! Have a Hecuba Cripple or a Brindle Chute with you, but don’t pin your hopes on this hatch- it can be very unpredictable. It’s much more apt to occur earlier in October, so have the flies with you, but don’t expect much.


The hoppers are still a bit of a presence in October, but no where near as important as they were in late August and September. The cold nights and rainy October weather is taking its toll on the hopper population, but if it gets hot and sunny enough that you hear them buzzing on the shore, then they’re in play for the fish! As always, a bit of a breeze helps the hopper fishing, but if you decide to run a hopper, drop an SR Bullet Olive or a Solitude Pheasant Tail jig off the back to make yourself a more effective angler.


Fly fishing Missoula in October can be one of the best times for streamers all year. The cold nights and shorter days tell the trout winter is coming, and it’s time to get some calories inside for the long winter months. While this blog writer tends to favor smaller streamers in fall like the Baby Swimcoach, due to the fact I’m heading out to match hatches, and need streamers that can be thrown on a 4-5 weight rod. In October, you can plan an entire day around streamer fishing.

The Blackfoot River is the first river to “turn off” due to the colder weather. It’s our northernmost river, and comes from the high mountains. It will get cold fast. But if you get out there in the first couple weeks of October, the streamer fishing can be extremely productive. Run the big flies like the Sex Dungeon or Mongrel Meat. Bang the banks, and start them as shallow as you dare. The fish are piled up behind boulders and off shelves, and are looking for a big meal before winter.

Rock Creek also has excellent streamer fishing in October. A Sparkle Minnow Sculpin is still a great producer up there at this time of year. Be ready for strikes in the middle of the river, where the bigger fish are. A wading staff is not remiss on Rock Creek at this point- those rocks can get very slippery this time of year, and if you’re trying to cover a lot of water with a streamer, good footing is paramount.

Final Thoughts

October is a month of big weather changes in Missoula. It starts off like the end of summer, and ends up like the beginning of winter. This means being prepared for the weather when you go to the water. Extra layers and a raincoat are critical. Put a spare set of clothes in the car, and leave them there. If you fall in in August, you’re just annoyed. If you fall kin on a cold, rainy day in October, it can turn into more of a problem. Having dry clothes to change into can be a game changer if the weather is cold and you’re soaking wet.

October in Missoula can be some of the best and most peaceful fishing of the year. The cold nights are slowing things down in the morning, so showing up about 9:30 is not a problem. And by 5:00, when the day starts to get chilly, it’s OK to head home to a warm dinner and a cold beverage! We like to call it Gentleman’s Fishing. No longer do you need to be on the water at dawn, and stay until after nightfall. The fishing will be best in the heat of the day, so why work the edges. Sleep in, enjoy, and get out when the day is nice. You’ll find it easy and more productive, which is what October fly fishing in Missoula is all about. 

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
Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip

Missoula Tricos – Sunny Side Up

The trico is a purely American phenomenon. You can tell by the name. When the British named their mayflies, they used terms like Little Marryat and Greenwell’s Glory. We just shorten the latin name, Tricorythides! The trico has also been known by other names, like the Little White Curse. At size 18-20, it’s a small fly. We all take trico flies for granted, but John Geirach once wrote the greatest advance in fly fishing in his lifetime was not in lines or rods, but tiny hooks to mimic the small insects trout eat.

CDC Hi-Vis Trico Spinner is one of Missoula Fly Fishing Guides favorite flies for the Trico hatch.

Tricos begin hatching in early to mid-August, and last through September, depending on the weather around Missoula Montana. Tricos are a bridge between the excellent post run-off fly fishing and classic fall fly fishing. Tricos are an anomaly in the mayfly world. They are one of the few mayflies that react positively to the sun. The brighter the day, the better tricos hatch. Also, the spinners fall at the same time as the adults emerge. An exciting aspect of the hatch is the trico clouds that appear over the water. The mating insects and the spinners ball up above the water, flying in a figure 8 pattern. It starts about 10 feet above the river surface, and slowly descends. Be ready, because when the trico ball hits the water, the fish are feeding! Female tricos, with their white abdomen are easily distinguishable from the all black males. The multitude of choices for the trico can make fly choice a bit difficult. Adult, emerger or spinner, male or female. When everything is dropping on the water, it can be a tricky riddle to unravel.

But not as tricky as the Pale Morning Dun hatch. While there are a lot of insect stages on the water, the tricos are so small, and food sources so scarce at this time of year, the trout seem to be less picky. We have found that a male spinner is effective most of the time, and is our go to fly. Yes, you will find fish that will refuse it, and having a few different flies is always useful, but for the most part a size 18 and 20 spinner gets the job done.

Tricos are crawler nymphs, and are found in the riffles. This is where to start looking for the trico clouds, over the riffles. But trout rarely feed on tricos in riffles. Not enough caloric intake for the energy expended to feed in the faster water. So the best trico water is a riffle that opens up into a pool. The trout set up in the pools and feed on the tricos coming out of the riffle. This also explains why the spinner is more effective in pools. The adults are drying their wings, then leaving the surface, while the spinners are floating downstream in the last throes of life. The spinner is simply on the water longer.

In Missoula, the Clark Fork River and Bitterroot River boast excellent trico water for fly fisherman. Those rivers are a little lower gradient and have more areas of slower water. While the tricos will appear on the Blackfoot River and Rock Creek, high gradients mean the areas where fish feed on tricos are limited. Once you’ve located fish eating tricos, on any Missoula river, you’re going to find them there as long as the tricos hatch. Tricos are very consistent, and the trout count on that daily meal. They emerge at the same time, in the same way, and the trout are almost trained to be there to eat. It’s one of the most appealing factors about the tricos to anglers and fly fishing guides, their consistency.

After working at the Missoulian Angler for almost 30 years, Ron Beck has invented some of the most effective flies we have seen. His Peacock Trico Spinner is one of our all time favorites. One of the many flies he teaches in his advanced Fly Tying Classes in the Winter months.

With the small size of the fly, it’s also a time for small tippets. Tricos demand 5 or 6X, so they float correctly on the water. A soft tippet material is preferable for this hatch. Our favorite is the Trouthunter tippet. Quite soft, and it also comes in half sizes, to provide exact matching with a bit of extra strength. The least effective tippet for tricos is Maxima. It’s such a stiff mono that it often impedes the flies natural float. It can be done, but there are other products that make it easier.

The favorite trico in our fly shop is the Peacock Trico. Invented by Ron beck at the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop, a serious trico fisherman, it has been honed to perfection by hours and hours of on water testing. The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop also carries Hi-Vis tricos that are a little easier to see on the water. We also have the largest fly selection in town, so you know we’re going to have a trico pattern that will fill your needs and take fish.
With its consistent nature and scarcity of hatches, the tricos are an important summer occurrence for fly fishing around Missoula, and provides excellent fishing during some of the hottest days of the year.

Additional Trico Resources

Pale Morning Duns and Pale Evening Duns

Why are we grouping these two together, when they’re so taxonomically different? Because the same fly that works in the morning will work in the evening, so with the same imitation, we lump them together. The PMD’s and PED’s are the first hatches post run-off that can be wader friendly for fly fishing, and the PMD’s are a classic mayfly hatch. PMD’s have been known to darn near blanket the waters on the Clark Fork River and Bitterroot River, and they’re also very prevalent on Rock Creek and the Blackfoot River. This is a very important insect for Missoula rivers and it’s fisherman.

When we say classic mayfly hatch, it comes from the view many anglers take, declaring matching the hatch as the premiere challenge in fly fishing. During a blanket hatch, the fish definitely key in on certain stages of emergence and adulthood. Because of the feeding complexity, the PMD is a hatch where you buy flies wide and shallow. That means if you buy 6 PMD’s, get two parachutes, two cripples and two emergers. That way, you’re better able to match the insect stage being focused on, instead of having six adults when the trout want cripples. It’s not a bad way to buy flies at any time, but especially important with an abundance of insects. The PED’s aren’t always as abundant, but since you’ll already have a wide array of flies, you’ll be ready!

The PMD nymphs are crawlers, and very poor swimmers. After bottom release, their ascent to the surface is quite feeble. The long, slow rise to the surface gives trout time to gorge, and during emergence trout may be found higher in the water column, following nymphs to the surface. The PMD emergence is one time you may not want your nymph on the bottom, but suspended a little higher up. It’s an exciting way to nymph, sight fishing to suspended fish. A jig Pheasant Tail or a Racing Gold Perdigon is effective at this time. After ascent, PMD’s emerge from their shucks a couple of inches from the surface and finish floating to the meniscus to emerge as adults.

Trout can very specifically target PMD’s after emergence from their shuck but not yet to the surface. Pay close attention to the rise form. If there are no bubbles trailing the rise, chances are very good the fish didn’t break the surface with its mouth, but with its back. Floating a dry fly over a fish that’s not coming to the surface is exceptionally frustrating! If there are no bubbles, attach an emerger or a nymph on a dropper about 4 inches long. This will allow the fly to sink just under the surface film, but not too deeply. You’ll take a lot of “risers” this way.

With the PMD, it’s a good time to talk about the difference between a cripple and an emerger. Our best answer is about 1 second. Mother Nature is not always kind, and when the emergence process is interrupted, the insect quickly goes from emerger to cripple. It’s not as complicated as some people make it out to be. Both cripples and emergers are found in the surface film, and often imitated by the same fly, like a Film Critic. The PMD, with its slow emergence, provides multiple opportunities to use a fly in the film. A rise form to a fly in the film may or may not leave bubbles. Just adds to the puzzle!

Once a PMD has broken through the meniscus and emerged, it must wait for its wings to dry before flying. Depending on weather conditions, an adult can ride on the surface for quite a long distance, again providing the trout with quality feeding opportunities. A Tiltwing Dun or simple parachutes are excellent imitations for the adult.

So let’s make things complicated. PMD’s and PED’s also fall as brown spinners, which is imitated by the Hi-Vis Rusty Spinner. A spinner is a spent adult, returning to the water to finish its life cycle. These spinner falls can occur early in the morning, late at night, or, our favorite, during the hatch. So quite often, you will have the option of Rusty Spinners during the emergence, which adds complexity to matching the hatch. Again, we return to the classic concept of a mayfly hatch. You can find a group of rising fish, and while one may be taking emergers, the fish next to it may be taking adults, cripples or spinners. Which can make matching the hatch an interesting proposition. But isn’t that why we choose to pursue a fish with a measured IQ of 4, to keep things interesting!

Fisherman and guides are pretty spoiled in Missoula, MT having so many great hatches for fly fishing and the PMD is one hatch that last longer then most. This makes it a very important insect and there should be plenty of different stages of imitations in your fly box.

Additional PMD and PED Resources