SW Montana Fishing Calendar

Corresponding to "Waters I Guide & Fish" (click here), this page is meant to highlight how fishing goes and what to expect at those waters. I'm writing this with "General Year" in mind. General Year is defined as normal snow pack, normal spring run-off, no too-early/too-late spring run-off, and no extreme dry condition in July and August.

Typical example: "I want to fish Salmonfly hatches at Yellowstone River in late June!" If River is still high and off-color, hatch may delay (from your planned fishing days) or may not even happen. Shops and guides simply can't launch their boat either. 

Livingston's Spring Creeks (click here) are not really affected by run-off. However, depending on weather cycles of the year, insect hatches can be early, delayed, short, or extended.

One exception would be Bighorn River, as it's the dam controlled tail-water fishery. If its upstream region accumulate big snow-pack, dam release can be high for certain months and days. Yet, fishing remain consistent. Typically the Bighorn is busy from spring to all summer. We locals try to hit on mild days of late fall, winter, and very early spring. Anyway it can be a good & viable destination in any month of the year so I don't really discuss below for each month.

Over all, if the day you choose turns out to be windy or thunder-stormed and you won't see any rising trout and insect hatches, SORRY! It happens to us any time too!!

Check with your favorite fly-shops in the area and consider hiring a guide at least a day during your trip. Ideally on the first or second day of your scheduled days. That way, you can learn current fishing conditions (besides the one you fish with your guide), year's tendency, effective flies, etc. for the rest of your trip.

Just as in "Waters I Guide & Fish", I will discuss rivers in my area, not entire Montana. Following description for each month will be brief and concise. I may write "XX hatch can be expected in YY River" only. I can't go through exact stretches of the river, tactics, insect description, and effective fly patterns in this page. Those are what I do for my regular posts. So please refer my past posts written in the same months (give or take), and then again, check with area fly-shops and hire guides!

January: I don't recommend to visit SW Montana with ONLY fishing in mind...... There are very cold days, with or without feet of snow, on which we simply can't go outside. However, on sunny & warm days (consider 30F is warm enough for us), fishing can be done and enjoyable. Livingston's spring creeks are perhaps the best option as they don't get frozen. Some ice-free stretches of Madison and Yellowstone River, midge dry-fly fishing can be had. Anyway, combine your fishing with skiing and Yellowstone Park road trip.
Surprise in late January - at DePuy's

February: What's stated for January above is pretty much applied though weather is generally milder than January. In some rivers and tributaries, rainbows start to migrate for annual spawning.
One nonchalant February afternoon, "Arm"-Long brown caught me by surprise!- at DePuy's 

March: It's definitely spring time. It gets warmer as the month goes by. Spring creeks are still the best option but Yellowstone and Lower Madison Rivers are good to float too (as well as wade-fishing). Rainbows' spawning activities increase. Blue-Winged-Olive (baetis) Mayfly nymphs become active in the water. Their hatches intensify as the month goes by. Along with midge hatches, trout show the first constant rises for the year.
Constant rises for midges and BWOs is what both anglers and trout are waiting for!! -at DePuy's

April: Winter is over! But be advised that there still can be cold snowy days. Make sure to have warm clothes in your vehicles and boats. Spring creeks continue to offer match-the-hatch situations with BWO and midge hatches. But also this is the time of "Streamers for BIG Trout" at Yellowstone River!!
Midge Mania!! Battle of 6X!! - at DePuy's

The record for my boat: friend John's "Lower Beast" on his favorite Bugger! - at Yellowstone River

May: Usually from late April to early May, we predict when the annual run-off would happen. If all the condition is right, you can experience "Mother's Day Caddis (brachycentrus)" hatch at Yellowstone and Lower Madison Rivers. Streamer fishing can be good.  Once run-off starts, we hit local ponds and lakes (some are private). Spring creeks are still viable options as well. Montana general fishing seasons starts on the 3rd Saturday. Then Yellowstone National Park waters are open to fishing from the Memorial Day weekend.
Very meaty

Mr. Parks with a fine 'Bow from Burns Lake in Big Timber, MT

June: Most rivers are still in run-off. We still fish local ponds/lakes and spring creeks. Never underestimate those privately stocked ponds/lakes. Trout there are not as easy to catch as you may assume. Some are incredibly big. In Yellowstone Park, Firehole River can be fishable right after the opening and all through June. Gibbon and Madison follow. Toward the end of the month, both in Yellowstone Park and in Montana, we anticipate the famous Salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica) hatch! Then, another famous hatch we expect toward the end of June is Pale Morning Dun (Ephemerella) hatches at Livingston's spring creek. If you can book a rod (advised to book a year or more ahead!), you will truly experience Fisherman's Paradise in Paradise Valley!  
My stillwater Best! - Story Lake in Emigrant, MT

Just like a scene from "A River Runs Through It", this one crawled on my client's neck! - Madison in YNP

Spinner evening - DePuy's

July: The excitement of late June continues into July, at both rivers and spring creeks, and remains so through the month. Definitely the best month to float our Mighty Yellowstone and Madison. Miscellaneous stoneflies (Golden, Sallies), mayfly (PMD, Epeorus), and caddis species are in their broom. Livingston's spring creeks still offer good PMD hatches and terrestrial actions kick off as well. On the other hand, most ponds/lakes taper down as still-water gets too warm for trout to be active. The same goes for Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers in Yellowstone Park (due to geysers & hot springs). Instead, Yellowstone, Lamar, Slough, and Soda Butte are coming into shape as the month goes by.
Cutbow with something pink - Yellowstone River float

August: Floating river, spring creeks, and Northeast corner of Yellowstone Park continue to be enjoyable. Now it's in the middle of summer. There are miscellaneous mayflies, caddis, and midges are hatching. But also terrestrials (hoppers, crickets, ants, beetles, bee, etc) get attentions from trout.
Gallatin River in & out of YNP

"Double Rainbow" under the freaky weather - Yellowstone River

Slough Creek!!

September: September is indeed the month of transition. Summer is ending. Yet it isn't quite into the fall. Attitude of trout can also be somewhere in the middle. They would rise to insect hatches and terrestrials but also, especially in low-water/dry years, they would sit deep in the bottom. Then, some browns develop into spawning phases. They can be aggressive at our streamers. The most expected hatch is Green Drake in Lamar, Soda Butte, and Slough. Fall Blue-Winged-Olive (baetis) can come into play. We have to prepare for any situations we could think of!
Brookies are ripening

Flying Ant mating swarm - Slough Creek

Fall-colored browns make moves into DePuy's

October: Now it's officially the fall. You should expect cold mornings and white breaths. Snow and blizzard can happen any time as well as very sunny Indian Summer days. Now we are fishing for two best situations: Fall BWO (baetis) hatch and aggressive fall-runners (both browns and rainbows). Both actions will get stronger as the month goes by. This can be the period to catch some biggest trout of the year, or even of the life. All waters that we have fished in spring and summer are back in shapes. You'd better have two different rigs: one for sensitive match-the-hatch with 6X tippet and the other for heavy nymphs & streamers.
My Best

Fall BWO hatch is the supremacy of the year!

We still enjoy floating the Yellowstone

November: Actions of late October continues during the first half of the month. But days are getting shorter and colder. November is known to be the "windiest" month in Paradise Valley so dress accordingly and plan well if you float Yellowstone River. As we smell roasted turkey for Thanksgiving, Fall BWO actions taper down. Brown trout's spawning still continues at spring creeks and Yellowstone River. If you consider yourself a "die-hard" angler, November is still a good time.
Aerobatic Rainbow caught during the Mid-Nov BWO hatch


The best of 2012 came to me just before Thanksgiving - DePuy's

December: Now it's officially winter. What we have discussed for January and February come in handy. But brown trout are still spawning at certain stretches and some strains of Yellowstone's rainbows are in spawning too. Dry-fly fishing with midge hatches can be had. Livingston's spring creeks are good places to celebrate New Year if you wish!
Winter Midging - DePuy's


So what do you think?
Bottom-line: one can fish 12 months of the year in Southwest Montana, as I've been doing. Follow this blog of mine for the direct and fresh fishing report and effective flies.
I'll see you along the water!!

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