This leads me to fall fly fishing in Montana starting late September and carrying through to the beginning of November. Bigger trout start coming out of reservoirs to spawn and become more active due to the lower temps that result in higher oxygen levels in the rivers. They are feeding for longer periods of time as well and are more forgiving to fly fisherman. There is also less competition for the river with fewer fly fisherman in the water.
Another beauty is that the fall fly fishing in Montana is not always but usually is less technical. This means less flies to have to choose from and more about presenting it right in the right spot. I seldom go fly fishing during the summer but I will spend every day available on the river in the fall. Average trout I will catch during the summer are several inches shorter and skinnier than those I will catch in the fall. I, also, have little opportunity to catch a 20”+ trout in the summer but in the last two weeks in October I will hook at least one every day I go out. Now whether I land them or not is a different deal!
Fall still gives you opportunities at dry fly fishing but more than not I will nymph or throw a streamer. It is certainly special when you catch a 18”+ trout on a dry fly but I won’t pass up hooking up with a big trout either way. You can always fish a dry with a nymph dropped off of the dry. If you are fishing nymphs you will want a double rig system. In late October that will mean an egg on top mostly then revolving nymphs on the bottom until you find the right one.
Then it is all about being in the right river at the right time. In Montana, you have so many prolific rivers to choose from. The Madison would be my favorite in the fall. You have spawners coming out of lakes and that’s when it gets fun! Brown trout are spawning in the fall with the Rainbows following to eat their errant eggs. Then in the spring you have the Rainbow trout coming up to spawn and the Brownies following to eat their eggs.
You will catch both species in both seasons. These are beautiful big trout that will weigh 2-3 lbs and sometimes you hook into one that dwarfs the 3 lbs trout. All of these make your reel sing and it is more about just holding on and hoping your line and small hook hold. I have had these spawners rip off 70 yards from my reel while I’m running downstream trying to gain some line back.
Trout this big are something beautiful to behold and require at least a 5 weight rod and reel. We would not make too much fun of you if you went to a 6 weight. The tippets you are using will trend a lot heavier. My dropper usually is on a 3x or 4x tippet and if I’m getting broken off all the time it will usually be 3x , maybe 2x.
The weather is different for fall fly fishing in Montana and you need to be prepared for all kinds of types of weather. You can be faced with rain, sleet, snow or sunshine. Temperatures can be in the teens where your eyelets are constantly icing up to 60 degrees. I went out the last day of the season and started at 17 degrees and ended at 58. Layering is the key here and it helps to have hand warmers in your pockets. That is what I do when catching a fish in low temps is land the fish getting my hands wet then dry them off put the fly rod down and get my hands warm in my pockets then go after the next trout.
Rivers I would consider and that are my favorite are the Madison, Missouri, Big Horn, Big Hole and Beaverhead in that order. Nothing wrong with the Gallatin but this time of year I’m going after bigger trout than I normally catch on the Gallatin. This is also the time of year when if you own your own ranch that trout are spawning in, you are a lucky man. That is why selling ranches in Montana you run across some special water that no one knows about or that someone has improved the fishery for bigger trout. So if you have never done fall fly fishing in Montana it is something to put on your bucket list. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are heading this way and want to talk ranches in Montana and do some fall fly fishing in Montana. I would look forward to it and you might have one of the best days of your life(fishing that is)!
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Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 5 years ago and still owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. He built his Printing/Marketing firm 10 fold over 24 years before selling in 2011 and is involved in a number of business ventures. He enjoys teaching part time at MSU in business and mentoring students.