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Fall Fly Fishing in Montana

07 Nov
Buzz Tatom November 7, 2016 0
Updated 4/20/2018
There is not a more special time than the fall in Montana. Leaves are turning, animals are very active due to mating season and getting ready for the winter. Elk are bugling, pheasants are cackling, waterfowl are starting to head south. All in all, a nice time to be in Montana. One of the best reasons though is fall fly fishing for trout. One of my favorite things is to stop by a river on the way home after a day at Venture West Ranches and do some fly fishing. Most of the people that come fly fishing come in June, July, August months. These months are noted by hotter temps during the day and don’t cool off enough at night to cool the waters. This leads to stressed and lethargic trout that will feed but they will be dictated on hatches and shorter periods of time.

The Start of Fall Fly Fishing in Montana

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.

fly fishing properties for sale Montana Fall fly fishing in Montana

Another beauty is that the fall fly fishing in Montana is not always but usually is less technical. This means fewer 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!

Different Types of Fly Fishing in the Fall

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 an 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. 

fly fishing properties for sale Fall fly fishing in Montana

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.

Weather During Fall Fly Fishing in Montana

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.

The Best Fall Fly Fishing Rivers

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)!

If you liked this article, you might like to read Ranches for Sale in Montana or Fly Fishing Properties for Sale and you can also check out our Venture West Ranches Facebook Page and like the page for Montana farm and ranch news! We also have some of Montana’s best fly fishing properties in our 2018 Montana Ranches for Sale Real Estate Report.


About the Author


Montana Ranch Real Estate

Buzz Tatom

Partner at Venture West Ranches

Buzz Tatom, a partner at Venture West Ranches, is a ranch owner and has built, run and sold numerous businesses in his career. This gives him a unique background in helping Montana farmers and ranchers navigate the life decisions that we all have to face. Whether it is passing a ranch on to the next generation or planning for eventual sale, his talents and contacts help save clients money and navigate complicated transactions.

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