Late September Montana Fishing Report
September 26, 2013
Bozeman - Freshwater Fishing Report
Montana Fishing Report Overview
Early Autumn is a transition time on rivers and streams across Montana and some exciting options present themselves as nights get longer and water temps begin cooling down. Fishing is generally very good but is also less predictable depending on the prevailing weather pattern. Indian summer and hot days can result in some of the best terrestrial fishing of the season. Early cold fronts and low cloud ceiling overcast days bring a hint of fall fishing. Browns are just starting to gain their autumn color and are moving out of their lairs in preparation for the spawning runs in October. Some of the lower elevation waters that produced poor fishing in the summer turn on as water temperatures cool and levels rebound with the demands of irrigation water ending. Many of these trout haven't seen flies since the middle of June. Although the lower reaches of rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone and Gallatin along with the Upper Missouri and lower Jefferson do not have high trout counts compared to the more famous sections farther upstream (or in the case of the Mo downstream below the dam) they often hold some nice trout. September also brings fewer anglers once vacation season winds down and the go to floats of the summer like the Upper Madison, Yellowstone and others see much less pressure and the trout start to drop their guard again.
Water levels are actually increasing in many rivers that receive a lot of irrigation now that the ditches are being turned off. In rivers above the irrigation they are mostly holding steady now at their base levels. Water temperatures are declining and even though some days are still very hot the nights are so much longer that the prolonged cooling affect when the sun goes down is bringing temperatures into the sweat spot. Almost all fisheries around the state are now an option from tiny meadow streams to low elevation waters. The lower reaches of rivers finally cool down again and the high mountain streams are still not so cold as to put trout in a deep freeze. The productive fishing hours are quickly transitioning to later in the day and getting out at the crack of dawn isn't as important as it was just a few weeks ago. Fishing conditions are all over the place and very by the day – some days they are looking for hoppers, other days small mayflies and nymphing is also productive. Streamer fishing is also getting better by the day as the big browns become unsettled before the spawn.
Many of the aquatic hatches have run their course. There are still some late tricos on some waters and some mahogany duns and spinners are popping in the later afternoons and evenings. It is still a bit early for the baetis hatches but on some fisheries a few will start showing up soon on cloudy and rainy days.
Terrestrials now still very important across Montana. Hoppers are now mature and flying. The hopper fishing on the smaller meadow rivers continues to be very good and is day by day on the larger rivers depending on location and wind direction. On some rivers they aren't quite looking for them and on others the bite is very good. I waded a small stream on a private ranch the other day and the hoppers were all over the place and trout were moving aggressively for them. The quality of the "catching" over hoppers depends on the amount of pressure trout receive. They get pretty smart after they see a dozen foam hoppers a day so look for waters that see less anglers for the best hopper fishing. If you are targeting more popular fisheries you may have more luck with techier terrestrials like small beetles and ants. In the mountains hoppers are less important but keep an eye out for spruce moths - they are flying in the mornings and trout love them. Ants are a favorite early fall option as well. Many species of ants produce large mating flights in the late summer and early fall and these can really get the trout moving for them.
Trout in most of our waters are much more opportunistic now that many of the aquatic hatch cycles have finished. The exceptions are if there is a strong hatch like the trico or callibaetis (lakes) on the water or perhaps a very windy day blowing lots of hoppers in. The reduction of aquatic hatches can be a good thing for the angler because trout are not as willing to move long distances when there is a strong hatch. For surface patterns nothing beats a hopper if you are on lightly fished waters. If you are on more waters that see a lot of summer anglers then try more subtle patterns like ants and beetles. Mayflies are starting to become more important as the mahogany duns and a few others sprinkle off and sometimes fishing small wulffs and adams can be quite effective. For nymphing trout will start moving for a lot of sculpins but if nocturnal stones are around a size 6 rubber legs will still produce. For dropper nymphs try smaller patterns on more pressured waters. Although the beatis aren't hatching in force, they are an important food source for the trout as nymphs and small size 20 beatis emergers can be deadly this time of year. Smaller droppers and finer flourcarbon tippet sometimes makes a difference but no need to drop to anything below 5x unless you are on a spring creek.
Where the trout are holding will depend greatly on water temps. I was out over the weekend on the Yellowstone and the trout were still mostly in the riffles but aren't in the heaviest water like they were a week or so ago and they are already starting to drop back into the transition areas where the riffles meet the slower runs. A few of the slow slicks and big seams were beginning to hold fish and keep an eye out for this type of water because as temps keep dropping they will begin moving back into the softer water, slow seems and foam eddies.
Upper Madison – Red Hot
The Upper has been a consistent producer for us lately and is one of the best games around at the moment. There is no one dominant food source so the trout have been pretty opportunistic. Some days larger options like sculpin patterns and rubber legs can still produce but don't miss out on trying small baetis emergers. The skinny riffles hold some surprisingly large fish this time of year. Dry fly fishing has been hit or miss but smaller flies have been more effective, especially winged ants.
Lower Madison – Red Hot
The temps on the Lower Madison are dropping and fishing has been very good. Hopper fishing is an option although it is rarely red hot on the surface. The fish are definitely looking for big pieces of meat including crayfish and baitfish. Stripping streamers is productive with cloud cover and nymphing something big like a zonker or crayfish trailed by a small attractor nymph or baetis nymph can be deadly. Pay attention to the water where you are pulling fish out of and then search for similar water to establish a pattern. Trout are on the move this time of year so the water you found them in yesterday may not be where they are a few days later as temps continue to drop.
Yellowstone River - Very Good
The Yellowstone produced a lot of inconsistent days near the end of the summer but as temps drop and the number of anglers on the water has dropped the fishing has really turned on. Nymphing is still producing – try a rig with a very long indicator with no weight and make sure not to over mend. Big small is still the way to go so a wooly bugger, sculpin, rubber lets etc. on top trailed by a smaller attractor nymph is a good choice. The dry fly fishing has also really improved but the small mayfly style patterns from size 18-12 like grey wulffs and adams patterns are out producing terrestrials on many days. A pot luck of mayflies sprinkles off this time of year but it is enough to get trout looking. On overcast days there is a decent magogany spinner fall in the later afternoon and evening. Fishing should continue to be outstanding for the next several weeks as we move deeper into the fall season.
Gallatin – Very Good
The Gallatin continues to fish well. Water temperatures are good on the lower reaches of the river and reduced irrigation demands are resulting in more water down low. Flows are at base level in the canyon. Fishing is not just a morning game and as temperatures drop the afternoons can still be productive. The water is gin clear with the exception of the random late season thunderstorm that can add a bit of silt into the Taylor Fork. Lighter tipper, flouro carbon and smaller flies are advised.
Boulder - Very Good
The Boulder is at its base level flows and is relatively easy to wade – although the big cobbles and boulders on many parts of the river still require strong conditioning on the part of the angler to safely navigate the river bed. The water is aquarium clear and trout are spooky so a stealthy approach and longer delicate cast can be important to success. A mixed bag of early baetis and terrestrials have been effective on the surface and smaller nymphs fished on flour carbon are best subsurface.
Jefferson - Good
The Jefferson has rebounded from low flows and warm water temperatures and is producing some decent fishing again. The fishing should get better as more irrigation ditches close for the season which will continue to bump up the flows. The Jefferson is a low fish count river so don't expect high catch rates. Nymphing big ugglies or stripping streamers is the go to technique but keep a dry fly rod handy for sippers in the slicks and foam eddies.
East Gallatin - Good
The East is low and technical now. A mixed bag of baetis and mahagony duns are coming off and fishing can be good if you make a careful approach. This is more like spring creek fishing this time of year and a reasonable skill level is a prerequisite to for decent fishing at the lower flows of autumn but it can be rewarding for those that enjoy a challenge.
Ruby River – Very Good
The Ruby is fairly low but still fishing well below the dam. The best fishing is nymphing and streamer fishing. The streamer action can be very good on cloudy days for the browns that start getting frisky this time of year.
Missouri – Very Good
The Missouri near Craig is producing some good action on early baetis. Some of the larger fish in the lakes are also moving into the river. The fishing on the Upper Missouri for trout is improving for large Canyon Ferry rainbows that move in but it is a low numbers game. Fishing big crayfish or sculpins can be productive but having a dry fly rod for sipping trout is also a good idea.
Lakes - Good
Stillwaters are slowing down and with the rivers fishing so well we don't have many fresh reports on the lakes. We are fishing some of the private water lakes like Sitz and Burns which can be productive with the nice autumn water temps. The dry fly gulper fishing is winding down on Hebgen and Ennis but some nice fish can turn up slow stripping streamers in the fall.
Spring Creeks - Good
Spring creeks are slowly improving as we move into fall and the weed growth dies back a little bit. They will really start hitting their stride again later in the fall as the baetis hatch strengthens.
Other fisheries - Good
This is a great time to fish off the beaten path waters on private ranches or in the back country. Many of our private ranch leases have been producing some awesome dry fly fishing and the hopper action can still be good on warmer high pressure days. The flows are lower on some of the small streams so a carefull approach is required.
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