Montana Fly Fishing

Nothing shakes the winter crust off a fly fishing guide better than a warmup in spring. As temperatures rise, the buzz around the flybins does as well – and in recent years that buzz is all about the skwala. This year is no different, and during a stop yesterday at a local shop to grab some last-minute flitting materials the bell on the shop door was jingling in a hurry, as local trout bums stopped in on their way to seek out a warm patch of water and hope for the best. Sure, the crazy young guys might be getting jumping the gun a bit, but who can blame them? The prospect of dry fly eats before spring runoff gets that cabin fever working overtime. Let us help you get into some fish, and minimize the time you’re standing knee-deep in the water without success.

This weekend is going to be a beautiful one in western Montana, and the boats will be out in full force on the lower Bitterroot, and if the water temps hit those mid 40s, you might get lucky and see some adult skwalas moving around. But with so much great water in the vicinity, it might be a better bet to hit some water that won’t be getting quite as pounded, and find some fish willing to eat a march brown, which we find pods of fish rising to in the slack this time of year. Though in recent years the skwala is the bug we think of during these March warm spells, if you want consistent dry fly gulps, tying on a march brown pattern and searching out the slow moving stuff is your best bet. If you do see those little snot-green stoneflies, tie one on and give it a go. But even a larger parachute adams sometimes outfits the bullethead stonefly patterns some days, and its worth being prepared with a handful of mayflies if you do come across some risers.

More than likely, the majority of the fish you’ll move this time of year are subsurface. This time of year the go-to nymphing setup almost always includes a bottom-rolling stonefly pattern or a wiggly worm, and don’t be afraid to use both at the same time. If I had to carry just two nymphs this weekend I’d tie on a larger prince nymph (8-10) and an unweighted san juan worm, and let them rip. I’m partial to the 20-incher stone when I see some squalas on the rocks. Mess with the depth of your flies, and watch for subtle takes on your indicator. Don’t sweat the small stuff, bring enough flies to lose them all on the bottom, and work the seams like a granny at a quilt shop and you’ll be rewarded.

Most important during this pre-runoff warmup is to remember just that: This is a pre-runoff warmup, and the water you fish should be pre-runoff water! Look to the inside bends, the slack stuff, the pools that get warmer and hold heat all day, and skip those cut-bank deep spots that hold fish in the summer. This is slow and steady fishing, where a great cast can be rewarded, and patience can be the name of the game. If you can’t enjoy a sunny spring day fishing in Montana, you’re doing it wrong. Have fun out there, and keep safe, and give a wave to the boat that just low-holed you. Then scoot down there and catch the fish they missed.

Dylan Tucker
Montana Guide #20822