The saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Montana, wait five minutes,” might be more true in the fall than it is during any other time of year. Sustained 70-and-sunny weather patterns can be interrupted by sharp temperature drops, rain and even snow, so being prepared with a wide array of flies, and the knowledge of when to use them, is key to having a successful fall Montana fishing trip.
Falling Temps mean Rising Fish: Fall storms create incredible opportunities for fly fishermen, because they provide the temperature and light conditions necessary for the highly anticipated fall Blue Winged Olive (BWO) mayfly hatches. BWOs are among the smaller mayflies that we use to catch trout in the Bozeman, Big Sky and Yellowstone areas of Montana, which means that fish keyed in on this food source usually feed ravenously for extended periods of time. On the coolest, stormiest fall days, fishermen who brave the elements are usually rewarded with multiple opportunities to cast to pods of free-rising fish. Fall BWO hatches usually occur in the afternoon, most prolifically between the hours of 1pm and 3pm. During this time, fish are usually willing to eat classic dry fly patterns like a Parachute Adams, but it’s also important to have a selection of BWO droppers such as the Flashback Baetis Emerger in your fly box for the hours leading up to and following the main event.
The Streamer Bite: On the same cool, cloudy days that produce BWO hatches, larger fish migrate toward the banks to feed on their smaller, more vulnerable brethren. If fish aren’t rising, a great way to target a trophy trout is by casting large streamers that imitate this type of prey. Having a separate rod rigged with sinking line for streamer fishing is ideal when fishing lakes or big, deep rivers like the Yellowstone, but your regular floating line will work just fine on shallower fisheries like the Gallatin or Madison rivers. These predatory fish will often bite a streamer with little-to-no action, but other times the angler needs to make lots of casts and strip line quickly to initiate a strike. The best way to determine the most effective technique of the given day is to start with a dead drift and incrementally increase the action given to the fly until you find the speed that works. Effective streamer selection will vary according to the day’s conditions, but anglers who carry a variety of olive, white and yellow patterns will be poised for success.
Nymphin’ ’em Up: Nymph flies will catch fish year-round in this corner of Montana, but during the low, clear water conditions that come with the fall season, they often need to be fished on exceptionally light rigs. Using a long (9’+) 5x leader will bring more success than using the shorter, heavier stuff we use in the summer. Our local trout will eat virtually any type of well-presented BWO nymph during this time of year, but some local favorites are the Juju Baetis, Flaming Baetis and the Flashback Pheasant Tail. As mentioned, using light tackle will hook more fish, but it also means that the fish are more likely to break your leader. Using relatively expensive fluorocarbon leaders will significantly reduce the likelihood of busting off your trophy fish. Set your hook quickly, not forcefully, and have the drag on your reel set appropriately before you even think about casting. If you’ve done both of these things, there won’t be any rush to get your fish into the net, and you will have just checked “Catching a Trophy Trout in Montana” off of your bucket list.