Options abound for late summer fishing

By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist

Planning for most local fishing outings usually starts the night before, with the group asking certain questions: What type of fish or fishing are we after? Who’s driving and whose boat are we taking, or are we walking and wading? Then the decision is broken down further: Do we need to get back at a certain time? What about a rookie coming along who’s determined to catch some fish?

Finally the discussion turns to: Which river are we going to fish? And the ensuing debate begins, because there are myriad choices.

With the snowy winter and subsequent long runoff in the area, our late summer fishing has been, and will continue to be, fantastic. However, choosing a fishing destination can be challenging because many good options exist. It’s not a bad problem to have.

Late August in Montana is quickly becoming a favorite time of mine. Nights become longer and cool off considerably, giving trout a break from the relentless sun and heat of July. Angler traffic decreases as kids and families shift gears back to school. And trout tend to become more opportunistic in their feeding habits as hatches are less frequent. Here’s a quick take on some of my favorite late summer fishing options.

Our larger rivers, the Yellowstone and Madison. Both rivers are low enough to wade fish effectively and will have hatches of caddis, some drakes, and a few tricos. As well, the terrestrial dry-fly action should be consistent. It’s best to get an early start, but as our nights get longer and sunrise comes later, you can nab a few more minutes of beauty sleep. The Madison River above Lyons Bridge sees considerably less pressure than it did in early August, and the fish respond, but fishing conditions change daily so be sure to inquire locally before heading out. On the Yellowstone, gone are the good ol’ days when I’d throw out any yellow-bodied hopper pattern and would have to set the hook before I could place a half-hearted mend. But good terrestrial fishing still exists on the Yellowstone. A boat is a helpful tool, and with a guide onboard who’s dialed in to the ‘hopper bite, it’s even better.

The Gallatin, small creeks and other tributaries. When fishing these waters, extra effort is crucial. With lower water levels it might be further from one good run or hole to the next, but once you access a stream legally, the low water allows for easier access as there’s more exposed streambed to travel upon. It’s very important never to trespass on private land and understand Montana’s stream-access law. You can go light – most days I’ll fish the Gallatin with a pocket-full of spruce moths and a spool of 5X tippet.

High mountain lakes. Hiking, hiking, and more hiking. The rewards for strapping on a hefty pack and hitting the trail are numerous, but high mountain lakes are more about where you are than what you’re going to catch: solitude, crystal-clear water, and truly earning a Cattlemen’s Cut prime rib steak after a long day. These, and some beautiful trout, reward your efforts.

Yellowstone National Park’s northeast corner. There remain a few hidden gems of fishy water in this corner of Yellowstone National Park, and if I were to reveal them I would be in big trouble. But – just like I had to earn it – for those willing to explore, places still exist here where you may feel like the first angler to ever fish a run. The big name waters of Soda Butte Creek, the Lamar River, Slough Creek, and the Yellowstone are in prime form right now. These streams are home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout and are low and clear, so practice your reach cast, hone your ability to cast single dry flies, and remember to look up at the splendor that is Yellowstone National Park.

We’re pretty lucky to have so many world-class fishing options in this region, and the next few weeks are arguably the best time of the season to fish. There are perhaps too many options, but enjoy it now because soon the waders and fleece will be coming back out as summer fades away.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing. Along with his wife, owns Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner operates a guide service on the Missouri River.