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The Eddy Line: Where to fish this fall

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Fall is a time to bring out the big guns. Choosing what to fish can be as important as choosing where to fish. PHOTO BY PATRICK STRAUB

By Patrick Straub EBS FISHING COLUMNIST

Fall is here. Cottonwoods in the canyon and aspen on the hillsides are changing colors. Talk in Big Sky’s Meadow Village is shifting from the success of the PBR to when Big Sky Resort will open for the ski season. As many folks are enjoying a little shoulder season, anglers are amping up for the next few months of a highly anticipated fall fishing season.

Blessed with a wet spring and cooler summer, streamflow conditions are ideal for a season that could be one of the best in recent memory. But, as with many fishing outings, being in the right place at the right time is crucial. Here’s some advice on doing just that—and help on what to use as well.

Madison and Firehole rivers in Yellowstone National Park. Rainy, even snowy, weather often comes to the waters of Yellowstone Park before it settles in on our lower elevation rivers and creeks. With this weather, hatches of blue-winged olive mayflies can be prolific and brown trout become more aggressive as they approach the spawn.

Rainy, even snowy, weather often comes to the waters of Yellowstone Park before it settles in on our lower elevation rivers and creeks. With this weather, hatches of blue-winged olive mayflies can be prolific and brown trout become more aggressive as they approach the spawn.

The Madison in Yellowstone Park is a destination for anglers seeking a trophy-sized brown migrating out of Hebgen Lake. The Firehole, and its gentle runs and glides can be a dry-fly angler’s dream as BWOs hatch and trout rise accordingly. For the big browns of the Madison, dead-drift or drag bright orange-colored streamers through the deeper runs and for the mayflies on the Firehole, a well-presented olive Parachute Adams in size 18 should work if you see a rising trout.

Missouri River near Craig. A tailwater fishery known for consistent hatches, the river here is wide and filled with plenty of fat trout. Surrounded by fly shops all competing for your dollars, there is no shortage of information on this fishery. And, fall is a special time of year—gone are the crowds of summer-time recreational anglers and weekend warrior float-and-party crews. Enter anglers who desire to head hunt to rising trout or swing two-handed rods on the Missouri’s long riffles and runs, and streamer-tossing addicts who need the drug of the tug of fish hitting a stripped Woolly Bugger.

The Missouri has become the hipster river of Montana’s fly-fishing scene, but with big fish and plenty of fly shops, success there is now as common as a double skinny latte on a street corner. Favorite patterns and techniques for fall are size-18 CDC BWO Comparaduns fished through a pod of rising fish; olive and black McKnight’s Home Invaders slowly dragged across a flat; or, more recently, spey casting on a favorite run. 

The Clark Fork, Rock Creek and Blackfoot River above Missoula. With the removal of Milltown Dam, the area’s wild and native trout migrate throughout these two watersheds. As we get deeper into fall, brown trout from the lower Clark Fork may migrate up into the Clark Fork and Rock Creek as well as the Blackfoot River.

Above Missoula there is plenty of water for the many anglers in the area to find some solitude. A raft is a great tool to cover more water, but much of the fishing here can be done on foot because there is ample public access through state and U.S. Forest Service lands. Techniques on these waters vary, but it is always a good idea to carry some black Sculpzillas in size 6 and strip them through the faster runs and shallow flats as well as having some size-16 Para Purple Hazes for the larger BWOs that hatch on these waters.

Our local Gallatin River. Normally, I try to keep the goodness of this river off the radar. But this fall is different—our above average snowpack and wet spring led to a summer of normal streamflow levels on the Gallatin. It is important to mention the Gallatin has a few different sections, or personalities.

The river in Yellowstone National Park to Big Sky is home to plenty of fish, most of them small, but inquire locally and you might get some secrets as to where the big ones live. North of Big Sky to the Gallatin Valley, the river is very accessible and defined by boulders, pockets and canyon water. Fish here are also plentiful and tend to be small, but on a rainy, overcast day, the stretch may serve up some exciting dry-fly fishing with hatching BWOs. For the river in Yellowstone National Park to Gallatin Valley always carry some size-18 beadhead Little Green Machines and size-18 Parachute Adams.

Once out of Gallatin Canyon, the river is lined with cottonwoods and access is more difficult. For those anglers willing to put in some extra effort via walking or a low-water, boat-dragging float using the rivers’ most downstream access points, some larger brown trout can be had. Here, larger streamers in white can work for the big browns. A favorite pattern is Galloup’s Circus Peanut.

Mornings are now crisp and cool and each week brings the potential for snow on the peaks. As we hear more and more about ski season, don’t forget the potentially best part of the angling year is upon us. Now is the time to get out and enjoy some of the reasons we choose to live here—you better, because we’ve spent the past four months sharing them with others and soon things will be under snow.

Patrick Straub is a 20-year veteran guide and outfitter on Montana’s waters and has fished the world over. He now writes and manages the social media for Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing The Eddy Line for seven years.

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