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Eddy Line: Spring fishing

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EBS fishing columnist Patrick Straub has all the river beta on where and when to get the goods this spring. NPS Photo/Neal Herbert

Post-winter and pre-runoff waters


Spring fever is a real thing. For local anglers the day is spent daydreaming of trout lies on the Gallatin, fishing the fast pocket water of the Madison River while gazing toward the snow-capped peaks or loading up the camper and joining the crowds on the Missouri River. The next few weeks for anglers are akin to waking from the bear’s den, a fresh season ripe for enjoyment.

Is this the year you finally hike to that high mountain lake or teach your kids to double-haul? Possibly, but keep it simple and take care of yourself before taking care of others—you’ve earned some stream time after another long Montana winter. Here are the best local waters to alleviate your spring fever.

Gallatin River

The first two weeks of April are a delight for anglers on the Gallatin River. With consistent hatches of Blue Winged Olive mayflies and the prospect of some early caddis or a few late skwala stoneflies, this small freestone produces surface-feeding trout on a daily basis. The only downside of the Gallatin River in early April would be if unseasonably warm weather—daytime highs above 70 degrees—causes the river to rise and become too muddy to fish. If that occurs, head to the Upper or Lower Madison River.

Upper Madison River

The Madison River’s reputation precedes itself. Some anglers think it is too crowded nowadays, some anglers think it is best fished with tandem nymph rigs and some anglers wish for the return of the bygone days of large rainbow trout eating marginally presented flies in the river’s fast riffles. In April the Upper Madison isn’t crowded, there’s trout chasing streamers and rising to Blue Winged Olive mayflies, and despite a good drift being essential to fool the river’s trout, most anglers willing to put some time into improving their skills can catch trout on the Madison River. Important: April on the Upper Madison is spawning season for many of the river’s rainbow trout. Never stand on redds—small gravel that has been scrubbed clean by spawning trout—and never target spawning trout.

Lower Madison River

April on the Lower Madison provides a variety of angling options. Intrepid anglers can hike into the Beartrap Canyon and find relative solitude, especially on a weekday. With the added sunshine of Daylight Savings, on-the-ball anglers can get in a short post-workday float. And unlike the summer months when throngs of swimsuit-clad pleasure floaters dominate the river and water temperatures often climb above 68 degrees, April is arguably the best month of the year for fly fishing the Lower Madison.

Missouri River

Because the Missouri River originates at Holter Dam, its flows are clear and consistent. Also consistent is the fishing. With strong hatches of Blue Winged Olive mayflies and nearly a half-dozen fly shops expounding on the river’s great fishing, the hardest challenge in April is finding which Instagram account to follow. Similar to the Upper Madison, many rainbow trout are still spawning. Never stand on redds—small gravel that has been scrubbed clean by spawning trout—and never target spawning trout.

Secret Creeks

While some anglers measure success in likes or follows, plenty of other anglers like not being followed. With many of our smaller creeks open year-round, early April is ideal for exploring some off-the-beaten-path waters. Before fishing always check current regulations as some creeks remain closed to protect spawning fish.

Spring fever this year is on steroids—a year ago most of us were in lockdown—and with the anticipated boom of summer recreation, we are going to be sharing our waters with a lot of visitors soon. The next few weeks a lot of local anglers come out of hibernation. Be sure to give a friendly nod or tip of the hat to other anglers making their overdue daydreams reality.

Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. 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 nine years. He was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. If you want to fish with him, visit his website,

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