By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
Whether or not we openly admit it, we all want to catch the biggest and baddest trout out there. Watching a fish eat a dry fly is exhilarating, but bringing a 2-foot-long monster to hand is life changing.
Our corner of the fly-fishing world is home to ample water where finding a trophy is possible any day of the year. And during the next few weeks when the weather turns colder, the truly large trout begin foraging in anticipation of the winter months ahead.
Here are some options for trophy hunting this fall, all within a day’s drive:
‘Land of the Giants.’ The Missouri River below Hauser Dam was a secret for a long time. Fished mostly by residents of Helena and Great Falls, and guided by a few tight-lipped outfitters, this short tailwater section is a place where monsters lurk. As more visiting anglers boasted of the river’s bounty online, the section became cliché. But is cliché a bad thing when you could catch the biggest trout of your life?
The river here is best fished while drifting with a jet boat, but can also be accessed by foot from Hauser Dam or the Beavercreek Fishing Access Site. Nymphing will produce large rainbows, but for massive brown trout, fish fully sinking lines and large, weighted flies. Let your fly sink and begin stripping in slowly. I recommend fishing the “Land of the Giants” with a partner – not for safety, but so someone can take the picture.
Yellowstone River near Livingston. As a kid, it was common to hear reports of dozens of people catching 10-pound browns in the fall. I truly believe those fish are still there – I’ve seen the pictures, albeit much less frequently – they’re just harder to catch. And now is the time to get it done.
The conditions of late fall work in your favor because larger brown trout like to hunt in the lower light and they know winter is coming so they bulk-up on baitfish. Heavy sinking lines and large flies are the key if you want to entice the big ones – if you’re not tagging the bottom often or your fly is shorter than 4 inches, you might as well be fishing a size 10 dry fly.
Madison River upstream of Hebgen Lake. West Yellowstone’s angling forefathers told stories of massive browns emerging from Hebgen Lake. Today, the fish aren’t as large, but they’re still prevalent. The trick here is finding a spot – access is easy but good holding water is limited. Fishing here in nasty weather will limit some of the crowds. Get your flies down deep and expect subtle hits. Flies with color such as firebeads and flash-a-buggers work well.
Blackfoot River and its tributaries. Home to bull trout, Montana’s largest river-dwelling salmonid, the Blackfoot River and the valley it courses through is beautiful in fall. The larch trees changing to golden yellow serve up a spectacular backdrop to your late-season fishing. Actively targeting bull trout is not allowed, but the fish are in there and often make meals of a hooked 10-inch cutthroat.
Trophy trout don’t come easy. Patience and persistence are necessary, and plane tickets are required for most anglers. However, for lucky folks living in this region, big fish are nearby – if you know how to target them.
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.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and Pat operates the Montana Fishing Guide School and the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School.