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Trout life in Southwest Montana

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By Ennion Williams, Big Sky

Montana fly fishing summer 2011 will go down as a year to remember in more than one angler’s book. We’ve had high water like many have never seen, summer hatches a full month behind, and we may not even see some hatches this year. This has been a summer full of anticipation for rivers to clear and finally, the joy that’s come with setting a hook, the first take of the year on a dry fly.

Near Big Sky and Bozeman, the Gallatin River and its tributaries are fishing very well. Right now, look for the Spruce Moth in the afternoons. Soon, grasshoppers will begin to get the trout’s attention. As we move into Aug., anglers will want to have plenty of terrestrial patterns like ants, beetles and grasshoppers in their kits. There are still some caddis out there from 10 a.m. into the afternoon, and evening fishing until dark is always productive.

Many other rivers in our region are also just now coming into their own. It started a little late and slow, but now the fishing is on in full force. If you’ve never fly fished or want to learn more, hiring a guide for the day is a great way to learn the basics or hone your skills. There are many fine fly shops around Southwest Montana, so stop in for local information, or find a guide to show you the hot spots.

Big fish on the Beaverhead, dry flies on the Big Hole

By Tim Tollett, Frontier Anglers, Dillon

What a season we are having here in beautiful Beaverhead and Big Hole Country. Early in the season we experienced very good river flows, unlike other areas in Montana. Now as our season progresses, the massive insect population caused by years of good water, combined with our generous trout population, has made the fishing as solid as we can remember it.

The Beaverhead, reminding us of the days of old, is producing some exceptionally large fish. Both browns and rainbows are eager and respond to well presented nymphs, streamers and dry flies. The Yellow Sallies are thick this year, as are the Caddisflies. The Pale Morning Duns have been on for a couple weeks, and we should see quality fishing using these imitations through August. Watch for the middle of Aug. to really kick into gear using hoppers!

The quality of dry fly fishing on the Big Hole this year has ranked with all-time great seasons. We’ve noticed a remarkable increase in the overall Grayling population, as well as Cutthroat trout. Large browns, over the magical 20” mark, have shown their colors, with most of them coming to the dry fly. Hatches of Brown and Green Drakes have been heavy, and we are looking forward to the fantastic Spruce Moth, Trico, and hopper fishing yet to come.

Madison River rainbow, photo by Ennion Williams

Yellowstone Country

By Craig Mathews, Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone

Late summer and fall fishing in Yellowstone country will be incredible in 2011. Big water years mean big aquatic insects hatches and big fish, and late season this year will be the best in over 15 years. This is a special time, as the summer crowds head home, bull elk bugle to their harems, and wild trout become active in the cooling water. Here is a late summer and fall fishing forecast for rivers in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The Firehole River in the park will fish well in late summer during insect emergences like caddis and mayflies such as the Fall Baetis. Also, grasshoppers, beetles, ants and damsel flies can bring up good rises. During Fall Baetis emergences, which begin around mid-August, anglers can expect wonderful dry fly fishing from noon to 4 p.m. This hatch will continue from late August until the park fishing season closes Nov. 6. These tiny mayflies, size #20-24, emerge best on cool, wet days, especially in snowy conditions. Caddis flies prefer warmer weather, and will emerge during afternoons and evenings.

The Madison River in the park will see its first run of fall run-up fish from Hebgen Lake in mid-August This run of big brown and rainbow trout gets stronger each day through the late season, and anglers from around the world travel here to fish during this time. In August and September the river fishes well when grasshopper, ants and beetles are active.

The Gibbon River is another favorite among local anglers in the know. The river below its 88-foot waterfall sees a good run of fall run-up fish from the Madison River and Hebgen Lake. It, too, fishes well when grasshoppers are active in August and September.

The Lamar River and its tributaries, Slough and Soda Butte Creeks, fish well in late summer and fall. These fine waters are noted for strong terrestrial insect activity and lots of big, rising cutthroat and rainbow trout. Mormon crickets, grasshoppers, bees and beetles and ants all bring up the trout, as does late green drake and Baetis mayfly emergences. In early August, they were just beginning to fish well. These fine waters will see some very big fish coming up for insects during late summer and fall.

The Gardner River in the north portion of Yellowstone Park is a sleeper bet for late summer and fall fishing. It gets a strong run of run-up brown trout from the Yellowstone River outside the park, and the late season grasshopper and cricket fishing can be awesome too.

The Yellowstone River just downstream of Yellowstone Lake will fish well through August this year with our high water, but the fish here are lake fish which migrated downstream from Yellowstone Lake and will return to the lake in early Sept. Fishing from the falls upstream to Yellowstone Lake is not recommended after Sept. 1. However, the Yellowstone River below Gardiner has wonderful late summer and fall fishing – put this one on your list if big trout are in your plans. The river will fish well all the way downstream to Big Timber.

The Gallatin River both in and out of the park offers wonderful late summer and fall fishing. For that matter, it fishes well downstream of Yellowstone National Park all winter too, and the fishing season is open on Montana’s section of the river year-round. Late season angling is wonderful when the grasshoppers, bees, ants and beetles are out, and the river gets good Fall Baetis mayfly emergences, as well.

The Madison River below Hebgen Dam and Earthquake Lake is a late season favorite. Fall Baetis emergences begin around Aug. 20, and the midge activity lasts from late summer through fall and winter. Grasshoppers, ants and beetles offer fine late summer and fall fishing. This is a good time to float the river below Lyon Bridge and all the way downstream to Ennis. The streamer fishing gets better as fall progresses, and it’s a fine time to enjoy fall colors along the river, watch pronghorn migrate to winter range, and catch plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout along the way.

The Henry’s Fork in southeastern Idaho can be fun in the late summer and fall. Fall Baetis, grasshopper and beetles and Mahogany Duns will all bring big rainbow trout to the surface.

If still-water fishing is your game, you won’t be disappointed with lakes like Hebgen, Earthquake, Wade and Cliff in Montana, or Henry’s Lake in Idaho. On Hebgen and Wade, Callibaetis mayflies will continue emerging in Aug. and Sept., and big trout will sip them until the snows fly in late fall.

I get excited thinking about late season angling opportunities in Yellowstone country for 2011. Again, big water means big trout and lots of them! I hope to see you soon on the waters of southwest Montana and Yellowstone country!

Ennion Williams compiled these fishing reports for the Big Sky Weekly. He is a professional fishing guide and outfitter in Big Sky. He can be reached at (406) 579-7094 or at He also runs Big Sky Local Foods.

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