Fishing Big Sky Country
One of the things I have noticed when looking at items on
the FAOL bulletin board is an inordinate number of requests for
information about fishing in Montana, Wyoming or Idaho. Having
lived in and fished in this area for over 35 years I might be
able to circumvent some of those questions, and help someone be
able to plan a more productive fishing experience.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
I first set eyes on the trout rich waters of Idaho, Montana and
Wyoming through the windshield of a 1970 Pontiac station wagon
when JC, Ole Olson, and I made a whirlwind fishing trip from
our homes in Michigan in the fall of 1971. In ten days I had fallen
in love with the country and the fishing, and within three years
I was living in Montana. The rest is history.
Before planning a trip to this country you should decide what type
of water you want to fish and what type of fishing you want. This
is big country, and weather and water conditions can vary widely
so the successful angler needs to plan carefully to insure the
greatest return for their investment in time and money.
With a few notable exceptions all the major trout waters are
open year around, but conditions during many of those months,
especially during the spring and winter, can be very unpredictable.
If you are planning a trip during the spring or winter months be
prepared to spend time hoping for a change in conditions. It
is usually possible to find some fishable water during almost
any period, however unless you have unlimited time and patience
trying to find good fishing during these periods may prove to be
a overwhelming challenge.
In the Northern Rockies, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, November
thru February are generally the most unpredictable months from
an angling standpoint. Anyone coming to this region during this
period of the year for fly-fishing should have alternative plans.
While it is possible to have extended periods of nice weather
these periods are impossible to predict in advance.
Depending on the amount of snow that falls during the winter
spring runoff can make many streams virtually unfishable for
several weeks in the early part of the season. If you are
coming from the East or Midwest do not assume that you will
find fishable water in May or June on many of our major rivers.
Rivers like the Big Horn or the upper Missouri that are controlled
by dams may provide fishable water, but if you are a dry fly angler
the water may be too cold to produce fishable hatches.
The waters of Yellowstone National Park do not open for fishing
until the last week in May, and some of the waters that contain
Yellowstone Cutthroat do not open until after those fish have
completed their spawning. Some waters, like the Upper Yellowstone,
do not open until mid-July. You can find out about fishing in
Yellowstone and Grand Tetons by checking out their website.
The most predicable season in most of this area is from July
until early October. Early July may still find some streams
running high and even off-color if we have had a cold spring
and a lot of winter snow, but you can always find fishable water
by this time of the year if you are flexible. Major hatches of
stoneflies and caddis are common, and the famous spring creeks
are normally experiencing some of the best mayfly hatches of
the season during this period. If I were planning a trip in
this area during the summer months I would personally plan to
be here during the period from July 10th until the end of the
As I write this article the Yellowstone River just outside my
back door is clearing rapidly, and within a few days will be
producing some excellent fishing opportunities. A low snow pack
and warm weather in late March and April has brought the Yellowstone
into fishable condition nearly a month early. Most of the trout
streams across this region are in similar shape.
I personally find September and early October to be the most
dependable time of the year for fishing in the Rocky Mountain
area. Days are pleasant, nights are refreshingly crisp, and
this combination revitalizes most of our trout waters. Brown
trout are preparing to spawn, rainbows and cutthroats are
building fat for the coming winter, and there are still enough
dependable hatches to produce quality dry fly fishing. Periods
of inclement weather are normally short lived, and a fresh
dusting of snow on the mountain peaks and frost on the brown
autumn grass bring delight to the eye.
The angler that comes to our country should plan to be flexible,
and be prepared to change plans as conditions dictate. Come to
enjoy the fishing, the people, the Big Sky Country, and with
that attitude any trip will be one for the memory book. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
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