Springtime Fly Fishing in Western Montana

It’s springtime in Western Montana! Which means it’s the start of the season of hiking, fly fishing, mountain biking, camping, etc. This can be a challenging season to fly fish, however it can also be one of the most fun seasons to fly fish. Springtime is challenging, because the river levels and the river’s clarity vary day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour. The warmer temps melt the snow, which then brings more water to the river basins as runoff. This runoff causes the tributary creeks that carry it to flow hard and fast, chiseling away the sediment lining the bank, and carrying it downstream, muddying the main river. Sometimes a warm night in April can cause above average flows that muddy the river the next morning. Flows will continue like this until spring runoff eventually takes place, raising the and muddying all the river systems until the main chunk of snowpack has dwindled.

When you are out on the water in the spring, you will notice the first signs of the season’s mayflies, and even a few caddis. In parts of Western Montana there is a late-winter/ early-spring stonefly called a Skwala, which can hatch in just enough number that the trout notice, and giving the angler the first big dry fly fishing of the spring season. The mayflies hatching this time of year include blue wing olives and larger drakes, oftentimes called March Browns, but could vary in color from grey to brown, and are just a spring mayfly drake, like the summer’s more ubiquitous green drake or mahogany. In the latter part of April and into the first parts of May, the first hatches of caddis flies will start. The first hatches of caddis on any river can be quite intense, oftentimes called windshield wiper hatches—aptly named because there are so many flies in the air that the angler needs to brush them from his or her sunglasses, to be able to see (It’s a bit of an exaggeration, and for those of you who’ve never experienced it, it’s not quite as Hitchcockian as it sounds, but it’s a rare and special thing).

Thankfully Western Montana and the Bitterroot Valley have knowledgeable fly shops to assist the angler in both tackle and advice.