Southwest Montana trout fishing is heating up! Ironically, today it is snowing. Things should get back on track shortly. The good news is that the rivers are clear and full. It is important to hit the rivers now before any melt off muddies your prospects.
I have been fishing the West Gallatin River regularly and have enjoyed great success with the Rainbows feeding on the surface. Brown trout are mixed in with the Rainbows and will also feed heavily on the rainbow eggs soon to be deposited in active redds or nests. Be careful not to disturb the trout lovebirds.
My feeling is that trout migrate into these rivers to spawn or adjust to low water and temperature. With the Rainbows nearing spawning time, they are feeding heavily. Any access seems equally good. It is important to look for active fish. Use quality polaroid sunglasses, a decent hat, and your hunting skills. I wear camo clothing and consider the angle of the sun. Movement, shadows, and noisy footsteps will limit your success.
My best time for hooking up seems to be from afternoon until dark. Once you find a pod of active fish, start at the tailout and work upstream. The Rainbows are averaging 12-17 inches and are “hot” fighters. Make sure your leaders and knots are perfect. My tippet has been down to 3-4lb. test which requires you to fight the trout carefully. The Browns are not fighting as hard but are in the same size range. They seem skinny to me but that will soon change.
For flies I have been using a size 16-18 Grifiths’ gnat tied extra hairy. This mimics a cluster of midges and I can see it. Fish a tandem rig or add a small Desert Storm size 18 midge larva as a short dropper. Make sure to sharpen your hooks! Presentation is key and most fish cooperate. I am having some nymph success using princes, eggs, worms, golden stones, and serendipities but… active rising trout are tough to pass up!
The Lower Madison is bigger water, fish, and fun. I am finding the same scenarios and using the same tactics. There were some Baetis coming off but the midge action seems better. Wind is always an issue on the Madison so bring your Big Stick. Be prepared to run your own shuttles. Drifting is fine but once you locate a pod of active fish, life will be good in one place.
I used streamers and large stone/crayfish patterns to hook some great Browns. Fishing was slower but worth the effort. Hiking up into the Beartrap Canyon is always a good bet. No rattlesnakes yet. Search for active trout and target specific fish.
The Upper Madison is fishing well mainly from Varney Bridge to the Burnt Tree access. Portions are currently closed so check the regulations and signs. Lots of late afternoon midge action and some small stoneflies are on the menu. If you don’t want to drift, search for active fish upstream of you. I have been within a mile of the access points and found several hot spots.
The Yellowstone River is typically windy. Lots of bugs just get blown into the next county. Look for a more sheltered area near a bend to find active fish. Size 16-20 midges are the ticket once you are on active fish. It was so windy the other day that I changed over to a spinning rod and cast a #1 silver Blue Fox spinner into the big water. Shhh, don’t tell the fly fishing purists!
There have been plugs of mud coming down the river from the Lamar and Gardiner Rivers. Expect this on warmer days as the snow melts. Travel in your vehicle to search out clean water. Don’t be afraid to fish downstream from Livingston to Billings.
“Catching fish” is different than ‘fishing.” Presentation is key. Make sure you are sharpening your hooks, tying strong knots and stalking your fish. There is not just one thing to help you catch more fish. We will never be experts. Just be a student and good ambassador of our great sport and let karma take over!