As we start to see glimpses of spring, Montana fishing conditions can be as dynamic as the weather. Rivers can quickly rise and fall based on the temperatures. We have already had a few shots of early snowmelt following warm days but then rivers will quickly settle as the temps cool. Warmer overcast days continue to produce some dry fly opportunities in the late mornings and afternoons. Spring hatches should really intensify in the coming days as baetis, March browns and eventually caddis make their appearances. If the fish aren’t rising they are sure to be feeding subsurface and nymphing can be very effective. There is plenty of great fishing to be found. The freestone rivers are excellent when they are stable or on the drop. Tailwaters and spring creeks produce stable flows and are protected by runoff when the weather warms fast.
If water flows have remained consistent, continue to work the deeper winter runs. Nymphing baetis, midge, and stonefly imitations will be the main producers subsurface, and be prepared for baetis and midge opportunities on the surface. If flows are up or if there is a little color to the water, shift your focus to the softer water towards the banks and around islands. On days when flows are on the higher side, this can be some of the better streamer fishing of the season.
Streamer fishing can also turn some big fish in the spring. Work streamers low and slow as fish are not on the banks this time of year. Focus on deeper runs and tailouts.
Baetis activity has been increasing, the intensity of the hatch varies by the day. Overcast days produce the most intense baeits hatches. Spring baetis are a bit larger than in the fall so plan on size 16s. March Browns are also a great spring hatch. These larger mayflies also like cloudy days and have a tendency to bring large fish to the surface. Midge hatches are winding down but can still be important in the late mornings.
Nymphing classic spring stonefly and baetis patterns are a good combo. A rubber legs going to a baetis nymph like a rainbow warrior or a flashback pheasant tail will produce on most rivers. Be prepared with baetis and midge dries. Most days the window for trout feeding on the surface can be short but having cluster midges and baetis dries ready to throw can make your day. Staying somewhat smaller when choosing a streamer pattern is going to move more fish, but on the right days it can pay to strip some bigger patterns. If flows are in flux throwing a little bit bigger, brighter streamer towards the bank can produce some some quality fish. When fishing subsurface, be prepared to change your weight and depth. If you aren’t linking up adjust your depth and sink rate.
Fish have been spreading out more and you can start working the tailouts and slightly faster water when hatches become intense, but most fish will still be concentrated in the slower holding runs that offer some depth. When hatches are active expect trout to slide out of the holding runs and into the edges and seams to intercept emerging insects.