With highs in the 40s and the day off work, it was a great opportunity to make my first fly fishing outing of 2018. I decided to fish the solitude of a smaller area stream instead of the potential traffic on the more popular Kinni or Rush.
I ended up catching fourteen browns between 8-12 inches. Twelve were on the size 16 Euro Pheasant Tail and two on the 20 zebra midge. Fish were in both riffles and slower water, but I tended to catch more in the riffles where they were easier to approach without spooking. In the couple riffles where there was shelf ice, I had good luck drifting my nymph rig as close to it as possible.
With the low, clear water, make sure to approach holding areas as stealthily as possible. I’d often stand further back and extend my cast to keep from spooking fish. Where there’s one fish there are often a lot more this time of year, so spooking one meant spooking dozens. That also meant that if I caught one I could also pick off a couple more in a run.
These winter cold fronts can make for some dynamite fly fishing. It’s often best from about 10-2, when it’s warm enough for the fish to turn on, but before the snow melt brings the water temps back down.
When I interned at Midwest Whitetail in the fall of 2016, one of my fellow interns was Michael Parente. For reasons that are too long for this particular blog post, he was given the nickname Mark, and I was given Elvis. Mike recently got a job working for the show Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, and moved to Montana two months ago. Since he moved out there I’ve been bugging him about when would be a good time for me to come and fish. We were talking early last week when he said the upcoming Fourth of July weekend would be ideal — we both had Monday and Tuesday off, runoff was dying down, and the salmonflies were in the air. After a couple minutes of searching, I booked my flight to Bozeman. I was pretty excited to say the least.
After flying in on Friday night, we hit the East Gallatin River just outside of Bozeman on Saturday morning. This was a smaller stream for Montana’s standards, similar to the Rush and Kinni. There were some caddis and PMDs coming off with a few rising trout, but I couldn’t resist drifting a couple nymphs through those riffles. It didn’t take long for me to catch my first fish of the trip, and what was also my first wild rainbow!
Mike started the day fishing dries but switched to nymphs as well.
Rainbows and browns were plentiful on this stream, with every run giving us a couple fish.
As the sun got higher in the sky the bite started to slow down, so we decided to turn around and work our way back to the truck. Mike spotted a nice brown rising to PMDs, and couldn’t resist tossing a fly over it. After two missed takes, the third time was the charm and I was able to net it for him. The 16-incher was the biggest of the day his first fish on a dry!
In the evening, we planned on fishing the Lower Madison, but the mosquitoes were so thick that we stopped fishing after about two casts. We ended up going back to the East Gallatin and caught a couple more fish before dark, but nothing picture-worthy. The Lower Madison had some great scenery though!
On Sunday morning we got up early and headed to the famed Upper Madison River. We went to an area that Mike had fished in the past and was an easier wade. Since we didn’t have a drift boat, our options were limited on this bigger river.
While most of the area was pretty shallow, featureless water, we were able to find a smaller side channel that held some deeper runs and structure. We got into a few small fish on both dries and nymphs, and managed to lose every good fish we had on before getting it into the net. At about 1:00 we decided to go into town for lunch and stopped at a fly shop for some local intel, a couple extra flies, and a new hat to change our juju. We then headed upriver a few miles to a wade-only area that was recommended in Mike’s book of Montana rivers.
A lot of people must have read the same book because the bridge was loaded with cars. Luckily, it’s a big river that can’t be waded across, had easements for miles in each direction from the bridge, and had plenty of structure, so there was plenty of room to fish.
Mike found a salmonfly within minutes of walking from the parking area, and I’ve never seen someone more ecstatic to see a fly. He’d been hunting this hatch for the past couple weeks and was happy to finally find them.
Mike tied one on and had a strike on his first cast, but didn’t move another on the salmonfly for the rest of the night. There was also a huge caddis hatch, but for whatever reason the fish just weren’t rising very much that evening.
After seeing the salmonfly, I tied on a Pat’s Rubber Legs and Copper John, and hooked into a nice rainbow on my second cast. Unfortunately he got into the fast current and broke off. A couple casts later I hooked into another, and downstream he went! Mike got downstream to try to net it, but the fish got by him and into the next run. The river had so many boulders that I had to climb back onto the bank to chase after the fish while it was ripping line from my reel. I was attempting to get my rod over a tree when I heard Mike yell, “let some line out!” I stripped some line off my reel and soon heard “got him!” About fifty yards downstream from where I hooked into the fish, we finally got it in the net. I was pretty pumped with this 17-18″ rainbow! Check out that jaw!
I got back up to that run and threw my nymphs behind the same boulder, and caught a nice brown a couple casts later. Great start to the evening!
I continued upstream and seemed to hook into a fish behind almost every boulder. Getting them in the net in the fast current was another issue. I ended up landing six or seven more fish, including another brown around 16-inches, before calling it a night.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
Big fish in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable made this my favorite spot to fish during my vacation. I’ll be dreaming about the Upper Madison until I get back!
On Monday morning we began the day fishing Hyalite Creek, a small stream flowing through a mountain canyon just outside Bozeman. Hyalite had a lot of small, willing browns and rainbows eager to take both dries and nymphs. None of the fish we caught were really picture-worthy, but the area definitely was!
In the evening we decided to head to the Gallatin River. It flows through Bozeman, but we decided to drive about 20 miles upstream where the highway runs along the stream, allowing for abundant and easy access.
The first spot we tried didn’t have much for structure and surrendered just one fish in about an hour, so we packed up and headed further upstream, keeping our eyes peeled for good looking areas that we could pull off the road and fish. We spotted one such pull-off and tried it out. Mike and I quickly had fish on but lost them. Right after I lost mine, I heard Mike yell upstream that he had a fish on. The fish made a few big jumps and runs, but I eventually got downstream of it and got the biggest fish of the trip in the net!
After a while of not landing another fish in this spot, we packed it up again to go further upstream. We found another good pull-off point and decided to fish there the rest of the night. There were a ton of salmonflies in the air, so we both tied on dries. Mike quickly had a strike, but wasn’t able to get a hook in the fish. I guess catching fish on salmonflies wasn’t in the cards for us.
I opted to go downstream of the pull-off where there were more boulders for the fish to hold around, and hooked into and lost a couple decent fish before landing a couple decent rainbows. I kept throwing behind every boulder within casting distance until finally hooking into a good fish. As soon as I set the hook, he sent it (shout-out to Mike and his roommates for adding “send/sent it” to my vocabulary) downstream, ripping line off my reel. I again had to hop onto the bank to chase him down, this time having to net him myself since Mike was around the bend upstream and could see or hear me. After a long fight and a few swipes of the net, I was able to land the 16-inch brown!
That ended up being my last fish of the night. The canyon section of the Gallatin is a beautiful area that I’d highly recommend to anyone else visiting Montana — it is wade-only, has plenty of access, and plenty of fish!
Since I had to fly out in the afternoon, we chose to fish a section of the Gallatin closer to Bozeman. I bought a book on Amazon that we also used throughout the trip to research spots; it recommended a few bridges and luckily the first one we drove by didn’t have a car at it.
Mike quickly caught a good brown and I caught a sucker, and a couple runs upstream of the bridge had a bunch of fish rising to caddis and PMDs. Mike tied on a dry and soon had a nice brown on.
While he fished the dries, I went one run upstream and nymphed a few browns and rainbows out of a good seam, the biggest being around 14-inches.
We worked upstream with every run surrendering fish. I tied on a PMD and caught two browns and rainbows out of one run, while Mike switched to a nymph and caught a couple good browns himself. As it approached one o’clock we decided to hit one more run and each catch one more fish. It didn’t take long for Mike to catch another brown and I to catch a ‘bow.
After those two fish we headed back to Mike’s place so I could pack up for home. It concluded an awesome trip that I won’t forget anytime soon! I can’t thank Mike enough for hosting me at his place for the long weekend. It’s always fun to fish new areas with great friends that share a passion for fly fishing. I can’t wait to get back to these rivers again, hopefully with a drift boat or raft next time to fish some more areas.
Montana definitely lives up to the hype. I’ll be dreaming of this view until I get back.
My dad and I hit a smaller area stream tonight from about 6:30 to 9:00. We were happily surprised to see a slight stain on the water when we got there. We began the evening nymphing — myself with a Tungsten Torpedo and a Red and Black Midge, and dad with a green Copper John and a Zebra Midge.
We caught a few fish out of the first couple runs, but after noticing a couple rises, we switched it up to terrestrials. I went with a purple Hippie Stomper and he went a Stimulator. I ended up catching 8 or so browns on the Hippie while dad caught one on the Stimi, with both of us missing plenty more.
Terrestrials are a great option right now, especially on the smaller creeks. I didn’t cast to specific rises as much as just good holding areas near rocks, cut banks, and fallen trees, where the fish can quickly swoop out for an easy meal. We were too lazy to tie on droppers, but I imagine tying a small Pheasant Tail or Frenchie 18-24 inches below would make for a killer combo.
This cooler weather has made for some really pleasant summer fishing. Get out and take advantage of it while you can!
I was able to fish the Rush a couple times this week. Nymphing was the most productive, especially in the hour or two before dark. The bigger fish seemed to head to the riffles just as the sun got below the horizon, and I was able to catch a few in the 14-16 range — too dark for photos, unfortunately. The same, standard nymphs — Pheasant Tails, Euro PTs, and midges — did the job, although more fish have favored the midge lately. There was a really good midge hatch yesterday with lots of rises for about an hour, but after going through my fly box I could only get one to take a purple Hippie Stomper — I just didn’t have any midge dries that were small enough to match the hatch. Sulphurs were coming off in good numbers earlier this week as well, with lots of rising right before dark.
Now is definitely the time to focus on the early mornings and late evenings. Staying after dark to swing some streamers can be productive too!
I was able to get out for a couple hours after work tonight from about 7:30 to dark. Figuring the runs closer to the bridge had gotten fished pretty hard over the weekend, I hiked upstream for a half mile or so before starting to fish. I pulled five fish out of both runs I fished nymphing with a size 16 Tungsten Torpedo and size 20 black Zebra Midge. One of them was a nice 16-incher, as well as a couple more around 12″.
Once it started getting dark I tied on a black leech pattern to swing through the riffles on my way back to the car. This caught me just one brown, a 12-incher.
There was also a good sulphur hatch just before dark with plenty of surfacing, but I was determined to get it done streamer fishing. It’s a great time to be on the streams!
I fished a new-to-me section of an area stream this evening from about 6:00 to dark. The stream had a little stain on it from last night’s rains, which was a welcomed sight. I began the outing nymphing with a size 14 Tungten Torpedo jig variation with a size 18 Red and Black Midge. I quickly plucked five browns out of the first run, with one around 13″.
I worked upstream for another half-mile or so, with almost every riffle producing a couple fish. Once the sun began dropping below the horizon, I decided it was time to turn around and start walking back to the car. I tied on a black leech pattern and swung it through the pools and riffles on my way, and managed to bring two fish to hand, with a few follows and misses as well. There was also a pretty good sulphur hatch right at dusk with quite a few trout rising to them. It was just getting too dark for me to switch from my streamer rig.
With the hot weather we’re having, the fishing will be better in the mornings and evenings. The mosquitoes were pretty thick tonight too — remember that bug spray and/or a buff!
I fished a short section of an area stream tonight from about 7:00 until dark. Midges were the ticket, as a Red and Black Midge caught all but one fish on the outing, with the other coming on a flashback pheasant tail. I ended up catching about a dozen total, all between 8 to 12 inches. I did have one around 15″ on but he fell off as I was reaching for him with the net. The streams are definitely higher than normal, but plenty clear.
Aric also fished the Kinni on Sunday evening from about 4:30 to 9:00 and caught about 35 fish, all 12″ and under. He began the outing using a Pheasant Tail and Zebra Midge but noticed quite a few fish rising to sulphurs, so he ended up catching 10 or so on top using a size 16 Sulphur Parachute.
Friend and owner of Limit Creek Fishing Rod Company, Jim Wernimont, invited me down to Southeast Minnesota to fish with him on one of his favorite streams. There’s some great big fish potential on this river, so it was time to bring out the Limit Creek 8 wt with a sinking line and the 6 wt with a floating streamer line. Jim used his Limit Creek spinning rod with a gold, size 11 Original Floating Rap.
Jim started us off with a nice 18″ brown — not picture worthy for someone that catches 20-inchers on the regular. I also caught a 13″ smallmouth on a small black Cheech Leech out of the same run.
We kept working upstream through some great water, with Jim picking off multiple mid to high teens fish. I was able to catch my first brown on a yellow rabbit strip streamer (tying instructions in a future blog post!).
Within the next couple runs I was watching Jim retrieve his Rapala when a brown shot out from a rock and smoke his lure. I was able to run over and net this 21″ pig!
We kept picking off a couple good browns in every run. My strategy was casting about 45 degrees downstream to the opposite bank, throwing a big upstream mend in the line to allow the fly to sink, then let the fly swing across the current while giving the occasional strip or jig. I had more success using the 6 wt and floating line with this method, because it was easier to control the line and track the fly in the water. I recently got the Airflo Super-Dri Kelly Galloup Streamer Float Line for my 6 wt and this stuff is amazing!
Using this “fling and swing” method with a tan and yellow mini Cheech Leech, I casted along a cut bank and had a brown shoot out and smash the streamer. After a good fight in some heavy current, I was able to get him in the net.
We worked upstream through some beautiful country, continuing to catch good browns in every run, as well as a few smallmouth, until making our way to the car at the next bridge. We each had a couple chances at fish pushing 20″, but weren’t able to get them in the net. I can’t thank Jim enough for inviting me. It’s always fun to catch big browns with good friends! My second ever 20-incher will have to wait!
Dad and I fished after work this evening from about 6:30 to 9:00. The stream was in great condition after the last rains — still a little high with a slight stain. Dad ended up catching five browns on a Copper John and zebra midge, with all but one coming on the Copper John. I caught thirteen or fourteen on a Tungsten Torpedo jig nymph variation and a red and black midge. Dad had the big fish of the night though, with this nice 14 or 15″ right before dark.
Most of our fish were caught in shallow pocket water — the deeper runs weren’t very productive tonight. There wasn’t much rising, other than to the occasional BWO. It looks like we’ll have great conditions for fishing through the weekend!
I hit the Rush for a bit after Mother’s Day dinner from about 6:30 to 9:00. With the low, clear water the fishing was difficult when the sun was still high in the air, but as soon as it hit the horizon it was game on. Fish were readily eating black zebra midges, but were also surfacing a bit to the midges, BWOs, and caddis that were in the air. I caught around 15-20 fish on the outing, with about 80% taking the zebra midge over the Euro pheasant tail. We’ll see how much the rains this week muddy up the streams; we could definitely use some!