shoul-der sea-son

noun

  • a travel period between peak and off-peak seasons
  • a time to explore Big Sky Country without quite so many crowds
  • the point of the season in which the biggest brown trout of the year are caught
  • an opportunity to fish in the sun one day and in snow the next
  • the best time of year to find killer deals on all of your favorite gear at Big Sky Anglers

October is here. It’s officially the Shoulder Season. Gone are the days of bustling sidewalks, long lines at the park gate, and 2-hour waits for a cheeseburger.

The last few weeks of the season are a special time in Big Sky Country. It’s a time when everyone can catch their breathe a bit after a hectic summer, and enjoy the bounty of another great water year. From the elk and aspens to the browns and rainbows, everything is in great shape this fall.

Yet another potent fall storm roared across the region this week bringing one more dose of winter to all of Big Sky Country. Substantial snow fell throughout the region, from the Missouri River in northern MT all the way down to the Henry’s Fork in Idaho.

A healthy dose of Indian Summer is on the horizon for the upcoming week. Though you will want to keep your warm puffy layers handy as morning lows look to be frosty for the next few days.

Fall weather brings fall fishing, and we’ve had plenty of both. Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts and flows. Stay tuned as we report each week on hatches, flows, weather, and more. For the most up to date info stop by the shop, give us a call, or drop us a line.

West Yellowstone Forecast

MT Streamflows

ID Streamflows


Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Park remains open to fishing until November 3rd this year. That means you have three more weeks to hunt for migratory fish and fall hatches before everything shuts down for the winter. So, pitter patter, let’s get at er!

Firehole River

Fly fishing is hard on purpose. If we just wanted to catch fish, we would do things far differently. We value the difficulty and the skill required to fool a fish with a fly. It’s the How and Why that are important. Sometimes we value the virtue of the challenge more than the end result (the fish).

Nowhere is this more evident than right now on the Firehole River. This legendary fishery comes alive each fall with tremendous hatches of baetis mayflies, and resident fish feed on the surface with consistent regularity. On a gray, scuzzy October afternoon, which we have seen several of recently, it’s not uncommon to find fish rising from bank to bank in places like Fountain Flat Dr, or below Midway Geyser Basin.

As abundant as these opportunities may be, they are equally challenging. By this point in the season fish have become wary, and the bugs have become small. It’s a serious test of one’s dry fly prowess to fool a Firehole trout in the fall. It requires a perfect presentation with 10-12’, 5x-6x leaders, and a minute, size 22 baetis imitation.

Oh, and did I mention, the fish in the Firehole River are not large. Unlike many fabled fisheries in Big Sky Country, the average size of browns and rainbows found in the Firehole is 10-12”. Occasionally, you will find a 16-18” fish, and the last two seasons have produced more of those outliers than any in recent history, but this is not a big fish fishery.

Fishing on the Firehole in the fall is all about the How and Why. We chase these little trout, not just to catch them, but to catch them with a fly, because it’s hard. And, that’s bad ass.

Madison River(in YNP)

Back in mid-September I used a baseball analogy to describe fishing the Madison River in YNP during the fall. I likened the early season fishing with the beginnings of baseball season when you’re excited, but there’s not much going on yet. And then, before you know it, it’s playoff season and every game counts. “Every game has an opportunity for that defining moment. The one that makes the whole season worthwhile, that makes you a fan.”

Well, it’s here. It’s playoff season for both baseball and migratory fish in the Madison. It’s time to pay attention. It’s time when every session counts, because there is a real opportunity every time you hit the water for the next three weeks to catch that one fish that makes the whole season worthwhile, that makes you a fan.

With bright weather in the forecast for the next few days, look to the early morning and late evening hours for your best chance at finding aggressive fish while the light levels are low.

The Gallatin River

Indian summer afternoons are a great time to fish the Gallatin stretch in YNP. Sparse hatches of baetis mayflies may bring some fish to the surface in slower runs and pools. In abscense of rising fish, tight line nymphing through deep undercuts and pockets can produce some great fish.

The Gardner RIver

As we approach the end of the season, more and more brown trout from the Yellowstone River will be sniffing their way up into the Gardner. Exploring the pocket water from Mammoth down towards the town of Gardiner with small, heavy streamers can yield big rewards.

Madison River

The park stretch of the Madison isn’t the only reach of the river to host a population of migratory fish. In fact, from Hebgen to Quake, and throughout the Madison Valley brown trout migrate and stage in runs as they prepare to spawn. Opportunities to swing up a gnarled-face, buttery brown trout exist all the way to Three Forks.

When your not focused on the streamer game be prepared to hunt for rising fish with baetis imitations in each and every soft, glassy piece of water on the Fifty Mile Riffle.

Henry’s Fork

Fishing has settled into a sublime autumn rhythm on the Hank. As with most fisheries in Big Sky Country, the action on both the upper and lower river revolves around streamers and baetis.

With a stretch of bright days coming up, it’s important to consider the rhythm of fall fishing on both a macro and micro level.

On the macro level, bright conditions will limit the effective windows of opportunity with streamers to the early morning and late evening hours when light levels are at their lowest. Bright skies will also produce shorter, and sometimes sparser hatches of psuedo’s and baetis. Your daily rhythm should include streamer fishing in the morning, head uniting in the afternoon, and streamer fishing again in the evening.

On the micro level, it’s important to take into account rhythm when fishing to rising fish during baetis hatches. Generally, trout rise to baetis not because of their size, but their abundance. The shear volume of bugs is what brings large fish to the surface. When large numbers of bugs are present, trout establish a definite feeding rhythm. It’s critical to understand that rhythm, and be prepared to fish in that same rhythm.

Missouri River

Joe, Jonathan, Hoovie, and assorted members of the BSA crew are firmly entrenched in BSA’s fall program on the Missouri River. It’s been a roller coaster of conditions on the MO. From sun and 60 degrees to snow and ice, we’ve seen it all.

Through the varied conditions we’ve seen some great fall fishing with streamers, nymphs and dries.

One of the many reasons we love the MO at this time of year is the opportunity to find some truly large fish. We don’t always get them, and the respectable resident fish are more than enough to keep us occupied while we search. But, somewhere out there is a real creature. A fish that has lived out in the plains all season not being bothered by anyone. A brute that only wanders upstream into our reach once a year when he sniffs his way up towards spawning tributaries.

We haven’t found that creature yet this year. We’ve seen some terrific fish, but the creature still eludes us. There’s a couple weeks left in this year’s tour. Stay tuned!

Henry’s & Hebgen Lake

From our resident still water aficionado, Matt Klara:

“I don’t know why we even publish lake reports in October. Everyone is out strippin’ junk and chasing river fish. That said, the lake fishing is in prime shape if you are willing to skip out on the river action and time your fishing to coincide with key weather and feeding windows. Fish those suggestive patterns like Seal Buggers along the margins when light is low. Look for fish in shallow, along receding weed margins, and near creek and river mouths as those are all seasonal hot spots, and move into deeper water as the day brightens. As water temps really start to cool down, be prepared to slow your presentations as well, and maybe convert over to the balanced leech program!”