The Sleeper Months

by | Feb 24, 2011 | 0 comments

April - sleeper month

 I thought about this post for several days and almost didn’t write it.  Fact is, there are times of the year which have always been for the anglers who live and work in Montana.  There are even anglers who don’t fish in the summer as the solitude of winter and spring is what they seek.   If you live here, you as an angler have the opportuntiy to fish on the warmer days, essentially one is able to cherry pick the choice dates.  Days without wind, too much sunshine, rain, snow or the weekends.  If a prospective client chooses to come to Montana for a springtime fishing trip, then they roll the dice and get what they get.  Depending on how the weather works out, it can make or break the trip.  When the weather does get shitty, like wind and snow, most of the local anglers head for their fly tying benches or their local pub.  I have guided clients in April and May with snow and wind stinging us day after day.  The fishing was great – dry flies, streamers and nymphing.  We didn’t see many other anglers either.   However, at the end of these trips, one of the groups said they prefer warmer weather and probably wouldn’t book during the springtime again.  These trips aren’t for everyone.  However, the fishing is usually pretty darn good.  Should you try it?  Atleast once………. 

Holy shit Mister, that's a rainbow!



The month of March is tricky.  The snow is still falling, hard at times, and the chances of the super cold arriving is like the Cubs not making it to the World Series.  March is warmer than Feb & Jan and the fish are definitely waking up.  This winter in particular, a few of our rivers have been at higher flows making them a couple of degrees warmer…every bit helps.  This is a good month to go skiing and hit the river if the daytime temps are in the high 30’s.  Taking a break from the Tram Line to get in a few hours of fishing in the afternoon is a great idea.  OR skip a couple of days on the slopes and float the Missouri.  March is midge month and they will rise if you search hard enough.  Trout also love stoneflies, midge pupa, worms and pink flies….eggs if you will. 


Daytime temps are getting warmer, still snowy in the highcountry.  Will the wind blow?  Of course, you’re in Montana.  Deal with it.  Can’t cast in the wind?  Start practicing.  Your saltwater guide will thank you too.  Rivers across the state are warming up and hatches of BWOs are consistent.  Sure, you can to the Big Horn, but everybody else will be there too. Rainbows are still spawning, but on some lower elevations streams they are coming off the redds and beginning to hold in summer type runs.  On the Madison around Ennis, this is normally the month that the boat ramps are accessible, allowing float fishing to begin in our neighborhood.  Rubber legs, midges, eggs.  A dead drifted streamer will produce as well.  There are channels which hold rising trout too.  The small streams which are open offer great wade fishing as well. 

$3 Bridge.....dry fly paradise.


This year, the General Season opener is May 21st.  Yes, that is later than last season….a whole week later.  The upside?  More trout will be off their redds and the river should be a bit warmer.  May still brings some cold weather and snow – gore tex is the most important piece of gear.  Rain is more likely at lower elevations, but if anything like last year, prepare for the worst.  Rain means clouds and warmer temps.  BWOs love to hatch on days like these.  Last May, on the upper Madison, we had some phenomenal dry fly fishing in the Wade Stretch.  I expect this once again when it opens on May 21st.  The word is starting to get out about the angling on the Missouri River in May.  The Missouri is open all year long…….This is pre-runoff and the river is clear.   The trout have really begun to move into the shallower waters and browns in the Canyon all the way down to Cascade are chasing streamers.  The weed beds of late summer have yet to grow.  The weather is still a major player in the game, but the flows in May are more predictable than June.  If you like October’s weather, then May is for you . Nymphing is king, but the opportunity for rising trout is getting much better. 

Casting Dryflies on the Upper Madison


Yes, this is a sleeper month…….most folks think that August is too warm and that the rivers are too low.  If the last three years have proved anything, August is the new July.  There are three things about August that I love: spruce moths, ants and nocturnal stoneflies.  On parts of the Madison, August is proving to be less crowded and very fishy.  The spruce moth hatch is gentelmenly and begins around 9:30 or so.  Getting up early and fishing a nocturnal stonefly, close to the banks, is good clean fun.  This allows you to get ahead of other boats and float into the spruce moth hatch.  There definitely are sections of the Madison where these hatch more consistently.  Remember – spruce moths are terrestrials and where ever the river bottom meets pine forests, you will find them.  A#12 Elk Hair works wonderfuly during this hatch.  There were several days last summer that I was able to fish the spruce moth ramp to ramp.  Late in the afternoon I like to switch out and fish one fly.  Either the ant or a hopper.  Since there are nocturnal stoneflies around, the hopper can cover both insects. 

Now is the time to start planning your trip.  I have been on the phone with several clients discussing their plans for the 2011 season.  In some regions, lodging is going fast.  The Missouri is one of these spots.  If you come out during the sleeper months, you will have your choice of lodging and good guides.  If I were coming to Montana to fish, I would think hard about timeframe.  Sure, everyone wants to fish when it’s warm, but why do what everyone wants to do.  Broaden your mind.  Fish when everyone else isn’t…..