Seasons Of The River
March and April
"If I had only one month of the year I could fish, it would definitely be April."
Usually, by the middle of March, the fishing starts to really pick up. Water temperatures warm to the mid-40’s and the insect activity begins in earnest. Primarily hatches in order include the baetis mayflies, followed by the March Brown mayflies, and then the mother’s day caddis hatch.Nymphs play a major role early in the month and early each day prior to peak hatch activity.Usually all the major drainages coming from the Beartooth Face are low, clear, and very fishable these months, but rivers may blow out and become muddy if we have a heavy rain or if temperatures bump the 70 degree range for 3 or 4 days.
"May is a month of change here in the Northern Rockies."
The premier hatch during the first ten to fifteen days of the month is the Mother’s Day Caddis. This profusion of bug life can literally carpet the surface of some of our local rivers especially the Stillwater or Yellowstone. You really have to see it to believe it. Rock Creek sports the Mother’s Day hatch starting about the tenth of May and continuing for about two weeks. Remember, that the Rock Creek drainage has a higher average elevation, and thus runoff is delayed. The temperatures and the rivers really begin to rise. The fishing can be great in our freestone waters until the middle of the month, then the water becomes high, off color, and its time to tie flies until July unless you plan to fish one of the lower elevation lakes or reservoirs.
"High rivers in June means the best fishing is lakes, ponds, or spring creeks"
Bug activity is limited during the month of June along the Beartooth Country. If you happen to be in the right spot at the right time, you could encounter a hatch of Green Drakes on the West Rosebud or Stillwater. But these are infrequent occurrences. Toward the end of the month, you may begin seeing stoneflies in various sizes ranging from #12 Yellow Sallies to #6 Giant Golden Stone Flies. Fly-fishing on our local rivers is typically not available due to the extreme water levels and current speeds resulting from spring runoff. The exception is the Bighorn River, which can provide good but crowded dry fly action. On low snow pack years, the Stillwater may be fishable by the fourth week in June, but peak run-off typically takes place during the third week of June. Finding the right day can be a crap shoot. Be extremely careful if you are wading the rivers’ edges. The volume and speed of our run-off swollen rivers can kill you in a heartbeat.
"This is the time of the year that everyone waits for."
The giant golden stones are out in force and will be the stable food items for all self-respecting trout. These are large bugs, and the fish selectively seek them out during hot and sunny summer days of July. Toward the end of July, the grasshoppers begin to show themselves. Fish will switch from looking for the giant golden stones to “hoppers”. These large meaty morsels will replace the stoneflies as the main food staple for the next two months. The rivers begin the month very high and steadily drop throughout the month. Wading can be dangerous during the first two weeks and less so during the last two weeks. The best avenue of access is through floating. You will be able to present the flies in locations not accessible from the bank. Additionally, you will be able to cover more water in a day floating than in a week of wading. Floating in this manner often results in days of 40 fish per angler.
"The fish seem more opportunistic during hot August days."
Grasshoppers are the bugs of choice during most of this month. Over the last decade, we have not seen the numbers of grasshoppers necessary to excite our finned friends; things appear to have turned around however. When these land born insects become prolific, the trend usually lasts seven to ten years, so the next few years should kick butt! Caddis flies are also important during August either in the early morning or an hour before dusk. Attracter patterns, become increasingly important. My favorites are the Royal Wulff and the H&L Variant. Also a new player comes to the stage during the last two weeks of August, that being the small trico mayflies. Around the middle of August, if you are on the river in the early morning, you may witness the dancing silver hordes mating over rivers like the Yellowstone, Stillwater, and Clarks Fork. This is fun but challenging fishing.This is one time of the year that you can usually count on consistent water conditions. The Stillwater and other streams along the mountain face will often remain clear and fishable.
"Rainbows and Browns take on a new glow of color as fall approaches."
The water conditions will be very stable by this time of year, no big changes from day to day. Wading or floating is possible depending on the stream or river you choose to fish. Grasshoppers will continue to be the prime entrée during the first two or three weeks of the month, then things will change. Mornings are getting started later each day and the weather begins to cool, the trico hatch really gets going during the first two weeks of the month. However you have to be somewhat of a hard-core fisherman to get out there and enjoy the trico hatch, since it begins right after the break of dawn. But the rewards are worth it; stalking feeding trout with big nasty noses sticking through the water surface is a rush. It almost does not matter if you catch the fish or not...almost! Another change will be noticed in the attitude of larger brown trout. This species will become increasingly aggressive and ill natured, displaying this sour demeanor by killing any large streamer flies within their self-proclaimed territories. Mornings are grand beyond description, and hard-core fly fishermen adopt a bull in the rut mentality. It is no longer about how many fish; it’s about how big!
"Snow capped peaks, golden river valleys, and feisty Browns."
Insect activity during the month of October tapers off to little, if any, critters flying about. Early in the month, you may see a few hoppers. There is always a chance at baetis mayflies on cloudy windless days, but not much else. The fish become more focused on spawning and killing large fishy looking flies swung in front of their faces. The rivers continue to drop, but overall, their volumes remain relatively constant. There should be no chance of off color water condition this time of year.
November to February
"If you’re tired of skiing and want to try something different, this may be for you."
There isn’t much bug activity this time of year. Midges, tiny little two winged insects make up the bulk of insects available to the fish. These can be loads of fun if you are in the right place, at the right time, with the right fly. It can also test your wits.The river will be at its annual low during this time of the year. Trout will be cold, lethargic, and spooky since they will be able to see. Take your time and plan your approach to known fish or good holding water. Fishing with dry flies (midges) require long cast with fine leaders due to the clarity of the water. Streamer fishermen will do better with seven to eight foot stout (2x to 0x) leaders. You have to make a decision on which way you want to go. Either a big ugly streamer and heavy equipment or fine and far fishing with little dry flies, you can’t do both unless you take two rods.