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Late Fall Float Trips

Posted on January 30th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Late Fall Float Trips: Introduction

Late autumn begins when nights begin falling below freezing most nights rather than just occasionally and the first snow that doesn’t all melt by midafternoon starts to fall now and again. Most years, the first week of October is when this occurs. After the switch flips there’s no reason to get out early in the morning save for hardcore anglers who want to try for one or two really big fish, even once the weather improves. The best fishing is typically from about 10:00AM through about 4:00PM.

Fishing is slow-paced at this time, with nymphs and streamers pounded in the deeper runs the most likely producers, but big numbers of rising trout also possible during good BWO hatches. This is the time of year when guides do most of their fishing. Little wonder. The big fish are eating, but there isn’t much work. Want to find out why the guides tend to like fishing during this period?

colorful late fall brown

Late fall brown trout in spawning colors.

Late Fall Float Trips: Quick Facts

  • Best Waters: All waters that remain high enough to float this late in the year can be excellent, but we generally stick close to home on the Yellowstone.
  • Three Top Reasons to Come in Late Autumn: 1.) This is an excellent time to target big fish, 2.) Crowds are nonexistent, and 3.) the dry fly fishing can still be good for a couple hours each afternoon, and it’s generally much better than early spring.
  • Three Top Reasons to Avoid Late Autumn: 1.) Weather and water conditions are wildly inconsistent and can be miserable: it can snow feet and remain below freezing for days at a time, or be too warm and bright. 2.) The numbers of fish caught on an average day are far lower than in summer, and 3.) Morning fishing is very slow most days.
  • Perfect Clients: Experienced anglers who want to fish nymphs and streamers for larger fish, with a solid chance of some good dry fly fishing many afternoons.
  • What Late Autumn Does Best: Produces big browns on their spawning runs and the rainbows that follow them looking for a meal of eggs.

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Early Fall Float Trips

Posted on January 28th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Early Fall Float Trips: Introduction

As air and water temperatures cool in late August or the first week of September, flows continue to drop and aquatic insect hatches turn back on. The next month or so, basically the month of September, offers the best match-the-hatch fishing of the season. Even large trout sometimes rise to tiny flies, and good fishing is still possible with terrestrial dry flies as well.

Early fall float trips are all about flexibility. If it’s warm and bright, we’ll want to fish hoppers and ants for numbers of free-rising cutthroats on the upper Yellowstone or for rainbows and browns on the lower Stillwater. If it’s cool and gray, it might be prime time to float the Yellowstone’s “town section” or east of Livingston and hope for a few monsters.

This is rapidly becoming the second most-popular period for float trips in the region, after early summer, and for good reason: the weather and water conditions are great, the fish are fat and healthy, and the crowds of general tourists have departed. There can still be quite a few fishing boats out on the water, but except on Labor Day Weekend there are far fewer than during the summer. The Stillwater River in particular is far less busy once September rolls around than earlier.

Large dry fly caught cuttbow on an early autumn float

This beautiful Yellowstone cutthroat ate a #18 Blue-winged Olive dry fly while Walter had the boat pulled into an eddy. The fish ran into the current and he had to hop into the boat to chase it down while his client’s reel screamed.

Here are a couple facts to keep in mind while you read this post:

  1. Early autumn is our favorite time to guide float trips on the Yellowstone and Stillwater Rivers (provided the Stillwater is high enough, sometimes it’s too low in the fall).
  2. While there aren’t any monster trout included on this page, every pictured fish here ate a dry fly. In fact, probably 80% of the trout we see on early fall float trips eat dries. Most of the rest eat emergers or small nymphs beneath these dries.

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Late Summer Float Trips

Posted on January 28th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Late Summer Float Trips: Introduction

Late summer begins when rivers drop from the edges of the bushes and get slower. In the meantime, rivers turn crystal clear rather than green and aquatic insect hatches diminish, but terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers and ants begin blowing into the water in greater and greater numbers.

Some rivers get too low and in some cases too warm, but others become less challenging to fish, particularly in terms of the accuracy of casts required. While not quite so consistent as early summer, this period often offers easier fishing from a technical standpoint, and certainly offers slower-paced fishing, since flows are now low and slow enough to pick targets apart rather than blowing by.

For anglers who want to target larger fish on dry flies, as well as numbers on dries and small nymphs, this is a great period.

large late summer rainbow-cutthroat hybrid trout

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Early Summer Float Trips

Posted on January 27th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Early Summer Float Trips: Introduction and Quick Facts

Between the middle of June and early July, runoff recedes and the high season begins. The next month or so finds rivers still running high and fast, but clear. Insect hatches are abundant, including the famous Salmonfly, and the trout are eager to eat after a month or more of high, muddy water.

This time of year typically offers the best caddis, stonefly, and attractor dry fly fishing of the season, especially for experienced clients able to hit small targets along the bank while the boat is jetting downriver in the high flows. This period is also a decent time for big fish on floats, especially for clients interested in fishing big nymphs and streamers.

Since the fishing and weather and water conditions are great at this time, it’s little wonder that this is the absolute peak season for float fishing in the region.

Float trip angler and large Yellowstone River brown trout

Early summer is an excellent time to target larger brown trout on big nymphs and dead-drifted streamer flies.

  • Best Waters: The Yellowstone, Boulder, and Stillwater are our favorite float rivers at this time, and with these “prime” fisheries nearby all on fire, we seldom run float trips elsewhere at this time.
  • Three Top Reasons to Come in Early Summer: 1.) This is peak dry fly time on all rivers, 2.) This time of year offers the most consistent float fishing, if not always the best fishing, and 3.) this period offers the most consistent weather and water conditions of the year.
  • Three Top Reasons to Avoid Early Summer: 1.) This is the most crowded time of year, 2.) The fishing is very fast-paced and requires accurate casting, which may be a plus or a minus depending on perspective, and 3.) Late summer and early fall are better for large fish on dry flies, though early summer is better on subsurface flies.
  • Perfect Clients: Clients with at least some fly fishing experience who enjoy fast-paced fishing and like to rack up the numbers rather than try to sight-fish or otherwise “hunt” a few big fish (though a few big fish are possible in early summer). Really, early summer is great for all clients except those who want a lazy day and those who can’t stand to see any other anglers on the water.
  • What Early Summer Does Best: Early summer provides the best attractor, caddis, and stonefly dry fly and dry-dropper fishing of the season; it’s also a good time for big trout using a few techniques and in a few places, though not generally on dries.

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Float Trips in Late Spring

Posted on January 26th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Late Spring Float Trips: Introduction

Late spring, here meaning from the beginning of the heavy spring melt in the first or second week of May through its conclusion in late June or early July, is prime time for trout fishing in many parts of the United States. In the Rockies, it’s not. This is particularly true for anglers who want to float free-flowing rivers like the Yellowstone, Boulder, and Stillwater rather than those right below dams, like the Lower Madison and Missouri.

The issue is the spring melt that raises all area rivers and turns most into raging brown chocolate milkshakes for at least a few weeks. During this timeframe, river float trips turn to tailwaters: the Madison and Missouri Rivers. These rivers downstream of dams stay clear. Therefore all that the high water they experience does is flush lots of insects and other foods into the drift for the trout to gorge on. In contrast to other rivers, tailwater rivers offer great float fishing at this time.

There’s one other factor that can influence fishing in late spring: runoff breaks. Runoff breaks are periods of cool or cold and usually dry weather that pause the spring runoff for a day or two at a time on freestone rivers, particularly the Yellowstone upstream from Livingston and the Boulder.

When a runoff break occurs, the trout in freestone rivers go bananas, feeding heavily on stonefly nymphs and streamers. If you happen to be here in May or the first three weeks of June when flows are dropping and water clarity is 18 inches or more, fishing on freestones can be better than it is almost any other time of year. You just can’t plan for these breaks, because they’re utterly dependent on day-to-day weather.

late spring runoff break brown trout

This brown came on the Yellowstone River during a runoff break around June 20, 2019, right before the river blew out again. The Yellowstone did not drop into fishable shape for good until July 7 that year.

Other good guided trip options this time of year are our power boat trips and private lake trips. As a matter of fact, this is the one period when these alternative trips are definitely better choices than float trips if you want to fish from a boat. That said, for many anglers nothing can compete with drifting down a river on a boat propelled by oars. Read on for info on where and how we do it through most of May and June.

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Test Post

Posted on January 26th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

By far my favorite river to guide in early spring is the Yellowstone. It is clear most of the time in this period, though warm weather can muddy it for a day or two as low-elevation snow melts, especially when the warm weather is accompanied by rain. When this occurs, the lower Madison is a great option. Further afield, the Missouri below Holter Dam is always great in early spring, and sees less traffic at this time than it does a few weeks later.

The major downside of early spring is the weather. “Spring” in Montana is not like spring in warmer places. It might be 15 degrees in the morning. It might snow all day. Worse, it might spit a mix of drizzle and snow. The wind often howls. It might also be 80 degrees and turn the rivers filthy with early snowmelt down from the mountains. Floating can therefore be rather uncomfortable when the weather is bad, and it can be unproductive when it’s “good.” The somewhat variable water and weather conditions carry over to the fishing: it’s not consistent. Sometimes it’s great, but it can be tough too, especially if you’re after big numbers of fish rather than larger fish.

During early spring, half-day trips are better choices most of the time. This is especially true in March. Later in April, and especially in the few days of May before the runoff hits, the water warms and the fish get more aggressive, meaning full days are also a great option. Regardless of trip duration, we won’t meet early. There’s seldom any need to be on the water before 10:00AM.

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