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The Best Dry Fly Hatches in Montana

Anglers travel from all across the world to enjoy the excellent dry fly hatches afforded to us in Montana. From April through October, anglers can count on strong hatches that make for great fly fishing on all of our blue ribbon rivers. Hatches peak on different rivers and at different times of the year, so understanding where and when to fly fish in Montana is key for the best dry fly fishing. Our Montana fly fishing guides have fished them all and know every hatch offers its own unique opportunities and challenges for anglers. Dry fly fishing in Montana is as fun as fly fishing gets and our top 5 hatches are the best in Montana.


1. Salmon Fly Hatch in Bozeman, MT

The granddaddy of them all. The annual salmonfly hatch in Bozeman, MT is Montana dry fly fishing at its finest. Many anglers make the annual pilgrimage to the Yellowstone River and Madison River during the salmonfly hatch on the hunt for trophy Montana trout on dry flies.

For the uninitiated salmonflies are giant stoneflies that hatch in huge numbers generally between June 20 and July 10 on the rivers near Bozeman, MT. The sheer size of the bugs is shocking, averaging 3-4 inches in length, and even the biggest and baddest of trout in our rivers are willing to come up for such a large meal. When you hit it right it is hands down the most fun dry fly fishing an angler will ever have. It just never gets old watching a trout demolish a #2-8 dry fly.

Timing the hatch is often the biggest challenge, as weather and conditions significantly affect the start, peak, and finish of the salmonfly hatch. Anglers can generally expect good salmonfly action on the Madison River by June 20th, peak conditions by the end of June, and the end of the hatch by July 10th. The salmonfly hatch on the Yellowstone River usually kicks off by the 1st of July, peaks by the 4th of July, and runs up through Gardiner, MT by the 10th of the month.


2. PMD Hatch on the Missouri River

The favorite hatch of anglers that enjoy technical dry fly fishing. The Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatch on the Missouri River offers spring creek style sight-fishing for some of the largest average size wild trout in the state of Montana. Trout hunting at its finest.

The PMD is a #14-18 yellow body mayfly that reliably hatches from June 10th well into July on the Missouri River. The quality of hatches vary day to day, but anglers can count on strong numbers of trout actively feeding on the surface daily. The Missouri River is world famous for its pods of rising trout and anglers will frequently encounter these large groups of 10-20+ during the PMD hatch.

The trophy trout on the Missouri River command an angler’s respect and a perfect presentation is often necessary. Some of the largest brown trout of year are caught by anglers during the PMD hatch, as the huge numbers of relatively large mayflies make for an easy meal. Anglers hoping to catch a trophy trout should expect to put the time in hunting and working single rising trout. Challenging yet rewarding dry fly fishing, perfect for seasoned anglers.


3. Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch on the Yellowstone River

The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch in Montana is best described as a blizzard of bugs. Anglers are often left speechless by the amount of caddisflies on the water at the peak of the hatch. Our trout take advantage of this mega hatch and are on the feed, eating small tan caddis by the mouthful. We feel it is the best gift a mother could ask for: world-class dry fly fishing.

The hatch generally kicks off in late April on the lower Madison River running through mid-late May on the Missouri River but peaks right around mother’s day on the Yellowstone River. While the hatch comes every year, conditions on the Yellowstone River are not always perfect. A warm April generally means run-off begins before the bugs get going making for tough conditions. Cooler weather will inevitably delay the hatch into run-off as well. When temperatures are just right anglers will find some of the best dry fly fishing of the year.

These caddisflies are #16-18 tan caddis with a bright green abdomen. The best fly fishing is generally early in the hatch as the bugs are emerging and into the early afternoon. By the time the blizzard of bugs peaks and whole mats of flies start to float down the Yellowstone River, the trout are often already gorged from a day’s worth of eating. Choosing a pattern that stands out from the crowd is often the key to success, otherwise your fly is just one of many. While the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch on the Yellowstone River is often hard to hit, it is a roll of the dice that is always worth it.


4. Spring and Fall BWO Hatch

The Blue Winged Olive (BWO) mayfly hatch in Montana comes every Spring and Fall is a favorite amongst all of our anglers and Montana fly fishing guides. While the bugs are small #18-22 olive body mayflies, the hatches are strong and the trout get on them. The hatch is available to fish on almost all of our Montana rivers in April and October.

Anglers will find the best dry fly fishing on the Yellowstone River in April and the Missouri River in October. What we love about this hatch most is the solitude on the water that comes with it. Spring and Fall fly fishing in Montana often presents anglers will tough conditions but anglers that aren’t deterred by the cold or wind will be treated to empty rivers and great dry fly fishing.

What the BWO lacks in size it makes up for in quantity and anglers will often encounter blanket-hatches that bring seemingly every fish in the river to the surface. The dry fly fishing ranges from easy to technical, and offers fun challenges and opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. River flows are often low during April and October in Montana making for great wade fishing conditions during the BWO hatch. Anglers can often spend whole afternoons stalking rising trout on a single flat.


5. Hopper Fishing in Bozeman, MT

August is hopper season in Bozeman, MT. While hoppers do not hatch in the sense that other flies do, they are present in huge numbers from late-July through mid-September with peak conditions in August. On the best years the banks of the Yellowstone River and Madison River will be alive with hoppers clicking in concert daily. Anglers walking through hayfields with find clouds of hoppers jumping with each step. Every trout in the river will be eagerly waiting for its next meal.

Anglers will find success with dry fly grasshopper imitations of varying size and color. #4-14 flies can all be productive depending on water type and conditions. Consistently productive colors include tan, yellow, and cream as well as brighter colors including pink and purple. Our Montana fly fishing guides generally prefer float fishing and covering water when fly fishing with hoppers. Consistently targeting the best holding water in the river is the key to success.

Hopper fishing conditions vary on a year-to-year basis, but anglers can count on consistently good hopper fishing on all but the lowest flow and highest water temperature years. Sunny windy days in August often make for the best action, but there is an element of randomness to hopper fishing that always keeps an angler on their toes. The best trout often come when you least expect it.

While there are many great hatches to fly fish in Montana, our top 5 hatches to fly fish in Montana are the most consistently productive for anglers. Anglers interested in booking a Montana fly fishing trip to enjoy the best hatches in Montana can contact us to learn more about our fly fishing trips and guides.