Ahhh…. Fall Missoula fly fishing for trout! What is better? No really, what is better? If you feel the same way, then it is surely time to take a few days off and find not only solitude and beauty on the river but some nice fish! Since we are here in Missoula, Montana and most people are out hunting deer, elk, upland birds, etc. the pressure on the river is way down. The water temps are cool and the fish are happy and know winter is coming. The brown trout, the rainbow trout and the Westslope cutthroat all need to load up and put on a pound or two.
My personal favorite t0 fly fish in the fall is the Bitterroot River. This river has some very big fish. This year the water is low so the most effective way to fish is to wade fish. I love to float but wade fishing in the fall is superior in many ways. If you float, make sure you stop above holes and wade down to them before plowing in and scaring the fish with the boat. Wade fishing is so peaceful in the fall and something you can do alone. All our rivers in this area, the Blackfoot, the Clark Fork and the Bitterroot are very wadeable.
I like to carry two rods and have one rigged with my favorite streamer and Airflo’s Streamer Max line or a sinking poly leader from Rio, Orvis or Airflo. The other rod is rigged with a dry fly or small nymph. If I am just fishing the main river and only have one rod, I rig it with a streamer. If I know I want to hit some backwater sloughs, then I rig a rod with a long leader and tippet and put on a small pheasant tail or baetis nymph in size 18 or 20. I sight fish the sloughs to cruising fish and watch them come after the small nymph. You can lead them by six feet and the small splash will not scare them, in fact it will grab their attention and they will swim over to investigate. When you see their mouth open and close, hit them delicately as you will need 5x tippet or smaller to fool them. Use this same set up to a pod of risers in the main river. Swing the nymph slowly and carefully to the lead or outside fish. This is of course subsurface and you will feel the fish tug. Keep the tip down and lead the fish away from the pod until he is securely on and out in the river before raising the tip. Our Outfitter, Drew Miller taught me this technique and it is great because you will not put the pod down, and can then try again at the next fish. I have been able to hook 3 or 4 fish from the same pod using Drew’s technique.
Now, the streamer fishing is great this time of year, so wade downstream and cast to the banks, off shelves and swing through riffles. Keep the tip down and make sure the streamer is headed downstream as much as possible, since bait fish generally flee downstream. Letting the line bow in the current can be a great way to swing. Sometimes a soft swing with no stripping action is the way to go, other times the swing and strip work together. If you are a patient angler, let the fly swing all the way below you in the current and wait a few seconds. Often a fish will wack it when it stops in the current. After a few seconds if no fish hammers it, then make your first strip slow before beginning a quick retrieve for the next cast. The first slow strip can elicit a strike from a fish positioned behind the fly in the current.
For my time and money, and during the fall season, wade fishing is the winner in the “float vs wade” debate. Go wade a day and enjoy the season! Nice healthy trout are waiting!
Note: These two fish were taken by my son JC and I using the Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow.