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Fishing report: Final days of dry fly fishing are here

Fishing report: Final days of dry fly fishing are here

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Lee Von Hagen

Lee Von Hagen reeled in this 11-pound, 14-ounce walleye while fishing on Fort Peck Reservoir on Sept. 18. He released the big fish to fight another day.

Welcome to this year’s final Billings Gazette fishing report. From our perspective, it has been a solid year of fishing throughout the Big Sky state.

This week the Big Hole River is fishing well throughout the entire day. Get your attractor dry fly fishing while you still can.

The sauger bite is picking up near the state line if you’re on Bighorn Reservoir.

For a sure thing, travel to the Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir for a fat kokanee. Remember the snagging limit is 35 daily.

The rainbow trout action has picked up recently at Holter Reservoir. Try Oxbow Bend to the Sleeping Giant.

The Yellowstone River in the Huntley area is producing some fat sauger and smallmouth bass on minnows and crawlers.

Top picks

Big Hole River — These waters are fishing well throughout the entire day. Hoppers, ants, caddis and Tricos are out, with ants being the hottest item on the menu. On cloudier days BWOs are also making an appearance. A Hopper with an Ant or dropper has been very productive. Streamer fishing has been solid using yellow, white, olive and black ones depending on the conditions that day. Smaller flashy streamers have been getting eats when the sun is high and bright. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — The sauger bite is picking up by the state line in about 15 feet of water jigging and trolling crankbaits. Some smallmouth have been caught, just not a lot of them. — Pryor Creek Bait Co., Laurel

Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir — The snagging season for kokanee salmon opened Sept. 1 and will run through Oct. 31. Limits are 35 salmon daily with 70 in possession. Anglers are starting to pick up quite a few fish and the action should continue to get better throughout the month. Snagging near the Pump House and the Outlet has been pretty productive and popular and snagging near the inlet has been producing the best salmon numbers lately. — FWP, Helena.

Holter Reservoir — Rainbow action was pretty good over the weekend. Most fish were picked up while trolling cowbells tipped with crawlers in the canyon from Oxbow Bend to the Sleeping Giant. Trout anglers are also picking up some fat fish from shore at Departure Point and the Gates of the Mountains with crawlers and PowerBait. Perch action is still pretty good. The best bite has been between Split Rock and the Power Lines. Pitching jigs around weed beds in 10-12 feet of water is working. Small green, orange or black jigs tipped with crawlers are popular choices. Walleye fishing was slow over the weekend. — FWP, Helena.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — Bass and sauger fishing in the Huntley area has been very good. Minnows, crawlers and soft plastics have been working well. The catfishing has remained steady. — Huntley Bait and Tackle.


Ackley Lake — The smoke has affected the fishing a little by mimicking cloud cover. The fishing has slowed down a bit. Hopefully things will improve with better weather. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Beaverhead River — Action has slowed down dramatically. We are having tough fishing from the dam down to Barretts. The flows have dropped and the water coming out of the reservoir is off-color and tons of moss is floating downstream. It is hard to fish anything other than a dry fly and maybe a streamer. If you throw any nymphs you will pick up a moss salad. — Sunrise Fly Shop.

Bighorn River — The fishing has been very good overall. We are seeing a fair amount of grass growth on the Upper 3, making the mid-lower river a better option.  Nymphing has been the most productive with Sowbugs (Carpet Bugs, Rays), Scuds, Worms (chenille and wire) and some Caddis Pupa (PT's, Poodle Sniffers) here and there. The Tricos have shown up, but we haven't seen a whole lot of big fish looking for them. Not a whole lot of dry fly options at the moment. Streamer fishing has been great on cloudier days, but good overall. Smaller buggers and leech patterns are your best options. — Bighorn Angler, Fort Smith.

Bitterroot River ­­— These waters are fishing well and the smoke from fires has actually helped by producing artificial clouds. The lower section is seeing consistent Trico fishing with spinners (20-22). A few Hecubas are hatching and a size 10-12 Bindle Chute, Lazer Pointe Drake, or Flash Cripple will get the job done. Hopper fishing continues to produce in the afternoons. Streamer fishing is another great option. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Blackfoot River — A few Tricos are out in the later morning and afternoon as the temps cool down. A size 18 P-Haze or Adams with a Trico Spinner or dun off the back will help you track your Trico better. Hoppers in tan, pink or yellow with a San Juan, Jig Nymph, Rubberlegs or Copper John off the back. Streamer fishing is also another great option. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Boulder River — The water has dropped significantly. With the warmer weather a Chubby or Stimulator with an attractor mayfly nymph below is a good bet. Good reports using a pink Hopper and purple Water Walker have been coming in. With the cooler nights, BWOs are out. The nymph and streamer game has picked up nicely. Try running a dark-colored Stonefly with a Pheasant Tail dropper. For streamers, stay on the small size in natural colors. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — Walleye fishing has slowed down. A few successful anglers reported bottom bouncing and using jigs near Hole-In-The-Wall, Confederate and from Hellgate to Avalanche in 20 to 40 feet of water. Shore anglers are catching some walleye at Confederate in the mornings and rainbows in the evenings. Shore anglers are catching yellow perch on worms north of the Silos. — FWP, Helena.

Clark Fork River, Missoula — These waters are fishing great right now and the smoke cloud cover is helping the bugs hatch and fish rise. Tricos around noon to early afternoon are hatching consistently west of town. Light tippets and Tricos (20-22) are the name of the game. Presentation matters more than the fly at this point. We are starting to see a few Mahoganies and Hecubas as well. Hopper/dropper fishing is good in the afternoon with your favorite hopper and a San Juan, Jig Nymph or Rubberlegs off the back. Streamer fishing will continue to be good with the smoky cloud cover. Smaller white or olive streamers are great like Zonkers, Mason’s Junior, Jewel Thief’s and Sparkle Minnows. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula

Cooney Reservoir — The fish cleaning station in Red Lodge Arm Campground will close after this weekend. Trout are being caught across the reservoir with worms and corn. Perch have been caught from shore. Anglers have been jigging for walleye in the evenings. — Cooney State Park.

Flathead Lake (North) — Lake trout are being caught jigging large Glow Tails and White Jigs in deeper water along ledges and shelves. Spoons are also effective on fair weather days, trolling in shallow rocky water. The whitefish bite is slow. — Snappys Sport Senter, Kalispell.

Flathead Lake (South) — The whitefish bite never really caught on this year. Lake trout are being caught in 60 to 90 feet of water, but they are staging to spawn in 180 feet. There are a lot of perch fry in the weed beds. This has made for excellent perch (8-10.5 inches) fishing. From now until the ice forms the fishing will slow down. The lake trout fishing will continue to get better on through their spawning season till the end of November. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River — The trout have been actively feeding, leading to fair success lately on the river. Grab your favorite spinner or Thomas Cyclone spoon. Whitefish should start working their way upriver in the next couple weeks, so grab some Anklebiters and Whitefish Jigs. — Snappys Sport Senter, Kalispell.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — Salmon fishing and the lake trout bite are slow. There has been a decent pike bite farther back in the bays pitching spoons and pulling crankbaits. The walleye bite is on the slow side with jigging Raps and minnows in 25-35 feet of water. Smallmouth are being caught in 30-40 feet of water with a slip bobber and minnows. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Gallatin River — Hoppers and other terrestrials are tapering off, but dry Hopper rigs are still picking up fish here and there. Most anglers are digging out their bobbers, as the nymph bite has been very consistent. A darker-colored Stonefly with a Pheasant Tail dropper is hard to beat. Other popular choices include Caddis Pupa, soft hackles, mayfly attractors, Worms and Midges. Streamer fishing has picked up and should continue to get better. Stick to smaller steamers in olive, white and black. A sink tip or an extra split shot or two can certainly help. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Georgetown Lake — The best techniques here are stripping leech patterns, Callibaetis nymphs, Scuds, and dead-drifting Chironomids and Sowbugs. Try an Adams or Callibaetis in a size 16. Anywhere you can put a fly will work. Sight fishing in 1-3 feet of water is optimal. The best time to fish is in the early morning or late evening. Fishing will be good through the fall until the ice is on. — Flint Creek Outdoors, Philipsburg.

Hauser Reservoir — A few rainbows were caught over the weekend. Most are being picked up around York Bridge, White Sandy and Black Sandy while out trolling cowbells with Wedding Rings 10-20 feet down. Shore anglers are also picking up a few rainbows around Black Sandy and the Causeway Bridge as well with plain crawlers and marshmallows. Very few walleye and perch were seen over the weekend. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — The window is closing fast on dry fly opportunities. A few have been doing OK with black Buggers and Barr's Boufaces up in the Madison Arm, where some fish have staged before they make their run into the park. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Kootenai River — Dry fly action is great throughout the entire day. Caddis and PMDs are waning but still active in specific areas. Hecuba spinner falls are getting better each day, but also still occurring in the mornings over riffles. Try a Parachute PMD (16), rusty or cream colored spinner, or an Elk Hair Caddis. Downsize your bug or consider natural materials if the bite is slow. Look for fish 2-6 feet deep and especially in boulder gardens and deep riffles. Patterns: Parachute Adams, purple Chubby, red Chubby, hopper patterns, terrestrial patterns, Parachute PMDs, Rusty Spinner, Spent Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, Caddis Pupae and Prince Nymph. — Linehan Outfitting Company, Troy.

Lake Koocanusa — Kokanee have been very slow lately because of spawning. The rainbow fishing is picking up with the cooler weather. Anything black, silver and red is hitting right now. — Koocanusa Resort and Marina, Libby.

Madison RiverLower — BWOs are out and the fish are taking notice. Don't head out this way without some in your box. The nymph bite has been solid lately. Crayfish, Worms, soft hackles, Caddis Pupa, and attractor mayfly patterns are our go-to tactic. Streamer fishing is taking off and some big browns have fallen victim for bigger flies. For now, smaller natural-colored streamers have been working best, as the big articulated flies are getting more refusals than eats. Don't ignore the Woolly Bugger. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

 Madison River, Upper — We are just starting to see fall BWOs, but the bulk of the other hatches are done and over until next year. Small and flashy is the name of the game if you decide to nymph. Green Machines, $3 Dips, Purple Deaths, and Zebra Midges are all good bets. The hopper bite has slowed down quite a bit, but some bigger fish will still eat them on occasion. When the streamer bite is on try natural colors and smaller profile streamers. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

­Rock Creek (West) — The higher up you go the better the fishing gets. The lower is being fished quite a bit. This is making for picky fish. It is terrestrial and attractor dry fly time. Hoppers (12-14) or P-Haze (14), Adams, Bindle Chutes, Stimulators or Royal Wulffs are great options. Don’t overlook fishing Ants and Beetles either. Nymphing the runs has been good as well with any Jig Nymphs and San Juans. Streamer fishing continues to get better as the days get shorter and the nights cooler. Brown/yellow streamers are great options. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Spring Creek — Hopper flies and Caddis nymphs have been productive for trout. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — Flows are still hovering in the 500 cfs range. The river is bony, but still floatable in the lower sections. Hopper fishing will still continue on most afternoons as it warms up. Big dries like PMXs, Stimulators, Jack Cabe and smaller size Chubbies (10-14) and hopper patterns like Fat Franks in peach, purple, gold, olive and tan have been working well too. Dropper nymphs have been successful with smaller size Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, red Copper Johns, and Lil’ Spankers picking up fish. Straight nymphing with a double nymph setup of a bigger rubberleg like a Girdle Bug or Pat’s Rubberleg along with a smaller beadhead nymph like a Prince, Optic Nerve, Batman, Lightning Bug, Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear have been productive. On poor weather days look for BWOs to pop. If so, fish the old reliable Purple Haze in a smaller size. Another good combination has been to fish a double dry setup with a Purple Haze trailed by a size 14 Jack Cabe or Stimulator. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — Try nymphing in the morning before the hoppers get going early afternoon. Nymphing early with a bigger lead fly like a Rubberleg Prince Nymph, or Batman with an Optic Nerve, Beadhead Flashback Pheasant Tail, Lil’ Spanker, or Hare’s Ear as a trailer should produce. There may also may still be some Trico spinners in the mid-morning with fish rising to them in the slicks and back eddy water. If so, a small size Purple Haze or Parachute Adams should do the trick. If the fish are on the Hopper in the afternoon, patterns like a Fat Frank, Yellowstoner Hopper, Water Walker or Chubby in peach, olive, purple, pink, red or tan size 6-10 have been working well. Try fishing a double Hopper setup with a larger top pattern and a smaller trailing Hopper like an Otter Hopper, Parachute Hopper, Micro Chubby, or Fat Frank. Space them well apart to cover different lines of current on the water. During the afternoon, fishing a double dry fly setup of a Jack Cabe and a Purple Haze searching likely water is a good option. Also try dead drifting Buggers. Now’s the time to start think about streamer fishing, and The Grinch and Electric Goldfish are always good choices. The Hecubas have started to show up on some days and a big size 10 Purple Haze or Parachute Adams has been picking up fish in the afternoon. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — Hoppers aren’t our first choice of flies right now, but if it warms back up we might see a few more big browns eating them on top. Look for BWOs, as these cloudier days have the fish looking up. If it’s slow on top, try throwing a selection of nymphs. Stoneflies, Worms, soft hackles, and attractor mayflies are all on the menu. We have had some good reports from anglers getting fish on streamers. Time to break out the big rods and sink tips. Natural colors such as olive, white and black seem to be the hot colors. Size and profile have been varying day to day with the weather. Dead drifting a sculpin or baitfish under a bobber has resulted in some big fish hitting the net. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

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