Epic Salmonfly Hatch Predicted for Western Montana Rivers


It never fails.  Every year about this time, as the rivers start to finally drop and clear, people start talking about salmonflies.  They are the most famous bug in fly fishing, they bring thousands of people to Montana every year, they are huge, and they are coming very soon.  In fact, the word throughout the fishing community is that some are already here.

For the last 3 years, I haven’t even tied on a salmonfly.  Not once.  This is because the famous hatch usually falls right in the middle, or towards the very end of spring runoff.  We simply had too much water the past few years during May and June to fish the big bugs, but this year will be very different.

Runoff already appears to be slowing down after our unusually warm May, and this is crucial for two very important reasons.  For trout to eat a dry fly, they need a number of things to fall in place, but some are more important than others.  Aside from the bugs themselves, water clarity and consistent flows are arguably the two most crucial elements for a day of good dry fly fishing.  This should happen to our rivers in the next couple of weeks, just in time for the hatch.

Salmonfly Hatch 2013 - Western Montana Rivers.

Salmonfly – They are coming. Salmonflies are to trout what the Kettlehouse’s beers are to Missoulians.


Obviously this is all speculation, but it’s looking very good for some serious dry fly fishing in the beginning of June.  Just to clarify how good it can get, we aren’t talking about “catching a fish every spot” good.  We’re talking about all-out crazy, fish eating every cast, don’t even finish one beer all day because you don’t have time…kind of good.  We’re talking about a truly world class fishing experience.  One which we all get to enjoy first hand sometime in the next 3 weeks.

If you have ever worked at a fly shop in Montana, or have hung out in one for longer than ten minutes during the month of June you have surely heard this question, “How are the salmonflies on Rock Creek?”  I have answered this question more times than I care to admit, but there is a very good reason why so many people are willing to fly across the country (or the world) just to fish Rock Creek in June.  When it’s really happening it is possible to land over 100 fish in a day.  Seriously…this is actually a true statement.

boone bass creek brown

Brown trout- If there aren’t any bugs in the air the fish will also eat streamers this time of year.

Rock Creek, of course, always gets the most attention this time of year because it has historically had the biggest number of salmonflies, and because the river is loaded with smaller trout that are very aggressive.  It is also the easiest river to access by foot this time of year, but because of this it can be difficult to find an inch of river to fish without having 5 other people standing right next to you.

It gets crowded because for some reason it is considered the only river in the Missoula area that gets a good hatch.  This is not even remotely true, and if you are willing to take a chance, you can find yourself fishing salmonflies close to town with relative solitude.  This seems like a fairy tale, but it is true.  Go to the Blackfoot, the East and West fork of the Bitterroot, or the upper Clark, and you will find out what I’m talking about.

Fly Fishing in Western Montana.

Ya gotta love spring in Montana.


These are just a few options that are close to Missoula, and if you are willing to drive the possibilities are seemingly endless.  If you find yourself in the middle of a salmonfly hatch on the Madison or the Bighole you might never fish Rock Creek again.  They are that good, and will probably forever be the greatest slamonfly rivers in the world.

So this June try something new.  Rock Creek is great, don’t get me wrong, but a change of pace never hurt anybody.  Most of all, enjoy yourselves out there because I think it’s safe to say that this hatch is a bit more rare than we previously thought.  Go get yourself some “bird sized” orange and black flies and get after it.  It’s coming any day now, and for the next few weeks we plan to give you a weekly update on which river has the bugs and exactly where they are.  Good luck out there, and be safe.  Even though the rivers are slowing down they are still big and are still dangerous if you aren’t careful.


Read more about Fishing the Bitteroot River, the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, and western Montana Lakes.

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Bryce McLean BioBryce McLean was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his third season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth. BigSkyTrouting.com.

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