After the crowds of summer have gone.
There’s no better season for fishing than autumn. Cooler weather keeps water temperatures in the sweet spot for trout; shorter days trigger many fish species to feed actively, and for longer periods of time as they prepare for winter; and as a bonus, our local waters are vastly less crowded.
Preparation & Information
The best way to take advantage of autumn’s angling opportunities is to be prepared and informed. Preparation is easy: keep all your necessary fishing equipment—especially foul-weather gear—organized and ready to go. Autumn’s shorter days don’t allow for much mosey time. It’s always better to be on the water than fumbling through a pile of clutter.
Keep an eye on current steam flows, temps, and weather conditions, with a sharp focus on the barometer. Fishing tends to be better on a falling or low barometer reading. Tackle shops and the Montana Outdoor Radio Show are also fantastic resources for fall fishing beta.
The best waters to fish in the fall are the ones that are merely “good” during the heat of the summer. Focus on large rivers, lakes, and reservoirs for more success. Small streams not only close November 30, but brown trout also use these areas for spawning, so it’s best to leave them alone. There are more than enough great fall fisheries to keep the shoulder-season angler busy, all less than an hour from Bozeman.
Within the last 15 years, Canyon Ferry has produced some quality walleye, and fall brings great trout fishing. Cooler temps lure the larger rainbows into shallower waters, and despite the size of this reservoir, solid fishing can be had from the bank or a float tube. Hebgen Lake’s size can be daunting, but as the temperatures drop, the shallows and deltas of the tributaries can be productive for browns and rainbows. Sucker minnow, crayfish, and leech patterns tend to provide the most action. Known for walleye, perch, and rainbows, Hauser Lake can be a top producer for fall fishing. Boat access is highly recommended. Focus on steep banks and rocky points. Heavy streamers, jigs, and lures are all consistent producers. Don’t be afraid to switch patterns often until the right one is found, and never be too proud to rig up with the standard nightcrawler.
The Madison is a sleeper for fantastic fall fishing. Stick to the lower stretches, which are devoid of anglers throughout summer thanks to the bikini hatch. Focus on pocket water and the edge of weedbeds, and remember that streamers and spinners are the best choices. The Yellowstone River can be fickle during the fall—on one day and off the next. However, given its healthy population of mountain whitefish, a good angler is sure to get a bend in the rod. Keep fly and lure choices simple, and focus on riffles and structure for the best results. Keep in mind the predatory nature of pre-spawn browns and don’t shy away from large streamers. A classic tailwater, the Missouri sees more than her fair share of boat traffic during peak season. But patience is a virtue and will be rewarded if one is willing to cope with an early snowstorm or nasty rain. While the inclination in the fall is to go big, don’t neglect midge and emerger patterns. As a tailwater, this river tends to maintain a relatively consistent temperature, which extends hatch cycles late into fall.
No matter what water you choose, autumn in Montana is truly a magical season. Stay safe, and stay legal. For more information on fall fishing, visit fwp.mt.gov.
Kurt Dehmer lives in Bozeman and operates Durty Kurty’s Guide Service.