Last week of the 2018 season and it was a great one!

Monday was my last float of the season with local anglers, Jim and Mike.  We had gorgeous weather, almost too good with bright sunny skies and highs in the 50’s.  We met late looking to take advantage of the best dry fly window and both Jim and Mike stuck fish in the first run on top.  It was a little spotty after that in the next couple of runs so we stopped for a bite to eat and crossed our fingers for bugs.  After lunch, the guys doubled up in the first really good run we came to.  We floated that a couple more times and picked up nice fish on each pass.  A little further downstream we came to a spot with a group of rising fish behind a tree that was tailor-made for a southpaw.  Luckily we had a lefty in the front of the boat and Jim connected with 3 solid cutthroats in there that would have been close to impossible for a right-hander.  By this time the bugs were coming off strong and the fish were looking up despite the bright sun.  A foamy back eddy was our next target.  It’s a tough drift with hard visibility but on the second cast, Jim came tight on a big fish.  After a good fight on a size 18 dry, he had the very same 20″ cuttbow in the net that he had landed 4 days earlier on his birthday!  It was a great fish and awesome moment in the boat.  The stellar fishing continued from there.  We doubled again just downstream and in the next run where Mike poked a stunning 19″ cutthroat we watched rise for a while.  There were good targets for the bright conditions and the fish were more than willing to eat a well-presented fly.  Not only was the fishing good, but the setting was absolutely spectacular.  Bright colors in the trees, snow-capped peaks, and cobalt blue skies made for a stellar day on the river.  We closed out the day with fish in all of the likely spots as Mike fooled two more as we pulled into his place.  It was a great end to the season with Jim and Mike and I look forward to many more days on the water with this pair in the future.

Big cutthroat that fell for Mike’s dry fly
Jim caught this exact 20″ cuttbow in the same spot just 4 days ago!
The beauty of October
Tuesday I fished with long-time anglers, Dick and Craig, for their fall trip to Missoula.  We were joined by angler Vince and guide Scott on a middle section of the Bitterroot.  It was a wet, cold, windy day and we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  I started the guys off with hopper/dropper rigs and there wasn’t much happening in the first couple of runs until Dick connected with a small rainbow on the dropper.  Then we worked into a side channel where Craig hooked into 2 solid fish and landed a gorgeous 16″ rainbow.  From there the action started to pick up.  Craig battled with a big 20″ brown just a couple runs downstream, the guys doubled briefly and then Dick landed a big-spotted 18″ brown.  The big fish were definitely moving in the morning as we stuck a couple more before pulling out of the wind for lunch.  In the afternoon the rain let off but the wind picked up which made for some challenging fishing conditions.  The dropper fishing wasn’t quite as consistent but the guys were still picking up fish here and there and they were all good sized.  Later in the afternoon, we found a foamy seam that had a bunch of fish just hammering dries so we switched rods and played the dry fly game.  It was a tough drift with all the foam and the wind but we were able to get some good drifts, hooking 5 and landing 4 in that spot including a colorful 17″ rainbow.  Below that the run was boiling with rising fish and both Dick and Craig landed their first ever whitefish on dry flies.  Don’t see that every day but with the small bugs they will start looking up.  We closed out the day with Dick on the hopper/dropper and a couple more hearty rainbows while Craig fished a smaller mayfly dry/dropper that produced a few eats and one last bright rainbow right at the takeout.  The weather was harsh today, but the guys made the best of it and the fishing was solid despite the conditions.  Vince and Scott did very well also with a bunch of great fish in the boat.
Chilly October day on the Bitterroot
Craig with a hot side-channel rainbow
He followed that up with this beefy 20″ brown
Dick found an awesome brown of his own
Wednesday was another cool, cloudy one so we set with the group to the lower Bitterroot.  Craig got us started with a rainbow in the first run on the dropper.  The guys briefly doubled in the run below that and Dick landed a bright 18″ rainbow on a mayfly nymph.  Dick’s streak continued as he connected with the next few fish as well.  The takes were very subtle and he was right on top of them.  Then we hit a little lull mid-morning when there wasn’t much action.  I switched bugs a bunch to no avail and then the light switch flipped again as Dick boated one on the dropper and one on the big dry and Craig hooked a couple in the run just before lunch.  While we ate I noticed the mayflies coming off and saw a couple fish rise so we decided to go with the dry fly rods in the afternoon.  Right away we doubled up in the first run, and the second pass produced an 18″ bow for Dick on a size 18 blue-wing.  From there we fished single mahagony dries for the rest of the day and it was excellent dry fly fishing.  We had one run where the guys hooked 5 or 6.  They doubled up just below that as Craig had a hot 16 incher and Dick landed a brute 19″ rainbow.  There were some small fish looking up too but the average size was good, from 14-17″ and we raised fish in every single spot.  The guys had a couple more doubles and great action throughout the afternoon.  It was a banner day for Dick and he closed us out with a pair of nice fish in our last run of the day.  We had just enough bugs to get the fish looking up, but not so many that they were especially picky.  If we showed a fish the fly on a good drift it was almost guaranteed that they would eat it.  Vince and Scott stayed with the hopper/dropper all afternoon and it produced very well too.  Vince landed a bunch of hard fighting fish including a big 19″ rainbow in the afternoon.  It was a terrific fall day on the Bitterroot and the trout simply wanted to eat.
Dick with an 18″ bow to start his day
Classic Bitterroot in the fall
Dick with an 18″ bow on an 18 dry fly
Dry fly double with Craig
Thursday was my last day with Craig and Dick.  With a forecast of bright, sunny weather I thought the lower Clark Fork would be the best call.  To our surprise, it was cloudy at the put-in and we hurried to take advantage of the overcast.  Craig was simply on fire this morning in the front of the boat.  He got the skunk off with a cutthroat in the second run and then went on a tear with a bunch of nice fish.  He stuck a big 17.5″ rainbow, several others in the 15″ range, and a big 18″ brown trout that took some big runs upriver.  He certainly wasn’t leaving much behind, but Dick was able to double up with him a few times and find some other trout although there was a distinct size difference between front and back early on.  Every spot was producing well until the clouds started to fade around 11.  At that point we picked up a couple more and then the fishing tightened up.  When a couple of good runs didn’t yield a strike it was time to stop for lunch.  Craig’s hot streak continued into the afternoon with the first two fish in a good run.  Then Dick joined in on a double.  By then it was starting to cloud up again and we switched over to single dry flies.  Dick picked off the first few with the dry fly and then the guys doubled briefly again.  For the rest of the day, we switched between the hopper/dropper rod and the single dry.  The dry worked best in the slower water while the dropper produced in fast currents.  Dick stuck a pair of fat 16″ cuttbows, one on the hopper and another on a little blue-wing toward the end of the day.  Craig finished off with a colorful cutthroat in the run above the boat ramp while Dick added one more rainbow right across from the ramp.  The fishing was much better than I expected today, and we were certainly helped by the cloud cover.  It was good action from start to finish with a mix of trout on hoppers, droppers, and single dry flies.  Dick and Craig had a great 3 days of fishing around Missoula this fall and I look forward to seeing them next on the Missouri in May!
Craig getting us started with a fat rainbow
Perfect and rare brown trout from the lower Clark Fork
Stunning day on the river
For the past few years, I have closed out my fishing season with Diane over on the Missouri.  Friday was the first of 3 days and we launched at Dearborn under cloudy skies and cool temps.  We started off with the deep nymph rod and Diane was tight to a jumping rainbow straight out from the boat ramp.  The next big flat below that produced several more fish and then we decided to try the short leash nymph rig in some faster water.  The trout were looking for that too as she tagged a few more on the next bank and then connected with a great 17″ brown.  We stopped for lunch just downstream out of the wind and then the fishing really picked up in the early afternoon.  Diane had one long bank where she must have stuck 10 or 12 fish.  It was fast and furious for a while and then the nymph bit tapered a little to only a fish here and there.  Fortunately, we were in a great stretch of dry fly water and despite the wind, we were able to find several good groups of rising trout.  Diane always insists that I fish a little each day so I took the first two dry fly shots.  I fed both fish but missed on the hook-sets.  Diane had no such trouble though as she hooked up on a big rainbow in the first group she fished.  Then I started to get my act together some, I hooked a hot 19″ rainbow that took to the air and then managed to sneak a cast into a tough spot to fool a really big brown trout.  We didn’t put a tape on that fish but it’s the biggest brown I’ve landed in a while.  I came tight to one more brown trout before Diane was back up to finish the day.  3 more groups of risers and Diane picked a nice rainbow off out of each pod.  It was a great day on the water and a good start to our trip.
Gorgeous fall day on the Missouri

Diane with a solid brown trout in the morning
A dry fly rainbow taking to the air
It’s why we fish the Missouri in October.  Giant trout eating tiny dry flies
Saturday was a brutal tough weather day.  I woke up to an inch of snow on the ground, the high temp was forecast to be 33 with a cold north wind from 10-15 mph.  It’s the kind of day where you hope to catch a couple of fish while you endure what Mother Nature dishes out.  With the weather, the safest play was the Dam to Craig and just about everyone else thought the same thing.  It was busy when we launched up at the dam so we only made a couple passes up high.  The wind was a serious challenge early too, but Diane hooked two and landed one fat rainbow before we made the turn toward Wolf Creek.  We reached the bridge and I was surprised to see a group of fishing rising in those heavy winds.  The situation was challenging but Diane threw a dry/dropper rig at those fish, hooked 3 and landed a big 19″ rainbow.  The short leash nymph rig produced a couple more below that before we pulled into a side channel for lunch.  While we ate a good sized pod of fish starting rising just out from the boat so once we finished lunch I set Diane up with a single dry fly while I brewed a cup a coffee and ate dessert.  I told her it was my coffee break so she fished without any “guiding” from me and stuck a pair of rainbows on a little dry.  We actually fished mostly dry and dry/dropper stuff in the afternoon.  We found a couple more pods of rising fish and Diane converted on those opportunities and she picked off one more on a short leash before we called it a day and got out of the cold.  It was just barely warm enough that we didn’t have ice in our guides, but the wind made it feel much colder.  Diane toughed it out in the elements and was rewarded with some big upper river fish.
The scene Saturday morning
Diane hooked up in a winter wonderland
Rainbows like this making it worth braving the elements
Sunday started out even colder at 26 in the morning, but the forecast was for mid-40’s and sun with little to no wind.  The fish were active though.  We started off with the deep nymph rod and Diane hooked 2 on the first bank.  We couldn’t really find them in the slower insides where I expected in the morning, but the faster water produced.  Even the short leash worked early in the right water.  Most of the fish in the morning were smaller rainbows and browns with a couple of better ones just before lunch.  First thing in the afternoon we did some dry/dropper fishing to risers and they were eating, but proved tough to hook.  Diane did stick one bright rainbow on the dropper before we went back to the short leash.  The big eddy below Mountain Palace was good to us as Diane hooked 8 or 9 in there and landed 5.  That was the beginning of an incredible afternoon of fishing.  From that point, Diane was sticking fish in every run in the river, and in most of those runs, she was getting multiple fish.  What made it even better was that the average size continued to grow as we went downstream.  At one point Diane was landing fish as fast as I could let them go.  Fish back in the water, reset the boat and bang she would be tight into another one.  The last 20 minutes included 3 fish off one bank, then a solid 17″ rainbow, and 2 casts later she was netting a pretty 17.5″ brown.  It was after that flurry that I told Diane she had caught too many!  We agreed to finish on a high note with that brown trout and row to the boat ramp.  It was an awesome day on the Missouri and a great way to finish off my season.  It’s always such a pleasure to fish with Diane.  She has the most positive attitude of any angler I know and cherishes every minute on the river.  We already have our dates planned for next season.
The view at Mountain Palace
An eagle claiming a fish on a gravel bar
A great brown to end the trip on
My 2018 guide season in the books.  We still have some boats out through the rest of the month and the weather forecast looks favorable into late October, but it’s time for me to get out hunting with my son, Thomas, and bird dog, Ruby.  Overall it was one of the best seasons I have seen with good water levels, no fishing restrictions, and no real forest fire issues.  Thank you to everyone who came and fished with us this season!  We hope to see you again next year.  I’m checking out for a couple weeks to enjoy the last of fall in Montana.

Tight Lines,

Tony Reinhardt
Montana Trout Outfitters

Montana Fishing Report for the week of 10/14/2019

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