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Best Time to Fish in Montana – What You Need To Know

For many people traveling to Montana, the single goal is to fish some of the best trout lakes, rivers, and streams. Home to some of the best fly-fishing in the world, the state offers plenty of other fishing opportunities for all manner of enthusiasts. But when is the best time to fish in Montana?

Most locals will tell you that the best time to fish in Montana is when you are in Montana. With ample opportunities to enjoy a range of fishing experiences, the traveler that comes to Montana to fish really needs to worry less about when to fish, and more on their fishing goal.

Fishing Seasons in Montana

fishing seasons in montana
Image: GlacierNPS

The first thing that you need to understand before heading to Montana to fish, is the different seasons for fishing. Sure, Montana has the normal, “Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall”, but there’s much more to it than that.

Winter – Winter runs from mid-November to mid-to-late March. Locals fish in the winter, and with quiet streams, the patient angler can expect to have a successful fishing day even with cold temps and snow on the ground. You’ll need to bundle up and watch the weather. Montana weather can change in an instant, so be prepared.

Spring – Spring runs from late March or early April to mid-May. Fishing in the spring is best in the lower elevation streams and rivers as they start to warm. Higher elevation streams are still cold and unproductive.

Run-Off – This season starts around mid-May and extends through June, and sometimes even into early July, depending on the snowpack. Run-off season is a great time to fish tailwaters. Avoid the big rivers because the water will be high and dirty.

Summer – The summer season runs from July through September, and it’s often considered the best season to go fishing in Montana. The big rivers have cleared, and high mountain and backcountry streams and lakes have warmed enough to be productive.

Fall – For locals, the fall is the ideal time to fish in Montana. It’s a short season, running just eight weeks from September through October. Tourists have gone home, which means you’ll enjoy a quiet fishing experience, and the opportunity to catch trophy size trout.

Best Time to Catch the Most Fish in Montana

fish without crowds

If your goal is to catch a lot of fish, spring into early summer is probably your best time to enjoy fishing in Montana. During this time there are more insects for fish to feed on, and you’ll be able to have good catch days on any lake, river, or stream in the state.

Keep in mind, however, this is when all the other anglers will be out.

If you’re looking for a good catch day without the crowds, wait until later in July, and head into the backcountry for high mountain fishing or fishing on private lands.

You will need to be willing to do a bit of work for these prime fishing locations. You will want an experienced fishing guide for backcountry or private land fishing, to get you to the best fishing locations safely.

Best Time to Fish In Montana Without Crowds

madison recreational river
Image: Bureau of Land Management

Not everyone wants to hike into the backcountry, and you don’t have to for amazing fishing in Montana, so if you’re looking for a great day of fishing, but don’t want to battle crowds there are two windows of time for consideration.

First, believe it or not, April to mid-June is a great time to hit the blue-ribbon streams. You’ll see some locals out, but it’s still too early for the tourists. The blue-ribbon streams will be teaming with life during this time, and you’ll have a great day.

The second time is mid-September through November. The tourists have gone home, the weather is still nice and if you want to experience some of the more famous fisheries like the Missouri, Madison, or Yellowstone this is the time. You might see one or two other anglers, but that’s about it.

Best Time to Catch “The Big One”

fly fishing on the boulder
Image: Clydehurst

Maybe you just want to catch, One. Big. Fish. If that’s your goal for fishing in Montana, there is a time for you, as well.

Many of Montana’s large reservoirs are home to some big fish that can be hooked any time of year, but if you’re looking to catch a trophy-size trout, you’ll need to know when and where to look.

In Montana, giant Brown Trout are at the top of the “Big Fish” list. Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams are well known for giant Brown Trout. If you want to snag a big one, hit the blue-ribbon streams in October and November or mid-April to early May.

Some anglers have had good luck getting huge trout during summer rainstorms. So don’t be afraid to hold out when summer showers roll through.