Montana Fly Fishing During “The Hatch”

We’re biding our time in the Rod & Gun Club, because the spring melt has begun in the lower elevations. We know that with the end of spring runoff comes a series of fly hatches that make Montana a world-famous fly fishing destination. Our spring specials are in full swing, and one of them is designed for anglers who want to take advantage of prime seasons—spring and fall—in 2018.

Soon we will be immersed in the six-week period known as the salmonfly hatch to avid fly fishermen. This period generally stretches from late May through early July on Montana’s “big bug” rivers. The celebrated period of fishing takes place on several waterways, including the Madison, Yellowstone, Gallatin, Big Hole, Smith, and our very own Rock Creek. We want to take a moment to let our waders dry off and share the three big reasons why these late spring weeks might be considered the “Carnivale” of the fishing calendar.

1. Big Fly Country

To fishermen, Montana’s nickname should probably be “Big Fly Country” instead of “Big Sky Country.” The salmonfly is a large stone fly known to entomologists as “pteronarcys californica.” It inhabits rocky rivers in the Western United States, spending three years as a nymph before reaching full maturity. One of the things that’s so phenomenal about this fly is its size. Mature salmonflies can reach three inches in length. Their orange abdomen is a calling card for big trout that call Rock Creek’s riffles home.

Montana salmon fly on a blade of grass

Fishermen customize their strategies, “nymphing” to mimic the underwater behavior of the juveniles, and using dry fly methods to copy the mature insects. After choosing the right flies, each strategy employs its own casting methods. The Rod & Gun Club provides a list of recommended seasonal flies in the FAQ section of our fly fishing page.

Patrick escorts Flint the Ranch Pup on a float to test his new personal flotation device. 

Although the salmonfly gets the most press, a number of large flies hatch during the spring and summer months on Rock Creek. You can expect to see skwala, mayfly, stonefly nymph and mayfly nymph species as well.  This sport requires skill, timing and patience in spades, which is why it becomes a lifelong sport for many Montanans. (Just ask any Rod & Gun Club staff member).

2. Trout on Tap

The salmonfly is only one half of the reason why Rock Creek is so spectacular at this time of year. Rock Creek holds the highest trout population in the region and backs that up with a special Blue Ribbon designation indicating the water quality, fish population and species diversity. On a fly fishing vacation to this Montana stream, and with plenty of dedication, it’s actually possible to achieve the fabled “Grand Slam” by catching five species of trout—a cutthroat, rainbow, brown, bull, and brookie—in a single day.

The big bugs beckon big trout, at times exceeding two feet in length. Once caught, our fishing practice is all catch and release, in order to ensure the sustainability of these spectacular species. Although we are biased, our namesake creek has been referred to by expert anglers as the perfect trout stream, due to its balanced fishing pressure, great hatches and high fish populations. Floating is only allowed on this particular stream until July 1st, so floating and wading are both popular at this time of year.

3. Fly Fishing in Comfort

The salmonfly hatch starts at the bottom of the stream and moves upward toward The Ranch at Rock Creek. At times, the flies travel in large clouds until they reach higher elevations.

The Ranch has the benefit of four miles of private creek access on Upper Rock Creek. As far as Montana fly fishing resorts go, this level of convenience is hard to beat. Avid fly fishermen like to stay in our canvas glamping cabins along Rock Creek, so that they only need leave the stream bed for Relais & Châteaux dining or a trip to the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Two people in a fishing boat

If you’re aiming to take advantage of a Blue Ribbon stream, a one-day float on the river is not enough. The ideal fly fishing vacation includes at least three full days on the floating and wading in the water. The Rod & Gun Club recommends several activities that can enhance the fly hatch experience. For new fishermen, learning to cast before getting out on the creek is essential. The calm water at Welcome Pond’s casting deck allows you to experiment with different methods, so that you’re prepared for faster waterways.

Next, study the science and artistry of fly fishing during a fly tying class. Experts teach guests to create their own flies and explain what makes a successful fly—one that mimics the natural behavior of Montana’s insects.

Fly fishing lures in a tray

Then, guests get suited at the Rod & Gun Club with waders, rods and flies and step into mountain runoff for the authentic angling experience.

Lastly, guests usually opt to go for a half-day fly fishing float trip. This spring, we offered a special Montana fly fishing trip that included a complimentary float trip on Rock Creek for guests who visited before June 7th, as well as an off-Ranch fishing excursion ($1,200 value).

Due to its popularity, we will repeat this fly fishing offer in the fall. Book a four-day trip between September 4th and November 1, and you’ll receive a float trip on a Montana waterway, off-ranch fishing excursion, fly tying classes, casting lessons and all the wading you can squeeze into a fall day. As the fall days get cooler, the fish bulk up for the winter. Lower water levels expose fishing holes and allow you to go after trophy trout. Chef Drage’s exceptional cuisine, premium spirits and luxury amenities ensure any stay at The Ranch is a bucket list adventure.

If you haven’t yet learned the art of fly fishing, we hope you get a chance to learn this beautiful sport in your lifetime. It is equal parts meditation and recreation. Rock Creek has had its hand in more than a few fish tales, and, at this time of the year, we’re even inclined to believe them.

See our most recent fishing report on our Facebook page, and check out the full list of spring and fall specials