If you had to pick only one fly, lure or bait and one place to fish in Montana, what would it be and why?
That’s the question The Billings Gazette asked several anglers around the state. Fort Peck Reservoir was the top location for many of the fishermen who praised the variety and size of the fish there. The Stillwater River was a favored choice for the majority of the fly fishermen.
Maybe these top anglers’ suggestions can help you narrow down a place to fish and what to use. One thing is for sure, these submissions point to the great diversity of Montana’s fishery. Enjoy!
– Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor
Richard Romersa, East Rosebud Fly and Tackle
If I could fish any one fly on one particular river it would be a black conehead woolly bugger on my favorite stream, the Stillwater River near Absarokee.
Streamers are so fun to fish. I just love this kind of angling. The Stillwater River is particularly fun because its size allows an angler to cast to most of it. The Stillwater’s structure allows an angler the challenges of fishing varied types of water from large, deep pools, to long runs, to quality trout holding water directly behind large boulders.
When I throw streamers on the Stillwater, I love to use all three streamer fishing techniques, which include: stripping, or retrieving your fly, as well as dead drifting and swinging streamers downstream.
When fishing with dry flies you get the beauty of watching a trout rise and eat, as well as the best hook set in the sport. With streamer fishing you sometimes get the visual, but also the most ferocious hook set in the sport.
I fish streamers on the Stillwater in the spring, summer and fall. The best way to achieve this is by walking the stream with two rods. Walking with two rods will allow you to fish each run with your favorite dry fly setup on one rod, and your favorite streamer pattern on the other.
Paul Lindsoe, Headwaters Seat Covers
I’d have to say Fort Peck, with a jig, and the time is right now. I don’t do it all the time, but I love pitching jigs shallow and catching fish. I tip the jig with a Gulp minnow, crawlers, or swim bait plastic. I will catch walleyes with any method that is working, but I’d say the jig is the most fun.
This past weekend was post cold front and rain, so I couldn’t find shallow fish pitching jigs, but I did find them at 22 to 30 feet deep and used bottom bouncers, my homemade purple spinner harness and crawlers.
Chris Fleck, Stillwater Anglers
I enjoy fishing classic Western dry flies in Sunlight Basin, Wyo., golden stone patterns on the Bow River in Alberta and the Elk River in British Columbia, hoppers on the Snake River and many more. After much thought, I finally came back around to this: fishing my home water, the Stillwater River, with a dry fly pattern called the Jack Cabe.
I like the Stillwater because of its wide variety of water — from riffles and runs, to pocket water, to rip-rap banks. In one day’s float an angler can experience it all. The scenery is tough to beat, too, as the river flows out of the Beartooth Mountains and works its way to the Yellowstone River through a checkerboard of hay meadows and cottonwood-lined banks.
The Jack Cabe is really a very basic and simple trude-style pattern. It’s
nothing fancy, but it sure gets the job done. There are two times of the year when this fly is particularly effective. It’s one of my go-to patterns to fish immediately post runoff in July when the river is receding and golden stones and yellow sallies are prevalent, and we’re on the leading edge of the hoppers appearing in large numbers.
It makes an excellent top fly as part of the standard “dry-dropper” setup that we commonly fish. It’s both buoyant and highly visible and, if tied properly, stays upright. There is also a rubber leg variant that I like to fish that works extremely well, once again mimicking anything from a golden stone to a hopper. It’s a good pattern to fish in a wide variety of water, from riffles to meandering bank currents.
The other time of year when this fishes well is in the spring during the March brown drake hatch. A little smaller size than the summer pattern is most effective. During this time of year, tie a smaller mayfly or caddis nymph of some sort off the bend of the hook.
The Jack Cabe has been a staple in the box of local anglers and guides for a couple of decades now, but it probably won’t be found outside of the immediate region.
Clay Buckmiller, Billings PikeMasters
The No. 5 silver Mepps is Buckmiller’s go-to lure. He would fish it on Fort Peck Reservoir for a simple reason: “This lure has won more pike tournaments than any other lure. But the beauty of this lure is that it also catches tons of smallmouth bass and sometimes a walleye.
“I encourage any beginning anglers to pick up this lure, some steel leader and head to Fort Peck as the fishing for all species is really hot. The best way to fish this lure is to find some brush structure and cast toward and beyond it along the banks. Make sure you keep a loose drag on your spool because northern pike like to crush these lures and head to deep water. Hold on tight to your rod, because northern pike really fight hard.”
Bob Hickey, 2013 Montana walleye angler of the year
If I had to pick one jig it would be a color over a type. It’s called the Lucky Bob and the color is fire tiger.
My top four jig types are: Wahoo Perfection, Fire–Ball, Cabela’s Fisherman’s Series and Lenard Roberts custom jig of Great Falls. All of the jigs have a wide hook gap and barb to hold bait. My preferred weight is 1/8 ounce. I go heavier or lighter, whatever it takes to stay in the strike zone.
My rod of choice is the Fenwick HMG 6-foot-6 ML teamed with the Pflueger Patriarch 9530 reel spooled with 6/2 Berkley Fire Line in flame green. The green is so I can see the tick in my line as it swims off in a walleye mouth. The 2-pound diameter and the 1/8 ounce jig displace water very well, allowing the fish to pull the jig farther into its mouth, increasing hookups. Another trick is to slightly turn the hook point out and slightly opening the gap more.
All four jig types can be used in various presentations: vertical, pitching, snap jigging, 45-degree hopping and dragging.
Remember, an action creates a reaction. If you want to catch more fish, replicate what caught your last fish in every detail.
If I had to pick a favorite time of the year it would be May and June. My experience is every body of water in Montana that has walleye has a jig bite just waiting for you during this time. Remember: conserve and preserve, release 20-inch plus fish. The 17- to 18-inchers are the best eaters.
Josh Cavan, Montana Troutfitters
My favorite fly pattern is a Jack Cabe Stonefly. It’s a simple pattern, not as eye-catching as the foam attractors that have become so prevalent today. It’s tied as a variation of the trude, with a red hackle tail, mohair body, tan or white calf tail wing, and a mix of brown and grizzly hackle palmered at the head.
The Jack Cabe, for me, elicits nostalgia. I remember going fishing in old tennis shoes, a ratty T-shirt, $15 fiberglass fly rod, and a fly box that contained old Dave’s hoppers and prince nymphs – old, rusty flies given to me by my Dad that he was OK with me losing.
However, in my small plastic fly box I always had two Cabes that I tied on first – the full fly box just allowed me to look like a fly fisherman. I fished that fly regardless of the season.
If I had only one river to fish with a Cabe, it would be the Stillwater, and I would tie one on in late June or early July, when the golden stoneflies and yellow Sallies crawl out from under the boulders. The pocket water of the Stillwater is perfect for fishing dries, and because most casts in this type of water are short, I would rig the Cabe with a standard 7 ½-foot leader and 18 inches of 3x tippet knotted from the leader to the fly. It’s not the best fly for a dry-dropper rig, but it will hold up a smaller beaded nymph.
Mark Ward, Montana Outdoor Radio Show
My choice for a body of water is definitely a no-brainer: Fort Peck Reservoir. I would fish Fort Peck any time of the year because I know that my chances of catching a fish are pretty darn good. There are so many species in the lake that I don’t have time to mention them, but I love to catch ‘em all.
I like to use bait-pulling crawler harnesses or tipping a Kit’s Tackle glass minnow with a live minnow or leach. But the lure I would use is the Montana Outdoor Radio Show Guaranteed Lure that I call the Best of the Best — a honey mustard-colored Storm Lure wiggle wart madflash. When I pull cranks on Peck, which I seldom do, I always can count on my Walleye Wayne autographed lure to catch the big one.
Trevor Johnson, Kit’s Tackle
The fire tiger Glass Minnow from Kit’s Tackle has been crowned the king of the Fort Peck fishing lures — not only for big walleye, but a freshwater ocean of other species.
The entire month of May is the best time to fish the Big Dry Arm on Fort Peck from Rock Creek to Nelson Creek. The walleye have finished the spawn and are starting the slow migration back toward the main lake. Your job is to intercept them … along with world class northern pike, smallmouth bass and a shot at drum, catfish and even crappies.
After the spawn, the walleye go shallow in search of forage. To pitch your jig into a foot of water and get bit by a huge 30-inch walleye is as good as it gets, folks. Not to mention a couple of casts later hooking into a 4-pound smallmouth. And the fire tiger glass minnow has outfished every other jig/lure we have used here for all species. So it’s a universal tool to catching all of the Dry Arms’ awesome fish. We like to tip the ¼-ounce glass minnow with half a crawler or a 3-inch Berkley Gulp minnow.
Water temperature is the most important gauge to keep an eye on here. We like to see a sustained (meaning doesn’t get below at night) surface water temp of 50 degrees. We call this the light switch temperature because it turns the fishing on. Also look for sustained high pressure periods and avoid low pressure as much as possible. This can be a tough challenge in the month of May in Eastern Montana.
Steve Galletta, Bighorn Angler
With the summer season upon us here in southeast Montana I eagerly anticipate the abundant terrestrial fishing opportunities throughout the region. While most anglers focus their attention on the larger grasshoppers that move to the lush edges of rivers such as the Bighorn, Yellowstone and Stillwater, my best terrestrial fishing most often focuses around flying ants.
While most anglers won’t see very many flying ants in the air while on the water, trout readily take flying ant imitations throughout the hottest months of the year. On rare occasions an angler might experience an ant fall, where ants fall to the surface of the water after mating. When this occurs, the trout feed voraciously.
My go-to flying ant pattern, from June through September, is Bloom’s flying ant, developed by long-time Missouri River guide Dave Bloom. I fish this fly in black and cinnamon from sizes 12-16. This fly floats really well on the water for its size and the pink high visibility post makes it easy to see, even on choppy water.
The beauty of this pattern is found in its versatility. On the Bighorn River I fish this fly with great success over rising fish, it is a great pattern to “unmatch” the hatch with. On the Stillwater River I like to fish this fly along the edges as part of a dry-dropper rig, where I will trail a small beadhead nymph pattern 20 inches below. I have found great success on the Yellowstone River by trailing a Bloom’s flying ant behind a larger grasshopper imitation while prospecting the banks for opportunistically feeding brown trout.
Flying ant imitations are one of the most versatile fly patterns you can carry in your fly box. It can be fished with confidence on all the trout water throughout our region of Montana. This pattern also works well on tailwater rivers, as it does on freestone rivers and streams, and should be a staple in every anglers’ fly box.
Steve Harada, Walleye’s Unlimited of Montana
If I had one place to fish it would be the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir in the spring.
The post-spawn walleye bite can be phenomenal, with lots of walleye and multiple 30-inch-plus-sized walleye days possible. I like to use live bait, pitching, dragging or bouncing a jig, while also having a dead rod in a rod holder with a live bait, Lindy-type of rig. I like to have minnows, night crawlers or leaches available and a variety in the water to determine if the fish have a preference on that day. I like to be on the water fairly early in the morning, but fishing throughout the day during the spring is usually comfortable and productive, too.
Not only can the walleye bite be incredible, but there are also opportunities to catch northern pike and smallmouth bass. An occasional huge pike is always present and they are always a hoot to catch.
Chancy Jeschke, Snappy’s
I would have to say my new favorite jig is Chancy’s Crappie Candy made by local tackle company Pete’s Tackle, here in Kalispell. I had Pete design it for me. It worked so well he made a full range of colors available. They come in 2 ¼ inch and 3 inch. I have caught all species of fish on it: large and smallmouth bass, pike, perch, sunfish and, of course, crappie. It comes in many different colors, they all work well with any small 1/32 -1/16 ounce jig heads.
The best places to fish the jig are at Blanchard Lake near Whitefish or Echo Lake. Blanchard in early May is great for big largemouth bass, slab crappie, perch, pike and sunfish.