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Montana fishing report: Sturgeon are surging on the Marias River

Montana fishing report: Sturgeon are surging on the Marias River

Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout like this one are cruising the shorelines at Hauser Reservoir.

Water levels across Montana are fluctuating with the changing temperatures. Depending on where you are at, there is still some good fishing.

To the northwest the rainbow trout action has picked up at Lake Koocanusa.

If you are in the Helena area look no farther than Hauser Reservoir. The rainbow bite along the bank has been great.

Anglers searching for sturgeon can try the Marias River.

Top picks

Beaverhead River — Anglers should find success with a lot of different bugs initially. Worms, Sowbugs, Baetis patterns, and streamers will all take fish early on. Savvy anglers will go small (sizes 18-20) in a variety of midge, baetis and sowbug patterns. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River — The fishing has been solid. Try around Melrose and upstream through Wise River. Streamer anglers have been doing well with sculpin and minnow patterns and the nymphing has been solid with Girdle Bugs and Worms. We are waiting on the full-fledged caddis hatch to pick up as well as the dry fly activity. The water is in spectacular condition with ideal flows. Fishing should pick up next month. — Sunrise Fly Shop, Melrose.

Bighorn River — The two upper boat ramps are now open for Montana residents and the fishing has been really good. We're seeing great numbers of all age ranges of fish, anywhere from 10-20 feet deep. The upper river, Afterbay to 3 Mile, has a higher concentration of fish at the moment. The rainbow trout have begun their spawn so be careful of those areas. Top flies include: Cotton Candy (12-14), Jellybean Sowbug (16-18), LBF (20), MacGruber (18-20), Softhackle Sowbugs and Carpet Bugs in 14-16, tan or pink. There are some great dry fly opportunities on cloudy days and we're seeing a lot of baetis. The fish have been picky, but smaller CDC patterns (20) are doing well. The Bighorn Angler is now open daily for shuttles, flies and everything else. — Bighorn Angler, Fort Smith.

Hauser Reservoir — The rainbow bite continues to be great as fish are still cruising the shorelines around York Bridge, Black Sandy and Riverside. Shore anglers have been doing well using leech patterns or night crawlers and marshmallows. The walleye bite has been good at the Causeway and Lake Helena. Floating jigs and crawlers or leeches are working well from shore and boat anglers are doing well trolling small perch-colored cranks or Bottom Bouncers and crawler harnesses. — FWP, Helena.

Lake Koocanusa — Rainbow fishing has been good with Rapala, Apex or pluggers (black and blue, or blue and silver) dropping 30-40 feet down. Kokanee fishing is good right now trolling at about a mile an hour. Silver or prism trolls should be used. — Koocanusa Resort and Marina, Libby.


Ackley Lake — Anglers are catching trout using a variety of flies, worms, and night crawlers. Herring is being used to catch tiger muskie. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — Closed until further notice— Pryor Creek Bait Co., Laurel.

Bitterroot River ­­— The water is back up from the warmer weather. Right now, depending on the rain, the river is fishable. — Grizzley Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Blackfoot River — The water levels have dropped and stabilized. While conditiond are muddy, you may be able to get some fish in the inside bends and back eddys with big stonefly nymphs and San Juans. Nymphing with a Zonker, Zirdle or Sparkle Minnow is a good choice in high water. — Grizzley Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Boulder River — The water has steadily been rising for about a week and is in the beginning of runoff. Suggested dries to use are Renegades (16-20), Purple Haze (12-18) and a Griffith's Gnat (18-20). Nymphs to use are Copper Johns (12-16) in blue, red, or lime, or a Lightning Bug Pearl (14-18) in gold or silver. Streamers that have been successful are Black RL Krystal Buggers (6-8), a Hairy Sculpin Dk (2-4) in olive or brown, or a Stinger Sculpin (4) in a tan or olive. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — Rainbow fishing from the shore is starting to slow down as the trout are moving into deeper water. The north end is still producing rainbows on spawn sacks, worms, marshmallows, leech pattern flies and nymphs, especially around Yacht Basin, Shannon and Chinamen’s. The walleye bite from the Silos to the Ponds is slowly picking up with action from shore on worms. Boat anglers are finding walleye while using Slow Death rigs, Bottom Bouncers with worms or leeches, chartreuse crankbaits, or jigs. Perch fishing has picked up as well. — FWP, Helena.

Clark Fork River, Deer Lodge — Anglers fishing nymphs use Ray Charles (16), Sowbugs, Superflash Pheasant Tails (14-18), Copper Johns (14), chartreuse or copper SJ Worms (14-16), and Olive Scuds. If you are fishing with streamers use Lemon Drop, Sculpzilla, Sparkle Minnow, Sex Dungeon, and Miller’s Brew Time. Dries that are working are Missing Link Caddis (16-18), Purple Haze (16-18), and Rocky Mountain Mint (16-18). — The StoneFly Fly Shop, Butte.

Clark Fork River, Missoula — The water is high and muddy but has been on the drop since last week. This river is still an option to fish while the runoff is happening. Streamers to use are Yuk Bugs, Zirdles, Sparkle Minnows, JJ Specials, Dungeons and Smoke N Mirrors fished slow and low is a good way to catch fish in dirty water. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Clark Fork River, St. Regis — The water is too off-color and running too high for any good fishing. — Joe Cantrell Outfitting, St. Regis.

Cooney Reservoir — We saw some really nice fish coming off the water this weekend. For most groups it was hit and miss, others had limits. The water temps over the weekend were 51 degrees on the south and west sides, and 53 degrees on the north end. Trout and perch fishing has been decent from shore using worms. The walleye bite has improved with the warming water. The Berkley Flicker Shad had really good results. A lot of fish were caught on jigs this week. I have seen some people pulling worm harnesses, but haven't heard if they had any luck. Some shore anglers did really well using slip bobbers and leaches. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — Worms are catching trout. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Flathead Lake (North) — Fishing has been a little quiet. The mud line is starting to disappear. Anglers are using Flashers and Brad’s Super Baits while trolling from Wayfair State Park to Woods Bay in about 120 feet of water. — Snappys Sport Senter, Kalispell.

Flathead Lake (South) — Anglers are accessing East Bay, Yellow Bay and Big Arm. All state accesses are open.Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River  The river is restricted to Montana 15 license plate residents. For those residents, the fishing is decent. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — The walleye are biting on points. The lower water conditions have been very hospitable. A 27-inch walleye was caught bouncing a green jig with minnows. Northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass have been caught off the shore using a bobber and minnows. Be mindful when boating this area for underwater obstructions due to the lower water.  — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — Some anglers have caught northerns along with walleye, sauger, and perch using smelt from the shore. The walleye, 18-20 inches, are closer to the top. The deeper you go, 30 feet or deeper, the 30-32 inch walleye are lurking. The rain and wind have played a huge factor in fishing consistency. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Dam area — Fishing has been decent in between the weather fronts. Walleye, pike and lake trout have been the catches of the week. The walleye and pike are biting jigs and minnows or casting spoons and crankbaits from shore. Lake trout anglers have been pulling cranks in about 20-30 feet of water. Bank fishers are catching a lot of catfish and pike using smelt, minnows and night crawlers. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — The walleye bite has kicked off for the year. Best stretch to fish is Timber to Fourchette. Anglers are pitching jigs and minnows for walleye. Northern pike and bass fishing has been great with a minnow on a hook. Water temp is in the 50s. — Hell Creek Marina.

Gallatin River — The water has come down substantially over the last few days and it looks like we have a short window before runoff is once again upon us. This is a good window to work the banks with heavy nymph rigs such as dark-colored stoneflies and worms. Streamers are also a solid option. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Georgetown Lake — Reopens to fishing on Saturday, May 16. — Flint Creek Outdoors, Phillipsburg.

Holter Reservoir — Rainbow trout fishing continues to be picking up near shore at Gates of the Mountains and the BLM boat ramp. Shore anglers are doing well with leech patterns, beads or egg patterns, PowerBait or plain worms and marshmallows. Boat anglers are catching a few rainbows while trolling cowbells with a crawler trailer. Walleye and perch fishing has been fairly slow. — FWP, Helena.

Kootenai River — The water flows are at about 17,500 cfs and may increase due to the runoff. The water temperature is 39 degrees. Anglers may see some color downstream from the tributaries but for the most part the water clarity is perfect. Hatches in the river are midge, baetis, March browns, caddis, and stoneflies. Some useful patterns to fish with are Zebra Midge, Midge Pupa, Parachute Adams, Bullet Head and Bullethead Skwala. The stretch from Libby dam downstream to Highway 37 Bridge/Fisher River is now closed for spawning until June 1. Below Highway 37 the river is open to all angling. Runoff has officially started. From now until the middle of June the water will likely offer fair conditions at best. Tributaries will sporadically be kicking in color and flows from Libby Dam will be on the rise periodically as the runoff increases. March brown flies, caddis, and stoneflies have started to pop later in the afternoon each day. Dry fly fishing is spotty. If you see bugs you will likely see rising fish. Nymphing is still the best way to fish. Nemoura stoneflies have been active as well as early caddis. A Rasta Skwala (12), Purple Chubby, or Bugmeister with a Pheasant Tail (16) will roll nicely. Look for fish in slower currents, pools, tailouts, and especially around cover. Nymphing is still the most consistent technique this time of year. Be brave and confident and get out the bigger rods and throw streamers. — Linehan Outfitting Company, Troy.

Lake Frances — The lake is still mediocre. Anglers are using night crawlwers, salted minnows, and leeches. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Lake Mary Ronan — Boats are out on the lake but no reports as of yet. — Camp Tuffit, Proctor.

Madison RiverLower — The lower section is a great option during runoff. The nymph bite has been good with worms, crayfish, and small mayfly patterns. It seems that fish are moving around quite a bit. During warmer weather we have seen explosions of caddis. Some days we have seen awesome dry fly fishing, and other days the caddis have been blanketing the river, but the fish aren't always taking notice on top. Wind and weather play a big factor in fish eating dries. Take your time working a seam line or pocket. It may take quite a few drifts to put the fly exactly where the fish wants it. Streamer fishing has been OK but is quickly getting better. The biggest issue lately has been the wind in the afternoon. Clarity has been changing day to day, but the fish don't seem to care. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — The West Fork has dropped and is no longer pumping in mud. Clarity is best up high, but below the West Fork has a nice green color to it and is fishing well. Nymphing has been the most productive way to get into fish since the dry fly fishing hasn't quite popped yet. Stonefly nymphs, Worms, Caddis Larvae, Baetis, soft hackles and larger Mayfly attractors are all working subsurface. Streamer fishing seems to be getting better daily. White seems to be the hot color. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Marias River — The sturgeon are starting to come upriver and will hit smelt and chunks of herring. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Missouri River, below Holter — The water flows have been fluctuating, which means that the fish are acting the same, up and down. Sowbugs, Scuds, Czech Nymphs are being eaten the most. Streamer fishing low and slow has been getting a few big fish. There is some mud coming in from the Dearborn and Prickly Pear. The dam to Craig is the most consistent stretch to fish. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula..

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — Paddlefish angling has begun. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Rock Creek (East) — Last weekend’s cool temperatures lowered the water a bit. Water clarity has also improved. During the runoff season try dries, nymphs or streamers. Recommended dry flies to fish are tan or olive Caddis (14). A March Brown (14) as well as an attractor dry like a Parachute Adams, Purple Haze, Royal Wulff or Trude. These patterns can be fished in a size 12-14. The nymph and streamer fishing continues to be good. Try worm patterns like a Squirmie Wormy Jig, a Squirminator, or a standard Chenille San Juan. Most worm patterns can be fished in a size 8. Stonefly nymphs like a Pat’s Rubberleg, Girdle Bug, Bitch Creek or North Fork Special are all effective. Stoneflies can be fished in sizes 8-10. Additional nymphs to fish include Caddis Pupa (14) in tan or olive. Beadhead Pheasant Tail’s, Hare’s Ear, or Prince Nymphs (all in 8-10) will catch in higher water. Attractor Nymphs like Copper Johns (chartreuse, red), Batman or Psycho Princes (purple, blue) are all excellent nymph patterns. Most attractor nymphs fish in sizes 12-16. Euro Nymphs like a Perdigon Fly or Red Tab Nymph (14) are excellent this time of year. For the angler that wants to swing for the fences, fish a streamer like a Sparkle Minnow, Grinch or a Galloup’s Mini Sex Dungeon in black or white. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

­Rock Creek (West) — The fishing hasn’t been the greatest. The water flows have gone up a bit which make conditions tougher. It is time to start nymphing a big bug. Salmonfly nymphs like a Yuk Bug, Double Bead Stones, Rubberlegs with a San Juan or Pheasant Tail off the back where the water slows down. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Spring Creek —The water is too high and muddy. Fishing conditions are slow. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — The cooler weather has dropped and cleared the flows. If it doesn’t rain too hard a window should remain to fish before the runoff. For wade fishing it’s usually best to go above the Rosebud confluence. The river is floatable throughout, although the upper river is recommended for experienced oarsmen only. The water temperature is still cold, but as it warms up again look for March browns and caddis. Try fishing a dry/dropper setup with a smaller Stimulator, Jack Cabe, Purple Haze or March Brown with a Caddis Pupa dropper nymph. The number one March brown dry fly pattern is Trina’s Carnage Drake March Brown (14). Nymphing has also been productive with everything from a Girdle Bug or Stonefly pattern, to San Juan Worms and small beadheads like a Red Copper John, Optic Nerve, Batman, North Fork Special, Lil’ Spanker or midge pattern. In the higher off-color water fish with bigger Rubberleg patterns or the San Juan Worm. For streamer anglers, the Grinch is always the best. In off-color water try a darker body color for contrast. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Tiber Reservoir — Northerns have been caught using leeches and night crawlers. Fishing has been a little slow this week. — Roberts Bait and Tackle, Great Falls.

Tongue River Reservoir — The northern bite has been good using smelt off the shore. The fishing overall has been a little slow due to the weather. The water is still clear and slowly rising. Walleyes are biting in 3-10 feet of water using spoons and live minnows. The bass bite is catching with jerk bait and minnows. The crappie bite is still a little slow. — Tongue River Marina.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — The river is still running off-color through Columbus. Colder weather has brought clearer water upriver, so there may be a window of fishing. If there’s a foot or so of visibility on the edges, it’s enough to fish. Most anglers have been streamer fishing. The Grinch allowed to sink and stripped slow has been the ticket. Trail a beadhead nymph of some sort off the back. For nymphing try a Pat’s Rubberleg, Girdle Bug, Pepperoni Yuk Bug or dark Stonefly pattern with a smaller beadhead nymph like a Poxyback March Brown, Hare’s Ear, Prince, Batman, Optic Nerve, Pheasant Tail, Midge or Lil’ Spanker as a dropper. March browns have been showing up most afternoons if it’s not too windy. Don’t hesitate to throw a dry fly in likely water or on the clearer edges. A Purple Haze, March Brown, small Stimulator or Jack Cabe with a Caddis Pupa nymph dropped off the back is a good setup. The river is unlikely to completely clear up from here on out, but if you can see them, key on them. Anglers should be able to get fish to eat Caddis. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — The water has come down a couple feet with the cooler weather. Although still pretty dirty the catfishing has been very good. Sauger and walleye fishing has been slow. Cut bait and minnows are the preferred bait for catfish. — Huntley Bait and Tackle.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — With the cool days and colder nights, the flows have dropped down to 6,300 cfs. It’s time to break out the streamer rods and sink tips. Caddis are thick, but the fish aren't keying on them on top. However, nymphing Stoneflies, Caddis, Worms and attractors will get you into fish in the soft water. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — The water level has gone down but it is still very muddy. Catfishing is good using night crawlers and cut bait. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn River, Thermopolis — The water flows are up. The best nymphing rig has been a tan North Fork Special (12-14) fpllowed by a pink or silver Lightning Bug (16-20). Sowbugs, Scuds, Leeches, small Callibaetis nymphs or Hare’s Ears stripped are working well. In clearer water conditions streamers have been working, too. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Clarks Fork — Above Paint Creek the fishing has been decent. Below, the water quality has been fair. Nymphs and streamers have been catching trout. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

East Newton Lake — The water levels are high. Float-tubes, gasless motor boats, and pontoon boats are the recommended techniques due to the water levels. Scuds, Leeches, small Callibaetis nymphs, or Hare’s Ears stripped is working well. Smaller streamers cast to shore and stripped back also are good to use. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lake DeSmet — Reports of larger walleye and lake trout have been come in this past week. A 12-pound brown trout was caught from the bank using a Panther Martin lure.  — The Lake Stop, Buffalo.  

Luce and Hogan Reservoirs — The reservoirs have been fishing well using Zebra Midges (14-20), Prince Nymphs (10-16), black or tan North Fork Specials (10-14) slow stripped. Fishing the top of the water try Parachute Adams, gray or tan Sparkle Duns (12-16). Effective streamers have been smaller Woolly Buggers (8-12). — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lower Shoshone — Fishing has been great. Water quality has been very good. Flows are high. Waders and floaters are still out there. Blue-winged olives, Mother’s Day caddis and midges are hatching. The best technique right now is deep nymphing or pulling streamers from a boat. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

North Fork of the Shoshone — The water is clear and the temperature is at 45 degrees. The North Fork is closed from Newton Creek to Buffalo Bill Reservoir. West of the closure to Yellowstone Park the trout have been eating dries. Best dry to use: Purple Chubby Chuck (10) and an Orange Ho Candy (10). Nymphs and streamers have been working well, too. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

South Fork of the Shoshone — The water is clear and the temperature is at 49 degrees midday. The hatches are skwalla, iron blue quills, blue-winged olives and caddis. Smaller dry flies (10) have been working midday. Matching the hatch is critical. Nymphs and streamers are effective. Best stretch to fish is where the South Fork runs into the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. There are no closures on the south fork. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

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