Even though the general fishing opener begins the third Saturday of May, for many Montanans their fishing season really starts on Memorial Day. School is over or very close to ending for most Montana students, and this end-of-spring/beginning-of-summer transition period signals to many of us that its time to start enjoying a little time on the water.
With a snowpack that was closer to normal than in several of the previous drought years, some of the trout streams and rivers will be high and muddy for this weekend, so many anglers will resort to concentrating on lakes, reservoirs and ponds.
Some of the best fishing bets right now:
Bighorn River – As is usually the case at this time of year with tailwater fisheries, the Bighorn below the dam is providing clear cold water, with rainbows and browns feeding on a variety of hatches.
Canyon Ferry Lake – No matter how crowded it may look at the boat ramps, you can always find a place to fish on the sprawling reservoir. The walleye bite has begun to pick up as the trout bite has slowed. Don’t pass up the opportunity to try and catch a huge carp; they are active all along the shoreline.
Clark Fork River – On the west end of the state, many of the rivers are high and muddy from the excellent snowpack of last winter. While the river may not fish very well right now, the snowpack will provide much better fishing into the summer months than in the past few years. For now though, the Clark Fork is one of the better options in western Montana.
Fort Peck Reservoir – As the fish recover from their spawning activity and the water warms up, Fort Peck is beginning to provide some great fishing for walleyes, lake trout and northern pike.
Lower Missouri River – As flows increase, paddlefish will move up out of Fort Peck, providing a chance to catch one of these prehistoric fish. Be sure to wet a line for sauger and catfish as well.
Upper Missouri River – River flows have been dropping as Canyon Ferry Lake fills, but the clear water is a stark contrast to many of the other rivers that are in full runoff. Don’t expect a solitary experience, but the upper river should fish well, especially with cool and cloudy weather.
Nelson Reservoir – Nelson fished very well for much of last summer, and is off to a great start again this year for walleyes and northern pike.
Rocky Mountain Front Lakes – Spring is usually the best time of year to fish the lakes in this beautiful setting, and probably one of the best options in the state to catch a truly large trout.
Tongue River Reservoir – In Montana, nothing says “spring” more than catching crappies on Tongue River Reservoir, and there is no better time than right now to be there, and possibly no better place to introduce a child to fishing.
This is a brief synopsis of fishing conditions and reports from select waters across the state. For more detailed information, contact a fly shop, bait store, or boat marina for the particular water.