Wild Montana Anglers

Fishing Report 5-20-21

From water to bugs, it’s all things “big” in and around Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley. With a string of high pressure systems, the big river is showing her might with water conditions at bank full with snowmelt. It’s the annual recharge from the high country. This past week, the fishing has been moderate to good with some small waters producing major bug activity. All in all, It’s a great time to be an angler in the beautiful area known as the Crown of the Continent.

Hydrograph 2021-05-20

 Big water:

She gone. At last check, the “big river” was running 25,000 CFS with turbid water. Don’t worry, we will let you know when it is fishable again. In the meantime tie up some of your favorite big river bugs and get ready for her majestic return. It could be sooner than we think.

Small Water:

It’s the Super Bowl in terms of bugs in some of our small waters. Salmon flies have ascended from the river cobble and are flying around like B-52 bombers. The majority of the trout are still eating the nymph. With that being said, we have seen some pretty impressive dry fly eats. Vicious takes in fast water have been the highlight of this week’s fishing.

A modified dry-dropper rig is a great option this time of year. Try cutting back a standard dry fly leader to about 4-5 ft and attaching your salmon fly patterns to the thick upper leader material. There are two primary reasons we run this short and thick set up when fishing these particular dry flies. First, slapping your salmon fly on the water is actually a good thing. If you have ever been fortunate enough to witness a salmon fly hatch you will notice these bugs are not the world’s greatest fliers. One might remark that they resemble kamikazes. They often careen into the water with force as they try to fly across the river.

Secondly, we have seen big fish, eating big bugs, in big water. With those three variables at play, it’s easy to over torque your standard leader set up when connecting with a large trout in the salmon fly hatch. It’s better to be safe than sorry in the leader department this time of year and the large diameter leader does not seem to deter the eat.  Adjust your dropper length to the depth of the water you are fishing and the modified rig is complete. 

Astonished man with a rainbow trout.


The dries we have been throwing have been big and ugly. Salmon fly dries such as water walkers, chubby Chernobyl’s, sofa pillows, Kauffman salmon fly, and large stimulators have all made appearances out of our fly boxes. Other flies to consider are parachute mayflies in sizes ranging from 10-18.

Under the bobber:

If the big bugs aren’t flying prolifically, the bobber rig is a great option. It’s hard to not want to throw the big gnarly salmon flies but we suspect the vast majority of the trout are eating nymphs. We have been sinking stoneflies, caddis, worms, and beatis nymphs with varied success. With the water quite high in some drainages one might need to tie their nymphs with tungsten or add split shot to their leader system to ensure you are getting the flies to the bottom. Bugs to consider are Kauffman stones, Pat’s rubber legs, prince nymphs in all sizes, Frenchies, soft hackle pheasant tails, micro mayflies, San Juan worms, sparkle caddis, and caddis emergers.

Look out for reds and spawning fish:

We all like to catch fish, but we also need to protect them. Spring is spawning season for cutthroat. If you see trout making redds (spawning beds) or a large amount of trout grouped together in small water, don’t fish to them. We need those fish to be viable and reproduce the next generation. If you do come across this, enjoy the beauty of it and move on. 


rainbow torut

The Stillwater game has been red hot some days and down right poor other days. Some lakes have seen a exodus of fish moving up small tributaries to spawn. Leaving lower densities of fish to target. There are still moments of glory with hot streaks of fish on the feed throughout the day. Balance leeches, scuds, and sow bugs have all Brough fish to hand this week. This report might be a little depressing in the lake department but we have a lot to look forward to in the Stillwater department. It’s only a matter of time until we have our annual flying ant hatch. This is a blast! Only seen on a few lakes, this early season terrestrial fishing is something to look forward to in the upcoming weeks. When it will pop we aren’t sure but you won’t want to miss it when it happens.  

Enjoy it out there folks! Be well and if you have any comments or suggestions feel free to contact me at mark@wildmontanaanglers.com.