5 Early-Season Fly-Fishing Tips for the Northern Rockies

Written by: Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.

Post-runoff fishing can be spectacular, if you know where to look.
Photo courtesy Linehan Outfitting Co.

The middle of June is considered the true start to the fishing season across most of the West. Rivers are generally coming into shape after snowmelt and runoff. While they may still be slightly off color, they tend to be perfectly fishable in most areas. That said, there is always an element of inconsistency to early season success. Water temperatures are chilly, making insect hatches minimal, rainbow and cutthroat trout are still busy spawning, and trout haven’t necessarily moved into traditional summer runs and riffles. Here are five tips to help you find more trout during the early season.

1. Enjoy Banker’s Hours

There is no need to get on the water at first light during the early season. Insect activity is directly related to water temperatures, and just two degrees makes a difference. Let the day warm up a bit. Late morning, afternoons, and evenings are often best bets for success and for finding rising trout.

2. Nymphing Equals Numbers

Because of low water temperatures during the early season, dry-fly fishing can be spotty. Don’t be bashful. Get out the indicators, get down, and stick with nymphing for better chances of success.

3. Walking-Speed Current Rules

Keep in mind trout will not necessarily be in skinny water and riffles until insect activity starts to increase. During the early season, concentrate efforts in runs, pools, tailouts, and around cover. Look for water that’s running at about walking speed.

June in the Kootenai Valley in northwestern Montana means green river valleys and snow on the peaks.
Photo courtesy Linehan Outfitting Co.

4. Keep Moving

Since insect activity may be sparse, trout will not necessarily be concentrated. If you’re wading, don’t get concrete feet. Think about fishing more water then you normally would. If you find fish in, say, three to four feet of walking-speed current down a bank, find another area with the same water type. If you’re floating, consider going longer and stay on the move. By covering more water, you’ll increase you’re chances of finding more feeding fish.

5. More Gear is Always Better

If possible, rig a rod for nymphing and another for dry-fly fishing. It’s not uncommon during the early season to get a short pulse of insect activity during the day. By having two rods rigged, you will not have to waste time re-rigging to accommodate the possible changing circumstances and opportunities that may arise. No pun intended.

Early-season fishing success in the West can sometimes be inconsistent due to conditions. By keeping in mind these five themes, you will increase your odds having better success. 

Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana. He’s also a former Trout Bum of the Week.

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