Salmonfly Season

The Mother’s Day Caddis are on the way out, temps are rising, and the summer season has officially started. We’ve still got a few more weeks of technical spring, but anything after Memorial Day counts as summer. The big news for fishermen these days: salmonfly season is almost here.

Salmonflies are the most well known and popular of the numerous stonefly hatches in Montana and around the Rockies. There are a lot of reasons for their popularity. Trout lose their minds for these bugs. Salmonfly season has been likened to an all you can eat cheeseburger meal. These bugs are exponentially larger than most insects trout eat, so the reward for energy burned to eat them is very high.

Photo: Jess Delo

This large size attracts a lot of anglers. There’s something to be said for fishing a size 4-6 dry fly after throwing size 16-18 BWOs and small caddis all spring. Salmonfly season is when a 6wt rod really shines. You need the backbone to cast the large, wind-resistant flies well and accurately. The larger flies make a great platform for large droppers, such as a Rubberlegs or other stonefly nymph pattern.

The Henry’s Fork, located a couple hours south of Bozeman, has already seen a solid hatch of these bugs. That river is the first in the region to get them, followed by the Smith and Big Hole. Fishing the hatch on both of those rivers is dependent on flows. It can be tricky since the hatch lines up with runoff every year. Late May-early June dates are highly prized on the Smith River for the chance at hitting this hatch just right.


Hitting the hatch just right is the most challenging thing about Salmonfly season. The hatch starts low in the river where water temps are warmer. It moves upstream each day. The trick is to be on the front edge of the hatch, where bugs are starting to show up are fish are keying in on them. If you find yourself in the middle of the hatch there might be too many bugs on the water and your fly will get lost in the noise. If you’re behind it, then the fish are often gorged and unable to eat any more.

Many anglers try for years to hit it “just right”. It’s worth the effort. Salmonfly season can reward you with your best days on the river, ever. Days when you lost count of how many fish you’ve caught are not out of the realm of possibility.

As we mentioned, the Big Hole is about to kick off. Next up is the Madison and Yellowstone in late June to early July. Stay tuned as we’ll be following this hatch very closely. Our NRS fishing raft rentals are perfect for chasing this hatch! Rent one today.


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