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Fly Fishing Tips and Tricks

Montana Casting Co. News & Blog

Recent Posts
  • How We Named Our Fly Rods

    A Love Letter to Montana

    Decades of experience went into designing the three fly rod models available in our online store. In naming those rods, we decided to honor some of the fishing access sites across Montana that inspired Montana Casting Co. and made us the fly fishers we are today.

    A young Scott fly fishes the Upper Madison River with a rainbow overhead.

    A young Scott fly fishes the Upper Madison. 

     

    The Craig Fly Rod – Calling Back to One of Our Favorite Spots on the Missouri River

    Not many fishing access sites can boast being within 300 yards of three world class fly shops, but Craig, Montana is a fly fishing hot spot and the beating heart of the upper stretches of the Missouri River. We’ve lost count of the number of fish fights, sunsets, and stories we’ve lived while floating this stretch of water.

    World class fly fishing aside, the town itself is full of charm: trade stories with the local guides, stop in the fly shops to see what’s popping on the river, or grab a bite to eat at Izaak’s (or a beer at the Craig Taphouse) after a long day on the water. For Cat Joyner, COO and co-founder, Craig is at the center of countless moments of family bonding. “It’s the place we go to celebrate. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day…” With good reason, the Craig fishing access has earned a special place in our hearts as one of the premier fly fishing destinations in Montana. To learn more about the site and the regulations on this stretch of river, you can visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Craig Fishing Access Site page

    Other nearby restaurants:

    Fly shops in and around Craig, MT:

    Floating the Missouri River in a drift boat.

     Floating the Missouri from Craig.

     

    The Warm Springs Fly Rod – Honoring a Best Friend and a Fantastic Fly Fishing Access Site

    The Warm Springs fishing access on the Lower Madison is one of many access sites along a diverse and beautiful stretch of water. Beginning in remote Bear Trap Canyon, the Madison flows down into a series of lazy bends that eventually converge with the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers to form the Mighty Mo—all of it excellent trout fishing. Long runs, riffles, and moss beds make the Warm Springs fishing access a fantastic entry point, but this site also holds personal significance to company CEO and founder Scott Joyner. It’s the place that taught him how to fish dries during the summer Caddis hatches. The place that marks many firsts—like his first multi-day adventure on the river, sleeping under the stars and catching his own meals. And it's the place that will forever be one of his best friend Craig’s favorite fishing spots. Reflecting on these memories, Scott smiles. “There are too many stories woven with this stretch of water to remember them all… Some harder than others to talk about, but all of them good.”  Learn more about the Warm Springs Day Use Area and Fishing Access on the Bureau of Land Management website.

    Craig holding up a trout and fly rod on a snowy spring day in the Lower Madison River.

     Craig fly fishes the Lower Madison near the Warm Springs Fishing Access.

     

    The Dearborn Fly Rod – Remembering the River as it Was

    Located just upstream from the confluence of the Dearborn and Missouri rivers, the Dearborn fishing access is overshadowed by the rough-hewn walls of the Missouri River Canyon—a particularly dramatic sight when the summer sun begins to set, staining the rock a brilliant golden hue. Another fishing access steeped in memory, Scott’s Grandpa Clem knew this stretch of river like the back of his hand and made a point of showing his grandson all the best holes. As Scott fished, Clem would sit back and watch, telling stories about the days when the only way through the canyon was by train or horseback. Because he worked on the railroad, the trains would slow down and let him jump off and he’d spend the next week camping, fishing and hunting until another train came through to pick him up. “He swears that you could throw a bobby pin in the river back in those days and catch your limit of trout in a matter of minutes,” Scott says, laughing. Though the river looks vastly different today, it remains a special place to fish with the family and enjoy Montana’s rugged beauty. Visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Dearborn Fishing Access page to learn more about this site.

     Displaying a brown trout while fly fishing the Missouri River.

    Cat shows off a brown trout on the Missouri. 

     

    The Beauty of Fly Fishing

    Fly fishing is a deeply personal sport. We all come to it in our own way for our own reasons. At Montana Casting Co., fly fishing has been a gift… Not only for the many thrills and peaceful moments we’ve found on the water, but for the connections we’ve made to places and people while doing it.

    The Craig. The Warm Springs. The Dearborn. Every Montana Casting Company fly rod carries a small reminder of the places and moments that shaped us, both as fly fishers and people. Our hope is that someday, one of our rods in your hands can come to be a reminder of the moments that shape you.

    To learn more about the fishing access sites across the beautiful state of Montana, head over to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Waterbody Search page.

    Is there a bend in the river that’s come to mean more to you? Share in the comments below!

    How We Named Our Fly Rods

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  • Fly Fishing the Williamson

    In July of 2022, I was fishing the Williamson River outside Klamath Falls, Oregon. Redband Rainbow Trout come out of Lake Klamath in the summer to seek refuge in the river. It was getting late in the day, and I was fishing streamers above a run of small rapids. I missed a strike, casted back into the same place… and just like that it was fish on! It had my drag screaming and spooled me down to the backing in seconds.

    The fight was on! I worked the fish back upstream, only to have it rocket out again. I had no choice but to follow it until the water was too deep for my waders: the fish had battled its way into a deep hole, and now we were at a stalemate. It was a real stroke of luck when two other fishermen came by in a drift boat and invited me to climb in. As we floated over the hole, I remember thinking, “This has got to be a 30-inch plus fish”. After a few more minutes of fighting what felt like a true monster, we managed to net the fish and get it in the boat. Not a 30-incher, but it was a BIG fish: 23 inches of beautiful Redband Rainbow Trout. Unfortunately, it was a foul hooked in the tail—explains the truly epic battle to land him in the boat. If you’ve spent much time on the water, I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar… Gets the blood pumping for sure!

    Story by Kevin Perkins

    Rainbow Trout Release

    To learn more about the Williamson River and other fishing hotspots in the region, check here: Fremont-Winema National Forest - Fishing (usda.gov).

    Kevin’s story is the first in a monthly series of fly fishing stories from our customers we’ll be sharing. Our aim is to give a voice to all the passionate fly fishermen in the Montana Casting Co. community and share our love of the sport. Have a story of your own? Short, long, goofy, or epic, we’d love to hear it. Email us at gethookedup@gmail.com. If we choose your story to feature in the coming months, we’ll send you some sweet Montana Casting Co. swag as a thank you. Happy fishing!

    Fly Fishing the Williamson

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  • Fly Fishing on the Cutthroat Diet

    Fly Fishing on the Cutthroat Diet

    Though it’s not necessarily known for being the wiliest fish on the river, the cutthroat trout is hauntingly beautiful. Luminous scales of warm gold, cool silver, or deep olive. Red throat slashes and inky-black speckles adorning its flanks. Half the fun of fishing for cutthroat is getting to witness such a gorgeous trout in action. The other half? The cutthroat diet is so diverse, it’s almost a given that there’s something in your fly box a cutt will take. Read on for an overview of this iconic native species and a glimpse at the surprising range of flies we’ve used to lure in cutthroat.

    A colorful array of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers that we've used to successfully catch cutthroat trout.
    Above: a selection of just some of the many flies we’ve caught cutts on.
     

    Cutthroat Claims to Fame

    For the biology nerds out there, Oncorhynchus clarki is a species of the family Salmonidae—a classification of genetically-similar species including trout, Pacific and Atlantic slamon, steelhead, grayling, and several other cool-water, predatory fish of the Northern Hemisphere. The term “cutthroat trout” can refer to any one of 14 subspecies, each with their own range and claim to fame. For fly fishermen in New Mexico and southern Colorado, there’s the Rio Grande cutthroat: one of the first cutthroat species characterized by early European explorers and known for its striking sunny hues. On the west coast, the coastal cutthroat acts as a cousin to the anadromous steelhead, spending several years of its life cycle in the ocean before returning to freshwater rivers to spawn. If it’s size you’re looking for, the world record cutthroat (a 41 Ib monster caught by John Skimmerhorn in 1925) belongs to the Lahontan subspecies. Native to the Great Basin region of California and Nevada, this subspecies was famously overfished and then reintroduced to Pyramid Lake—a remnant of the ancient Lake Lahontan that once covered most of modern-day Nevada.

     

    Cutthroat Trout of Montana

    Montana is home to two subspecies: the westslope cutthroat (which favors pocket water in cold streams and rivers on both sides of the divide) and the Yellowstone cutthroat (which inhabits the Yellowstone River and its various tributaries). If you’re trying to distinguish these two in the field, your primary giveaway will be location, but you can also examine spotting patterns and coloration for clues. If the spots are smaller and more localized to the tail and the scales stray towards silver or olive-green, it’s more likely of the westslope variety. Alternatively, medium-large spots and brown, yellow or silvered coloration might indicate a Yellowstone cutt.

     

    The Cutthroat Diet

    Cutthroat, like many trout species, favor aquatic insects as their main source of food, but the specific from these aquatic insects take varies with the season. Newly hatched larvae (called nymphs) will spend the first months (or even years) of their lives sheltering in the mud, rocks, and vegetation of the river bottom. When the current catches them, nymphs can become easy pickings for hungry trout at any time of year.

    As these insects mature and rise to the surface (referred to as emergence or a “hatch”), they often float down river waiting for their wings to dry. In Montana, most big hatches, including various species of mayfly, caddisfly, and stonefly, occur between the months of April and October. (That said, from November through February, there’s some fantastic fishing to be done on warmer afternoons when the midges begin to emerge.) Hatches are the perfect time for cutts to sip bugs off the surface, and the perfect time for fly fishermen to be fishing dries. In our experience, Yellowstone cutthroat are rather laid-back hunters, taking their time and coming at your fly with a relaxed take; be careful not to set the hook prematurely when you see one coming for your dry. Westslope cutthroat are more focused. Once they decide to come for a meal, they grab and go with a fierce take.

    By late summer, the terrestrial insects (especially grasshoppers) are on the move. These serve as protein-rich snacks and are snapped up greedily by opportunistic feeders. When the insects are less abundant, cutthroat trout turn to other sources to supplement their diets. Sowbugs, scuds and other crustaceans are snatched up alongside the standard year-round nymph patterns that imitate mayflies, midges, or caddis. Smaller bait fish can also be tempting year-round but are especially tantalizing in late fall or spring—before and directly after the runoff when other food sources are less available.

     

    Pick a Fly, Any Fly: Fly Fishing for Opportunistic Feeders

    Cutthroat are opportunistic feeders, meaning they’ll snatch up just about anything within easy reach that looks vaguely edible. We mostly have westslope cutthroat in our neck of the woods, and we’ve seen them take flies that another trout might ignore: oddball nymphs, wonky dries, streamers that have turned into outlandish confections of feathers and antron. They’ve even gone after our strike indicators and the occasional potato chip… Alright—we’re not baiting our lines with junk food, but we’d be surprised if they turned the offer down.

    Here’s a sampling of the many flies we’ve served up and received (sometimes to our surprise) a willing bite from a cutthroat:

    Above: most of these are what we call “ABC” flies: Already Been Chewed-On. Please excuse the occasional missing leg or ragged wing. 

    Some other flies we’ve caught cutthroat on include:

    • Soft hackle gold baby AKA soft hackle Bloom’s weight fly
    • Pink yum yum
    • Dragonflies
    • Zug bugs
    • Mike’s golden stone bar legs
    • Eddie Vedders
    • Pill poppers

     

    The Key to Catching Cutthroat? 

    In conclusion, if you keep abreast of the hatches, do the leg work to get a sense of what’s floating by in the river, and try to serve up something similar, there’s a high probability that you’ll catch a trout’s interest. And if you don’t? You still might find a willing cutthroat to take a chance on whatever strange fly you’ve decided to fish with.

    Questions? Comments? Cutthroat fly fishing stories? Share in the comments below!

     

    Fly Fishing on the Cutthroat Diet

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  • What to do if you “Get Hooked Up”

    If you spend much time around sharp objects, sooner or later, you’re bound to experience a mishap. And it probably won’t surprise you that a sharp hook attached to a nearly invisible tippet is just as well suited for catching fingers as it is fish. While the temptation may be to just yank it out, there’s a better way!

    Start by making a loop out of 2x or 3x that you can use to firmly pull, then slip it around the fly so you have a loop down where the bend of the hook is. Press the eye of the hook against the skin to move the hook in a way that disengages the barb inside the finger.  Keeping pressure on the eye of the hook to make sure the barb stays disengaged, give the 2x loop a firm, quick pull, and out it comes.

    What to do if you “Get Hooked Up”

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  • Fancy Fly Rods, <br>Reels, and Flies <br>Only Get You So Far

    Doesn’t matter if you’ve been fly fishing for years—practicing your casting techniques, knot tying, and studying entomology...

    there will be days when the fish refuse to bite. It might be the fly you’re using, or the time of day. Maybe the fish remember the curve of your drift boat and they’re ignoring your beautifully presented flies out of spite. Regardless of the reason, there are a few commonly overlooked tricks of the trade that can keep these days fewer and farther between!

    1.  Tap into the local knowledge!

    A brief stop at the local fly shop can clue you in on where to go and what to use, even if you’ve fished that stretch of river before. Conditions, hatches, and what the fish are biting on change. The folks at the fly shops can give you the low down on specific flies to use, whether you’re better off fishing nymphs or dries, how long your leader should be, and how to position your strike indicator if nymphing. If you’re new to the area, they can also suggest good floats or wading spots. These pro shops are your best information resource and they’re always happy to help!

    We’ve fished stretches of river more than once thinking that, because we put on a clinic using a particular fly yesterday, the same fly would work today. Best to be humble and ask—chances are, humility will catch more fish.

    Some of the shops we frequent when fishing some of our favorite Montana fly fishing spots on the Missouri near Helena are:

    Montana Fly Goods (Helena):
    www.montanaflygoods.com
    Wolf Creek Angler (Wolf Creek):
    www.wolfcreekangler.com
    Headhunters (Craig):
    www.headhuntersflyshop.com
    Crosscurrents (Craig):
    www.crosscurrents.com
    The Trout Shop (Craig):
    thetroutshop.com

    2.  Read the river… and avoid spooking fish!

    Catching Fish in Pockets of Water
    Reading water is one of the more important fly fishing skills to learn. The number of fish you catch will increase exponentially as you learn to understand what lies beneath the surface.

    With practice, patience, and careful observation, you’ll be able to pick out pockets, channels, drop-offs, and waist-deep riffles above a “hole”—this is where the fish will be when they’re feeding. Remember to cast upstream of the fish you are trying to catch so you don’t scare them off. Reading water doesn’t always come easy, so remember to be patient with yourself. It might sound corny, but reading the river is a Zen-like skill: when you get it right, you’ll feel like you’re one with the river.

    3. Wet flies, weights, and a strike indicator are a good place to start, but there is more to the art of nymphing.

    Setting Up a Nymphing Rig
    Trout are fickle creatures. As such, there are a few factors to consider when rigging your leader for nymphing. Even in the same river, different stretches or changing conditions may require subtle changes to your rig. Much of this is learned through trial and error—but it never hurts to ask a few questions at the local fly shop! Here’s a few to consider:

    How long do your leader and tippet need to be?

    What are the regulations on fishing with 1 or 2 flies? Where allowed, 2 flies help cover multiple feeding zones. There are many different ways to rig up two flies, depending on where and how much weight you put on your line and whether you tie your flies inline or not. If you want to get fancy, try out a dry-dropper rig. If you’re still working on your nymphing cast, you may want to start with a setup that is less prone to tangling.

    How much weight should you use and where do you put the weight on your leader?

    Micro Swivels and Tippet Rings
    Are you going to use a micro swivel or tippet ring?

    And remember: lead isn’t the only alternative—nontoxic sinkers work great! If you only need a little weight, a heavier (weighted) nymph might do the trick. We like to spread the weight out across the leader and tippet with many micro sinkers; this helps the entire leader sink evenly.

    How far should your strike indicator be from your flies to help control their depth? This will vary with the depth and speed of the water, and is usually determined by some trial and error. Remember always stop in and talk to your local fly shop for advice!

    4. Presentation is everything!

    Whether you’re fishing with dries or nymphing, presentation is critical:

    When casting a dry to a rising fish, take the time to study the water closely so you know where your fly should gently land to get the correct drift. When you cast, make sure only your fly will float over the fish; if you “line” a fish, it’s most likely game-over.

    When nymphing, cast upstream of your target zone to give your flies enough time to sink to the proper depth.

    “Mending” your line is a critical skill to master. “Mending” simply means fixing your drift; hence the name “mending”. If the current is pulling a belly into your line (making line move faster or slower than the fly), this will put drag on your flies, preventing a natural presentation. Mending keeps flies drifting as naturally as possible. The longer you can achieve a drag-free drift, the more water you’ll cover—which ultimately means more opportunities for fish to strike.
    Mending Your Fly Fishing Line

    In this picture the current has pulled the line downstream of the strike indicator, causing an unnatural drift. Doing an upstream mend, as shown here, will correct that situation.

    With good presentation, you can catch fish even if you don’t have exactly the right fly! Whether you like fishing streamers, dry flies, or nymphing, practicing your mending skills will extend your season and make you a better fly fisherman.

    5. Extra Credit: Hatchet Knots

    We’ve all witnessed it… One moment, we’re fishing a peaceful stretch of river. The next, our line has contorted, looped and twisted its way into a rat’s nest so complicated, we’d be hard pressed to replicate it if we tried. We call this a Hatchet Knot, and—for some reason—we all (but particularly the less experienced amongst us) seem to think it’ll only take a couple minutes to untangle them. Understandably, nobody wants to take the extra time to tie another blood knot or a double surgeon’s knot and redo their entire rig if they can undo a tangle in just a few minutes.

    Problem is, a few minutes of de-knotting by a persevering angler can turn into a lot more time than it would have taken to cut off the entire rig and re-tie everything. Our advice? Learn to recognize a hatchet knot and cut your losses when one appears. You’ll ultimately spend a lot less time fiddling and a lot more time fishing!

    That said, one quick trick you can try before chopping it all off is to remove the fly at the end of your line—knots are generally easier to undo without a hook in the equation. If it doesn’t come undone within a couple of minutes, it’s time to bury the hatchet and re-rig.

    Did we miss something? Share your own tips and tricks for keeping the fish biting in the comments below!

    Fancy Fly Rods,
    Reels, and Flies
    Only Get You So Far

    read more