Photos: Courtesy of David Detrick
As the mountain snowpack made its way down into the valleys of western Montana, we sat down with David Detrick, owner and founder of IFlyFishMontana, to discover the ins and outs of fly fishing season on Montana’s waterways. Detrick has been fishing for 30 years and, though he started fishing for salmon and steelhead on rivers in Washington state, he’s been addicted to fly fishing for trout ever since moving to Montana. Here, he shares some of his top tips and insights with us:
Cabin Life: Why should Missoula, Montana be added to every angler’s bucket list?
David Detrick: Missoula is a place to fall in love with. It has a great nightlife, scenic public lands, something for the whole family, great restaurants and of course , three of the best fly fishing rivers in the Western United States.
CL: What are a few of your favorite spots in the area?
DD: When I have time to explore I use that time wisely and hit smaller backwater and creeks that are tributaries to the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers. Rock Creek has a special place in my heart. The scenery, wildlife, and fishing are stellar. There’s also a wonderful lack of cell phone coverage for those that need to disconnect and stand knee deep in a river to collect their thoughts, ponder life or just relax. Spring fishing these rivers is a blast. The land is coming back to life, rainbow and cutthroat trout colors are astounding and the fish are hungry! The weather teases you with harmless 30-minute blizzards that give you a taste of how harsh life in Montana really is.
CL: What sort of strategies, gear, and flies do you use in the summer?
DD: The trick is to play the hatch or strip streamers until you move some big fish. Around this time of year March browns, skwalas and lots of tiny midges usually get the job done on the surface. Most everyone searching to get into fish will generally switch nymphs this time of year, a stonefly nymph or San Juan worm usually reel in some good size fish. If you want trophy fish, streamers are the ticket. Right before and during high water, big bright streamers can be very effective. Watch the water and observe your surroundings. See what bugs are flying around and talk to the local shops or other anglers.
CL: In your opinion, what sets Montana apart from other fly fishing meccas?
DD: Missoula, Montana is welcoming and beautiful. The locals are genuine, the fishing is great and the scenery is breathtaking. There is an abundance of options for fishing, from rivers, creeks and lakes to floating and wading to places that don’t see many anglers. It’s more than you’d expect from a small city in the Rocky Mountains.
CL: How can people be conscious stewards of the land?DD: Don’t litter, carry bear spray, don’t pressure one area too much and respect other anglers and give them space on the river. Giving another angler room in Montana waters usually means you can’t see or hear the person. There’s plenty of water for everyone, you just have to find it.
CL: If someone is a total greenhorn, should they go out alone? If not, how can they go about finding a quality guide or outfitter?
DD: Going out alone can be done safely in most situations. Ask for advice from your local fly shops after you spend a little cash on some locally tied bugs. You can find some quality guides or outfitters in every corner of Montana. In Missoula, I prefer a low key, family-owned and -operated fly shop, like the Missoulian Angler. The owner Taylor Scott is a fifth-generation Missoulian and he knows fly fishing like nobody’s business. The manager, Walker Scarborough, and employee George Kesel, a fly tier for 40 years, also work in the shop and know everything you need to know about the local bugs and hotspots. I go there for everything I need in town.
CL: What are some of your favorite outfitters and fly shops?DD: I think all shops in Montana make it their mission to serve the customer best, but my favorite shops are the small mom and pop shops with character. Missoulian Angler in Missoula, O’Dell Creek Fly Shop at the Rainbow Valley Lodge in Ennis, Rock Creek Mercantile in Clinton and the Wolf Creek Angler in Wolf Creek. You can find great outfitters through those shops as well.
CL: Anything else?
DD: Fly fishing is a sport for everyone. Don’t be shy, ask questions and be humble. Fly fishing can be whatever you need it to be for your way of life. For me, it’s about fun and finding peace in beautiful places.
See also: Escape to Bliss With a Fly Rod