Sean Jansen

Fall Fly Fishing

   ~Sean Jansen


The steam from the coffee clouds up from the thermos and begins to fog the windshield of the car. The defroster is on full blast, but the morning layer of frozen dew slowly recedes much like the frigid core of the body beginning to warm. The rising sun makes it seem like you’re an early bird, but rest assured the only bird getting this worm is the slow rise of the sun well into the short autumn days.


The base layers make it stiff to put the waders on, but well worth it and necessary to enjoy the warming day on the river. Breathe can be seen easily with the briskness of the air as steam sizzles its way off the river. The surrounding mountains are encapsulated with alpine snow, and the cottonwoods and aspens lining the river are a blaze in bright yellows and reds. The line screams out of the reel and is fed through the guides with the gloved hands threading the needles with the deft and precision needed to bounce that nymph or swing that streamer within the crosshairs of that large brown trout. The first couple of steps into the water make you aware of the necessity of thicker socks and long johns; but the casting and search soon removes those thoughts.   


Long are the days of shorts, sandal tans, and full brimmed hats. The waders get dusted off, the long johns creak open after being folded in the drawer for the last few months, and the down and rain jackets make their debut. The dry fly boxes get buried in the tackle box and the indicators, nymph rigs, and most importantly, streamer patterns get tied and hooked-on as the trout of fall now have a heavier appetite in their preparation for winter. 


Welcome to fly fishing fall in Montana.


What is likely the highlight to fishing in fall is its relative solitude, especially in comparison to the pressure of the summer droves and hatches that attract people from around the globe to our rivers and lakes. On many occasions, the only company you have on the river are either the people you brought with you, or the falling leaves and the elusive trout and possibly a few curious antelope if you’re attacking the upper Madison, or Canadian geese splashing down on the lower Madison. You may also find a few white tailed deer along the Missouri, Jefferson, or Beaverhead; and if you're lucky, a bighorn sheep on the Gallatin, with of course the droves of construction workers heading up to Big Sky.


The real point is that the interests of many people are shifting to other Montana passions, including snow sports that indulge our thirst for outdoor activity for about 8 months a year. College classes are also a factor, with midterms quickly approaching and the textbooks opened instead of  fly boxes. Seasonal workers indulge in overtime, attempting to finish projects before the first real snow falls. And,  notably, the wealthier, seasonal snow-birds abandon Montana for warmer climes  Montana's fall rivers remain free and fairly abandoned, except for the devoted angler and trout who share moments on the water this time of year,