Montana may be the West’s crown jewel state when it comes to fly fishing. It may not have easy airports like Colorado but it makes up for it in other ways. Montana offers so many different kinds of angling experiences that even the most discerning of anglers will find a summer or fall enjoyable under that big sky.
Missoula and Surrounding Area
- Clark Fork – Big water offering anything from hoppers in August to mid-summer PMDs. To the east of Missoula it’s smaller water while after the city it can turn into big water.
- Rock Creek – This might be the top wading stream for anglers not feeling like hauling a boat around. This tributary to the Clark Fork is loaded with hungry browns, bows, and cutties. Almost 40 miles of stream to fish with a forest road running beside it. Plenty of camping spots but keep an eye out for moose.
- Blackfoot – Made famous by Norman Maclean in his book “A River Runs Through It,” the Blackfoot will make southern Appalachian anglers feel at home with her large boulders mixed in with whitewater rapids. Lots of pocket water begging for a large dry to be thrown in.
- Bitterroot – In late summer head up the forks for icy water coming out of the Bitterroot mountains. Similar to other Missoula area streams there’s a good mix of bows, cutties, and browns. The spring Skwala hatch is worth an airplane ticket. It usually happens before run off in June, so the fish haven’t seen the summer tourists yet.
Bozeman and Surrounding Areas
- Gallatin – Nestled along Highway 191, the Gallatin has plenty of road side access. With the amount of pressure this river gets it’s wise to buy a Yellowstone Fishing License and fish the upper reaches. This section is more meadowy with lots of curves and foam lines.
- Madison – This poor river sees plenty of anglers and boaters from it’s start near Quake lake to the small town of Ennis. Three Dollar Bridge is kind of a mecca for fly anglers so get there early in the season, and definitely early in the day. Plenty of public access for wade fishermen near Quake lake and below. It pays to take a twenty minute walk above or below the access points as most people will stay within eyesight of their cars.
Water off the beaten paths…
- Beaverhead – At its simplest form this river is a giant, bug producing irrigation ditch but it’s packed with buck nasty browns and rainbows. It’s smaller than some of it’s other MT tailwaters, but it makes up for it with technical fishing. There’s also small sloughs that shoot off the main river. These sloughs usually have picky browns in ultra clear, slow water.
- Ruby River – Access is tricky with it mostly being surrounded by ranches but this makes it hard for boats to launch so this is a wade fishermen’s paradise. Montana has an amazing wet foot law that allows anglers to access water from private areas so long as they stay in the water!
- Flathead – If the family wants to go see Glacier, the three forks that surround the park offer some fishing reprieve. While we are the topic, Glacier National Park really isn’t the park you want to fish but it does have lots of high alpine lakes with everything from grayling to lake trout in them. Just purchase a backcountry permit. The South Fork is in the world famous Bob Marshall Wilderness. World class cutthroat fishing awaits anyone willing to put in a few twenty mile days.
- Big Horn River – Large hatches of tiny BWO and tricos make this tailwater a top trout destination. Similar to other tailwaters scuds and tiny mayfly nymphs are good to nymph when the hatches are taking a breather.
- Missouri River – The “Mo” as the locals call it may be home to the nastiest and hardest fighting rainbows in the state. With a disgusting amount of fish per mile (5,000 fish/mile roughly) finding fish isn’t hard. It’s a great spot to float but bank anglers have no excuse to not catch at least a dozen fish before lunch. Watch out for prairie rattlers as they live in the rip rap along the river’s shore line.
- Yellowstone – This river deserves its own blog but from its exit of Yellowstone National Park to Livingston it becomes Montana’s largest un-dammed river. Without dams this river grows some monster fish. Fishing from a boat with large streamers is the way to go.
- Yellowstone National Park – Not much to say about this place other than buy a park fishing license and get their early…like 5 am. Besides avoiding easy access locations the park is a great place to fish. We prefer to find small creeks that run through the meadows that are packed with small brookies. Spend the evenings in the larger streams and rivers looking for risers once the crowds are gone for the day. The evening hatches start around 6pm and go well into the dark. The west side of the park has a lot of opportunities that are close by since driving ten miles in the park may take two hours with traffic and animal watchers.
- Bluelines – There are some spots so secret that no amount of free beer or cash will get you their names or GPS cords. Montana and more specifically the western side is loaded with small creeks that just about all have fish. Some will require a bush whacking while others flow right beside a major country highway. Take one or two days to go explore some small bluelines. Small creeks in Montana are known for surpise 18 in browns on big foam hoppers! We suggest Benchmark Maps or a similarly detailed atlas for blueline hunting.
- Carry bear spray with you. Montana has an awesome population of Grizzles. Attacks are INCREDIBLY rare but being prepared never hurts.
- Traveling during shoulder season in ski towns can get you awesome deals on food and lodging at otherwise pricey spots.
- Plenty of National Forest land to camp so don’t stress sleeping if you are on a budget.
- Watch out for private property signs, especially near ranches. Some big names like Ted Turner own giant chunks of land on the Madison.
- A chubby with a prince nymph dropper is a great starter rig if you see no bugs/feel clueless. However keep a good assortment of small nymphs like RS2s since tricos are the dominant late summer hatch. Sizes 18-24 all need to be kept in stock. You’ll never believe how small tricos are till one lands on you.