Fly Fishing Montana Hot Spots and Tips
Montana, also known as Big Sky Country, is home to some of the best fly fishing that exists in the entire world. Crystal clear Rocky Mountain lakes, beautiful rivers and streams, badlands, western prairie terrain, and scenery so amazing that even Hollywood produces and films movie after movie in Montana. Fly fishing in Montana should be on every angler's bucket list as the experience is next to none. The state of Montana is only a few hours' drive for me, as I live in Alberta, Canada just to the north of it. I like to take a fly fishing trip to Montana every year or two, usually trying to hit rivers and the odd stream.
Fly fishing in Montana is so superb that I wanted to write a blog on the best places to go, what types of fish you can expect to catch, and the different hatches you can expect to find. This way you will know what flies you will need to bring!
First off, where the hell is Montana? Montana is a state that is in the Northwestern part of the United States. Bordering Canada, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
What are some of the best rivers to fly fish in Montana?
Beginning near Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, the river is the longest free-flowing river in the United States, meaning it is not dammed. The Yellowstone River is known to be one of the best trout rivers there is. Interestingly enough, it is classified as a blue ribbon river.
Because of the rivers size, I would suggest on using a drift boat for fly fishing. Waders can be used, but I find the best fly fishing on the larger rivers is from a drift boat. If you do want to use waders, I would wait until summer for the water levels to drop.
The best fishing is done between Livingston and Gardiner. The river is full of insects which means big fish and great opportunity for fly fishing anglers. The river has deep shelves and troughs which makes the river ideal for streamer fishing. Who doesn’t like streamer fishing?
June and July are great months for hatches so you will want to take salmon flies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. Monster brown trout, rainbow trout, and native Yellowstone cutthroat are a few of the species you can expect to catch.
One of my favorite places to fly fish is the Madison River. The river is full of shallow runs, large boulders, and pockets of water. Caddis and stonefly hatches are abundant here, making it a great river for dry fly fishing and nymphing. The best times I find are spring and summer months for these hatches, but if trophy brown trout are more what you are looking for, then waiting until the move upstream in the fall for the browns is ideal. Streamers may have to be used to get these big browns, so make sure you stock up on flies before heading out.
The Madison River has the perfect combination of scenery, access, and fishing conditions that make it the perfect trifecta for a great fishing trip. Anglers from all over the world come to this river to fly fish, now that is saying something. Beneath Quake Lake, the river runs a nice 50 mile stretch through Madison Valley to Ennis, known as the 50-mile riffle. This stretch of river is what fly fishing is all about. If you are more into wading, this river is the perfect choice. I still choose to use a drift boat on it though.
The average fish you can expect to catch is between 16 to 18 inches. Brown trout, rainbows, and mountain whitefish are very common in the Madison River.
With over 180,000 insects per square meter, the Missouri River, also known as the Mighty MO, is home to some beautiful trout. June is a great month for fly fishing on the Missouri. The caddis, pale morning duns, and ants are out in full force during June.
Because of all the midges, caddis, and mayflies, this river can be fished all-year round. The most common fish in the Missouri are rainbows, but there are larger brown trout in there.
The Missouri River is over 700 miles in length, but there is a specific 40 mile stretch that you will want to target. This stretch is from below the Holter Dam to Cascade, and can be accessed near Craig, Montana. It is said that there are 3,500 to 5,500 fish per mile of river. Mid-June to around August is my favorite time of the year to be fishing this river. The river will be lower, and hatches will be in full swing.
What fly fishing angler doesn’t like the movie A River Runs Through It? Brad Pitt’s iconic image of him casting from the rock was shot in Gallatin Canyon. The scenery of this river is breathtaking to say the least. The Gallatin starts in the Yellowstone National Park, and from there it runs through Gallatin Canyon, and then it runs into the Jefferson and Madison Rivers.
If you are wanting to fish in the park, you will need a special permit, and keep in mind that they don’t allow floating. They also don’t allow floating in the Gallatin Canyon section, but wade fishing is top notch in these 40 miles past Big Sky and through Gallatin Canyon.
You can fish this river most of the year, but I would focus on the summer months when the hatches are happening. When out fly fishing, you can try fishing dry dropper setups, attractor nymphs, and stoneflies. The runoff is pretty intense and lasts until mid-June. A few weeks later though, and the salmon fly time is on! Nymphing is a great choice for this river, as the pools are fast, rocky, and deep.
Montana is full of creeks, rivers, and lakes that produce mountains of fish and scenery. If you haven’t been to Montana on a fishing trip yet, pencil it in! You can stop by local fly shops to learn about what the best fly patterns are and for what stretches they are used in. Locals are always kind, and they are willing to share great tips.
Many of the lakes and rivers I fish weekly are identical to Montana’s water sources because of our close proximity. Half of the fun is fishing, but the other half is enjoying the nature that you find yourself in when out on the water. I suggest taking lots of photos as these are sights you won’t see anywhere else.
Before heading out on a fishing trip, especially if you must travel a good distance to the destination, make sure you have an abundance of different flies. If a hatch is occurring and you don’t have the fly pattern to match, you can find yourself casting all day and not catching anything. A good assortment of dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, and streamers are ideal. I always carry 9-foot and 15-foot leaders with me, as well as different sizes of split shot. You can never have too much gear!
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.