Fly Fishing In Montana For Trout
If vast expanses of virtually untouched wilderness and crystal clear tumbling water filled with wild trout gets you feeling all giddy inside, fly fishing in Montana should be at the top of your bucket list. With some 450 sprawling ‘Blue Ribbon’ miles of the most densely packed trout water in North America, it’s no wonder the state is rich in fly fishing history and marveled by anglers around the world. Made culturally relevant by Norman Maclean and ‘A River Runs Through It’, which highlighted the famous Blackfoot River and the deeply seeded role fly fishing played in the community, fly fishing has become almost synonymous with Montana.
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” - Norman Maclean
Free-flowing spring creeks, rivers, lakes, streams, and tributaries litter the landscape offering up fly fishing opportunities for any skill level. With one of the highest populations of fishing guides, you can roll into town and be knee-deep in a legendary trout stream without having any knowledge of where to go, what to use, or which way’s north. If you’ve got the time, an all-inclusive lodging package on one of Montana’s world-class private waters is tough to beat - especially in the Yellowstone Park area. Most of these offer cabins in picturesque settings with trophy trout within shouting distance. Half or full-day guide trips for both wading and floating are available from most outfitters, which make for ideal opportunities if you’re not able to dedicate full days to fly fishing. Don’t hesitate to bring your family out on the water, and some of those same outfitters may even offer outdoor activities like kayak trips, ATV rides, and horseback riding.
5 Bucket-List Worthy Montana Rivers
Starting way up in Yellowstone National Park, this legendary tail water draws anglers from all over the world to enjoy some of the most prolific dry fly hatches anywhere in the country. But everything isn’t always as it seems on the surface… The Madison is known as big streamer water - and trophy brown and rainbow trout rarely pass up a meaty meal.
The Firehole is in a league of its own. It calls Yellowstone home and takes on an otherworldly character with spewing geysers and steam hovering over roaming bison and rising trout. If you can help it, plan your trip for May during the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch” - one of the highlights of the season. A guide or local fly shop will help you with all of this, but be aware of any special park regulations and necessary park licenses before heading out on the water.
Situated in Paradise Valley, the Yellowstone is America’s longest undammed river and is equally matched with beauty and beastly cutthroat trout. Mid-summer is ideal for fly fishing from a drift boat, and that time of year is game-on for big beefy dry flies like golden stonefly patterns that keep trout gorging on the surface all day long.
Boasting a serious rate of 6,000 fish per mile, the Bighorn is no doubt among the best in the world. Beautiful brook trout, browns, rainbows, and cutthroat trout can be caught all year long, and with profound mayfly and caddis hatches and screensaver-style views, this would be my number one if this list were ranked!
The movie made it famous, the trout keep fly fisherman coming back. The Blackfoot River is known for being one of the most classic and beautiful freestone rivers and is one of the few places in the state to catch Bull Trout, among the usual suspects. Early summer is best here, and if you can pull it off, book a float trip with a guide and fish through the canyons. The pictures alone will be worth it.
Montana’s Most Famous Trout Towns
Rich in both history and trout hot-spots, test your metal on the Gallatin, the Madison or the upper Yellowstone River. If you’re looking to explore Yellowstone Park, Bozeman is your closest civilization.
Explore the Blackfoot and it’s many tributaries and step back into fly fishing history. You can also expand your reach up towards Glacier National Park or over towards the capital of Helena.
The state capital offers up options: the Blackfoot River, Missouri River, Canyon Ferry Lake and numerous rivers to the south. If you want to escape the crowds during the busy months, try casting a dry fly in Wolf Creek.
One of the prettiest areas of the state with close access to the Big Hole and Jefferson Rivers, and the small downtown area is worth a visit and rich in history.
Located further east than most of the action, but the Billings area still maintains the same swagger as the likes of Missoula and Bozeman. The Yellowstone is epic - hands down - and with the river flowing right through town it’s as much an anglers paradise as any.
A trip to Montana is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for most, so jump on the opportunity if it presents itself. Your fishing buddies shouldn’t be hard to convince, or if it’s family time, you could instill a passion and respect for the outdoors that lasts a lifetime. Just about all of Montana’s rivers and streams open the third Saturday in May and stay open through November 30th, with lakes and reservoirs open to year-round fishing unless otherwise specified. Most areas are fishing-friendly, but be aware of private land other regulations like pinched-barb requirements or catch & release only sections of water. For the best possible experience, you can’t go wrong hiring a knowledgeable guide. What are you waiting for!