Best Fly Fishing in Montana

A fisherman enjoying fly fishing in a serene Montana stream.
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Montana is a revered destination for fly fishing enthusiasts, offering an array of pristine rivers and streams that are home to an abundant population of trout. Imagine wading through the crystal-clear waters in search of rainbow or brown trout, as the Big Sky Country unfolds its scenic beauty around you. The Bighorn River is one such spot, celebrated for its exceptional tailwater fishery below Yellowtail Dam, where the conditions sustain a rich aquatic life that leads to some of the most exciting fishing opportunities in the region.

Yellowstone River

When you’re exploring the best fly fishing spots in Montana, the Yellowstone River is a destination you cannot overlook. As the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states, it is revered for its high-quality wild trout fisheries. You’ll find more than 200 miles of fishable water full of large brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.

Prime Locations and Tips:

  • Spring and early summer: Look for stoneflies, which are particularly effective during this season. Consider using the Rogue Stonefly pattern — the runoff subsides making it a great choice.
  • Fall: Streamers can entice the larger trout as they become more aggressive.

Fly Selections:

  • Stonefly imitations in black/orange and yellow/gold
  • Mayfly and caddis hatches are abundant, so bring a variety of these imitations

Habitats to Explore:

  • Fast-moving pockets and riffles which are excellent for dry fly fishing
  • Deeper runs and pools suitable for nymphing and streamers

With its dynamic sections, from swift pocket waters to meandering meadow stretches, you’re in for a diverse fishing experience. For personalized guidance or a tailored fishing adventure, the Montana Angling Company can equip you with insider knowledge and expert advice.

Remember, while the Yellowstone River is a public waterway, always respect private land boundaries. Check the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for updates on access points, river conditions, and fishing regulations to ensure you’re fishing legally and safely.

Madison River

Renowned for its excellent trout fishing, the Madison River offers you diverse fishing sections, each with its own unique appeal. In the channels section, exclusive access to top-notch waters is available, especially at partner lodges like the Madison Valley Ranch.

When you visit the Bear Trap Canyon, extending for 8 miles from Ennis Lake, it is advisable to be prepared for a more challenging fishing experience due to its remoteness and limited access points. Within its stretch, you’ll find healthy populations of brown and rainbow trout.

Popular Flies on the Madison River:

  • Emergent Sparkle Pupa
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Sparkle Dun
  • Pale Morning Dun
  • Parachute Adams
  • Green Drake

Sizes: 12-16

During summer, a variety of hatches, including extensive caddis, provide a perfect setup for dry fly fishing. If you’re aiming to experience these hatches, timing your visit post-Salmon Fly hatch is ideal.

Montana Angling Co and Madison River Fishing Company are local entities that can equip you with the necessary gear and knowledge, ensuring you have a successful fly fishing trip.

Lastly, the upper part of the river, beginning in Yellowstone National Park, opens for fishing in late May, with late June often heralded as the optimal time to visit once the runoff season concludes.

A Guide to Fly-Fishing the Madison River | The Madison River | Where to Fly Fish on the Madison River, Montana

Missouri River

When you’re exploring the best fly fishing spots in Montana, the Missouri River is a must-visit destination renowned for its bountiful trout populations and dynamic fishing experiences. This river, starting at Three Forks, is a central part of Montana’s fly fishing lore.

The section below Holter Dam is particularly celebrated for its high density of fish, with estimates of around 5,500 trout per mile. Here, you can expect to encounter both rainbow and brown trout, with the former averaging between 14 to 18 inches in length.


  • Great Hatches: Enjoy abundant hatches including Blue Winged Olives, caddis, tricos, and terrestrials.
  • Fish Size: Expect large trout, often in the 16-20 inches range.
  • Trout Density: Exceptional, with an average of 5,500 trout per mile.

The Townsend Stretch provides a diverse range of opportunities from the dam down, offering not only quality rainbow and brown trout but also the chance for some world-class carp fishing.

While you fish, be mindful of the technique. The trout in the Missouri River can be quite selective, requiring precise fly presentations. Local knowledge or the guidance of a Montana fly fishing guide can be indispensable in these situations.

Remember to check out the confluence where the Dearborn River meets the Missouri River for a more secluded experience, though it may not offer the solitude found in less-frequented streams.

Whether you’re a seasoned angler or new to fly fishing, the Missouri River’s mix of accessibility, fish density, and beautiful scenery makes it a top destination in Montana.

Gallatin River

When seeking the best fly fishing experiences in Montana, the Gallatin River is a must-visit destination. Originating from Yellowstone National Park, the river offers roughly 100 miles of accessible, prime fishing waters before it converges to help form the Missouri River.

Seasonal Tips

  • Spring: Your best bet is to aim for warm, sunny days, with prime times between 11am and 3pm.
  • Winter: Key flies include patterns like Pat’s Rubberlegs to imitate the stonefly population.

Access Points:

In the canyon stretch south of Bozeman, you’ll find a medium-sized freestone river with exhilarating brawling waters. Fly patterns for this area should include:

  • Girdle bugs
  • Little golden stones
  • Midges
  • Baetis nymphs
  • Attractor nymphs

Fly fishing the Gallatin River in Montana offers both diverse and abundant opportunities. Its wide variety of water, excellent access points, and relatively low pressure from fishing make it an enticing river for anglers of all levels. Remember to check for seasonal hatches and to adapt your fly selection accordingly to ensure a productive day on the water.

Bighorn River

Montana’s Bighorn River is a premier destination for fly fishing enthusiasts. This tailwater fishery originates from the Yellowtail Dam and is renowned for its high density of trout. Specifically, you’ll find an impressive population of brown and rainbow trout, which can provide a rewarding fly fishing experience.

Key Tactics for Success:

  • Drift Fishing: Employing a drift boat enables you to navigate a lengthy stretch that is both remote and rich with trout.
  • Nymphing: Active mending and extending your drift can prove very effective.
  • Dry Fly Fishing: Look for rising trout during hatches to switch to a dry fly setup.

Fishing Conditions:

  • Flow: The flow from the dam creates a consistent environment, contributing to prolific hatches.
  • Visibility: Clear water conditions can vary, so timing your trip post-runoff or during stable weather periods may yield the best clarity.

Recommended Gear:

  • Leaders: 9-foot 5X
  • Tippet: 5X and 6X
  • Flies: Nymphs like scuds or sow bugs, dry flies during hatches.

Before planning your trip to the Bighorn River, it’s important to respect the local regulations and the Crow Native American Reservation boundaries that the river passes through. Be mindful to secure any necessary permissions or passes. With its consistent flows, and abundance in trout, it is no wonder that the Bighorn River is often highlighted as one of the top spots for fly fishing in Montana.

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River in Montana stands as a beacon for enthusiastic fly fishers. It’s renowned for its pristine waters and abundant trout, making it a must-visit for the fly-fishing aficionado.

On this river, you’ll commonly use a 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line for dry flies and small nymphs. When targeting larger nymphs and streamers, consider using a 9-foot 6-wt rod with a sink tip fly line for an easier experience. Standard gear includes a tapered 9-foot leader with tippet size 3X to 6X, tailored to match the flies you’re casting DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Blackfoot River in Montana.

  • Seasonal Hatches: The river is a haven for stoneflies, particularly during the legendary Salmon Fly hatch.
  • Flow: Normal flow rates can vary, peaking around late May. It’s crucial to check current conditions for optimal fishing.
  • Conservation Efforts: Thanks to over 40 years of conservation, the Blackfoot River boasts restored habitats and excellent fly fishing opportunities Blackfoot River Fishing Guide – Montana Trout Outfitters.

While this river receives ample use, the fly fishing pressure is relatively less compared to other Montana rivers. This is partly due to a variety of recreational users. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has played a significant role in managing the river, ensuring a high-quality fishing experience The Blackfoot River in Montana | Detailed Fly Fishing & Floating Guide.

In summary, equipped with the right gear and knowledge of the seasonal conditions, you’ll find the Blackfoot River to be an exemplary fly-fishing destination.

Rock Creek

When you’re ready to embark on a fly fishing adventure in Montana, Rock Creek should be on your radar. Renowned for its clear waters and abundant trout, Rock Creek flows through the picturesque landscape of Southwest Montana and offers a top-tier fly fishing experience.

Seasons & Flies:

  • Salmonfly Hatch: Rock Creek boasts a solid Golden Stone hatch, starting in late June through July, where sizes 4-8 flies are effective.
  • Summer: Top water fishing with dry flies becomes viable during the warmest months.

Gear Recommendations:

RodLineLeaderTippet Sizes
9-ftFloatingTapered 9-ft3X to 6X
For larger nymphs and streamers, a sink tip fly line may be advantageous, particularly for the deeper runs.   

Navigating Rock Creek’s high gradient requires attention, especially when floating. Contact local fly shops like Missoula Angler to learn about any obstacles you might encounter if you plan on taking a raft.

Access Points:

  • From Missoula, take the 21-mile drive east to Rock Creek Road, heading south off I-90 at exit 126.
  • Alternatively, access from Philipsburg via Route 348, leading to Kyle Bohrnsen Bridge.

Remember to tailor your tackle to match the conditions and hatches during your visit to maximize your chances of a successful fly fishing experience.

Clark Fork River

When you venture to Montana for fly fishing, the Clark Fork River stands out as an exceptional destination. Stretching for nearly 300 miles, the river offers a diverse array of fishing scenarios. Your fly fishing experience here can be enhanced with the right gear and knowledge of the local conditions.

  • Upper River: The meandering upper stretches afford a more intimate ambiance for wading and spotting wild trout in their natural habitat.
  • Lower River: Downstream, the river expands and slows, presenting opportunities for targeting larger trout from a boat or while wading on the broad, slow sections.

The recommended tackle for fly fishing on the Clark Fork includes:

  • Rod: A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod suits dry flies and small nymphs perfectly. For casting larger flies, opt for a 6 to 7 weight to contend with Montana’s winds and big water.
  • Line: Equip yourself with a floating line for surface presentations or a sink tip fly line for sub-surface techniques.
  • Leader and Tippet: A standard 9-foot leader is advisable, with a tippet size ranging from 3X to 6X, matching the size of the flies you plan to use.

Whether you’re seeking the tranquility of solitary wading or the thrill of navigating the larger waters by boat, the Clark Fork River offers a versatile fly fishing experience that caters to anglers of all preferences. Remember to research the local hatches and prepare accordingly to increase your chances of a successful outing.

Boulder River

Nestled in the natural splendor of Montana, the Boulder River offers an exceptional fly fishing experience. Its headwaters begin in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, flowing northward until meeting the Yellowstone River. This river is particularly known for its crystal-clear waters and abundance of rainbow and brown trout.

When you’re planning your trip, consider that the Boulder River is suitable for a range of fishing techniques. To target the local rainbow and brown trout, it’s advisable to opt for a 10-foot 4-wt fly rod with floating line for dry flies and small nymphs. For streamers or larger nymphs, a 9-foot 5-wt with a sink tip will make casting and control more manageable.

You should be equipped with a tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X, to match the flies you are planning to use. Throughout the seasons, the river supports numerous hatches, offering the chance to fish with dry flies. Notable hatches include the prolific Golden Stones, Caddis, and Mayfly species.

For a memorable experience, consider booking a guided trip where experts familiar with the river’s character can enhance your fishing adventure. The Boulder River is revered not only for its fishing but also for the scenic views and wildlife, adding to the serene ambiance. Remember, the river’s water levels can influence your success, so timing your visit is crucial, particularly during spring runoff and periods of low rainfall.

Stillwater River

When planning your fly fishing trip in Montana, the Stillwater River should certainly be on your list. This river offers a remarkable fly fishing experience, notable for both the scenic views and the abundance of fish.

Best Time to Visit

It’s important to consider the best times for fly fishing this river. Early fall is prime as conditions are typically excellent for various trout species.

Essential Gear

Your gear plays a crucial role in the success of your trip.

  • Rod: A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod for dry flies and small nymphs.
  • Line: Floating line is standard, but a sink tip fly line is beneficial for larger nymphs and streamers.
  • Leader: A tapered 9-foot leader is recommended.
  • Tippet: Sizes range from 3X to 6X, contingent on the flies you choose.

River Characteristics

The Stillwater River is approximately an hour and a half from Bozeman and one hour from Livingston. You’ll find that the river is home to diverse fish species such as cutthroat, rainbow, and brook trout, with the occasional golden trout. Fish size can vary but they often range between 8-10 inches in the non-wilderness sections.

Access and Locations

For access to remote areas of the Stillwater, prepare for a hike into National Forest land. The floatable lower portion located conveniently close to Livingston, offers more accessible fishing spots.

Remember to match your tackle and timing with the conditions and the behaviors of local fish populations to ensure a successful and enjoyable fly fishing adventure.

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