With over 3,000 lakes and trout-filled rivers that make up Montana's landscape, it's no wonder the state is considered an angler's paradise. The state is widely considered the best place to fly fish in the United States.
It's home to some of the most beautiful and pristine waters full of trout and salmon, making it a top destination for sportsmen from all over the country. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced angler, plenty of breathtaking spots in Montana will provide the perfect backdrop for your next fly fishing adventure.
Best Fly Fishing Locations in Montana
From the legendary rivers of Missoula and Bozeman to the smaller tributaries in Big Sky Country, here are the top 17 places to go for an unforgettable fly fishing adventure in Montana:
1. Beaverhead River
The Beaverhead River, originating from Clark Canyon Reservoir, carves its way through a picturesque valley, offering a mix of easy access and remote stretches. With numerous public access points, Anglers can enjoy wade and float fishing.
The river's hatches are a fly fisher's dream, with prolific mayfly, caddisfly, and stonefly activity. Brown and rainbow trout thrive in upper Beaverhead’s nutrient-rich waters, making it a year-round destination for those seeking trophy-sized fish.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Beaverhead River, Montana:
- Copper John in Black - Size 12
- Hare's Ear - Natural - Size 18 - 22
- Elk Hair Caddis CDC- TAN - Size 16
2. Big Hole River
The Big Hole River, a beautiful tributary of the Jefferson River, winds its way through the picturesque Beaverhead County in southwestern Montana, United States. It stretches for about 153 miles and holds a special title as the last sanctuary for native fluvial Arctic grayling in the contiguous United States.
Flowing through southwestern Montana, the Big Hole River showcases a variety of angling environments within a relatively short distance. Its upper reaches boast swift currents and pocket water, while the lower sections meander through expansive valleys.
Access is convenient, with a network of fishing access sites along its course. Cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout populate these waters, and whether you're casting dry flies, nymphs, or streamers, the Big Hole's diverse habitat provides endless angling possibilities.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Big Hole River, Montana:
3. Bighorn River
The Bighorn River, emerging from Yellowtail Dam, offers exceptional fishing year-round due to consistent water temperatures. Its well-regulated flows provide excellent conditions for both wade and float fishing. Access is primarily via drift boats, offering anglers a chance to cover a significant stretch of river.
This blue-ribbon fishery is renowned for its prolific insect hatches and boasts an impressive fish count per mile. Rainbow and brown trout are the primary targets here, with the chance to hook into sizeable fish. The Bighorn's accessibility, prolific insect life, and trophy fish potential make it a must-visit destination for avid fly fishers.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Bighorn River, Montana:
4. Bitterroot River
The Bitterroot River, spanning 84 miles, flows northward through the picturesque Bitterroot Valley. Starting from the merging of its West and East forks near Conner in southern Ravalli County, it gracefully winds its way to meet the Clark Fork River near Missoula in Missoula County, in the magnificent western Montana region.
Access is abundant, with numerous bridges and fishing access sites. The river's riffles, runs, and deep pools provide diverse fishing conditions that cater to all angler skill levels. Cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout call this river home, and its accessibility and family-friendly environment make it an ideal spot for introducing newcomers to fly fishing.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Bitterroot River, Montana:
5. Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot River, also known as the Big Blackfoot River, is located in western Montana. Flowing with the meltwater from snow and springs, the Blackfoot River originates in Lewis and Clark County, specifically at the Continental Divide, approximately 10 miles northeast of the charming town of Lincoln.
Flowing through the heart of the Blackfoot Valley, the river features riffles, pools, and boulder-strewn sections. Access points are well-marked, and the river is renowned for its dry fly fishing. Native westslope cutthroat trout are a prized catch here, providing a sense of nostalgia and connection to Montana's angling heritage.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Blackfoot River, Montana:
- Kaufmanns Stimulators - Orange - Size 12
- Trophy Dungeon in Black - Size 8
- Parachute Mahogany Duns - Size 12
6. Boulder River
The Boulder River, a hidden gem, winds its way through breathtaking canyons and valleys. Its remote location offers a sense of seclusion and tranquility, perfect for those seeking a peaceful fishing experience. Access is via trailheads and small pull-offs, contributing to the river's uncrowded nature.
Rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout inhabit these waters, and anglers can expect a mix of fishing environments, from riffles to deep pools. The Boulder's remote beauty and excellent fishing opportunities make it a well-kept secret among Montana fly anglers.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Boulder River, Montana:
7. Clark Fork River
As Montana's largest river by volume, the Clark Fork River provides an array of fishing conditions across its vast expanse. From the fast-paced upper reaches to the meandering waters near Missoula, anglers can target a diverse range of species, including cutthroat, rainbow, brown trout, and even northern pike.
Access points are numerous, ensuring opportunities for both wade and float fishing. This dynamic river offers something for every angler, whether you're chasing large trout in the upper sections or enjoying a multi-species experience closer to Missoula.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Clark Fork River, Montana:
8. East Gallatin River
Close to the town of Bozeman, the East Gallatin River offers a convenient escape for local and visiting anglers alike. Its smaller size and accessibility make it a great location for practicing dry fly techniques and refining your skills.
The East Gallatin River is a renowned fishing destination, teeming with abundant populations of rainbow and brown trout, along with mountain whitefish. Access to this scenic river is primarily limited to country road crossings and two well-maintained public access sites under the care of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department. Strong hatches draw trout to the surface, creating exciting angling opportunities.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the East Gallatin River, Montana:
9. Gallatin River
Bordering Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin River offers stunning scenery and exceptional fishing opportunities. Access is convenient, with the river flowing through the Gallatin Valley and paralleling well-traveled roads.
Cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout populate its waters, providing a wild and scenic angling experience. Whether you're casting dry flies to rising fish or working nymphs through riffles, the Gallatin's captivating landscapes and abundant trout populations make it a cherished destination for fly fishers.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Gallatin River, Montana:
10. Jefferson River
The Jefferson River is formed by the convergence of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers, creating a unique blend of fishing environments and species. Its relatively uncrowded nature offers a sense of solitude and exploration.
Brown trout thrive in its deep pools, while riffles provide prime habitat for rainbow and cutthroat trout. The river's diverse character and less-traveled waters make it a hidden treasure among Montana's fly fishing destinations.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Jefferson River, Montana:
11. Madison River
The Madison River, spanning about 183 miles (295 km), is a significant tributary of the Missouri River. Flowing through the picturesque landscapes of Wyoming and Montana, its confluence with the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers near Three Forks, Montana, gives rise to the mighty Missouri River.
Flowing through the iconic Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River offers a mix of wade and float fishing opportunities. Its renowned hatches, including the famous salmonfly emergence, create thrilling dry fly action. Rainbow and brown trout flourish in these nutrient-rich waters, with the potential to catch trophy-sized fish.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Madison River, Montana:
12. Missouri River
The longest source stream of the longest river in the US, the Missouri River, originates near Brower's Spring in southwest Montana, at an elevation of 9,100 feet on the southeastern slopes of Mount Jefferson in the Centennial Mountains. From there, it meanders westward before turning north, initially flowing through Hell Roaring Creek and then continuing westward into the Red Rock. It then changes course to the northeast, transforming into the Beaverhead River, before ultimately merging with the Big Hole to form the Jefferson River.
Below Holter Dam, the Missouri River tailwater provides exceptional fishing throughout the year. This section is celebrated for its consistent hatches and remarkable rainbow and brown trout fishing. Its long stretches and varied water types offer opportunities for both novices and experienced anglers. Access is plentiful, and the river's reliable flows make it a dependable fishing destination, no matter the season.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Missouri River, Montana:
13. Rock Creek
Located within the Lolo National Forest, Rock Creek is a small, remote stream with crystal-clear waters. Its untouched wilderness setting makes it a pristine and peaceful fishing haven. Native cutthroat and rainbow trout inhabit its pools and riffles, providing exciting dry fly opportunities. With its remote beauty and the chance to connect with wild trout in an unspoiled environment, Rock Creek offers a true Montana fly fishing adventure.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Rock Creek, Montana:
14. Ruby River
The Ruby River, a tributary of the Beaverhead River, flows for about 76 miles through the scenic landscapes of southwestern Montana. Originating in the Beaverhead National Forest, nestled between the majestic Snowcrest Range and the rugged Gravelly Range, this river showcases the natural beauty of the region.
Less explored than its counterparts, the Ruby River is a hidden treasure for fly fishers seeking solitude and exceptional angling experiences. Its diverse fishing conditions, from fast runs to slow pools, cater to a variety of fishing preferences. Brown and rainbow trout thrive in its waters, and its smaller size contributes to its peaceful and secluded nature.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Ruby River, Montana:
15. Smith River
The Smith River offers a distinctive angling experience through its multi-day float trips in breathtaking canyons. The section of the Smith River stretching from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge is the sole river corridor in Montana that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks manages under a permit system. Before the spring season, permits for private floats along the Smith River are allocated to the public through a lottery system.
Accessible by permit and known for its limited entry, the Smith River provides a sense of remoteness and adventure. Brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout await in its waters, and the float trip allows anglers to access remote fishing locations while immersing themselves in Montana's rugged landscapes.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Smith River, Montana:
16. Stillwater River
The Stillwater River, a Yellowstone River tributary, meanders through southern Montana's scenic landscape. Stretching approximately 70 miles, this captivating waterway presents diverse fishing opportunities. From tranquil pocket water to lively riffles and serene deep pools, anglers can relish in its accessibility and ever-changing conditions, catering to a spectrum of angling preferences.
The Stillwater River is renowned as a Blue Ribbon fishery, offering an abundance of trout as the primary game fish. While Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout dominate the lower sections, the headwaters reveal an increased presence of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and Brook Trout. During the spring, Rainbow Trout from the Yellowstone River migrate upstream into the Stillwater, with some venturing as far as Nye to spawn.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Stillwater River, Montana:
17. Yellowstone River
The longest undammed river in the lower 48 states, the Yellowstone River presents an unparalleled fishing experience across its length. From its pristine headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to its confluence with the Missouri River, anglers can target various trout species, including cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and cutbow trout.
Its diverse fishing conditions and breathtaking landscapes create an angling adventure like no other, making the Yellowstone River a quintessential destination for fly fishers seeking both challenge and beauty.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Yellowstone River, Montana:
What Gear do I need to Fly Fish in Montana?
When preparing for a fly fishing adventure in Montana, it's essential to have the right gear to make the most of your experience. Here's a list of must-have gear for fly fishing in Montana:
- Fly Rod and Reel: A versatile 4-6 weight fly rod is ideal for most Montana rivers. Pair it with a reliable reel and matching fly line.
- Flies: Pack a variety of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers to match the local hatches and fishing conditions.
- Leaders and Tippets: Carry a range of leader lengths (3x, 4x) and tippet sizes (3x-5x) to accommodate different fishing situations.
- Waders and Wading Boots: Invest in comfortable, breathable waders and durable wading boots for river exploration.
- Fishing Vest or Pack: Stay organized with a fishing vest or pack to carry your gear, flies, and accessories.
- Rain Gear: Montana weather can change quickly, so pack waterproof rain gear to stay dry.
- Fishing License: Ensure you have a valid Montana fishing license before you hit the water. Obtain your fishing license from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks.
Additional Facts about Fly Fishing in Montana
What Part of Montana Has the Best Fly Fishing?
Montana is vast and diverse, offering exceptional fly fishing opportunities throughout the state. While each region has its unique charm, southwestern Montana is often considered the fly fishing epicenter. This area is home to iconic rivers like the Madison, Gallatin, and Yellowstone, providing a concentration of world-class fisheries in close proximity.
What Month is Best for Fly Fishing in Montana?
The optimal fly fishing months in Montana vary depending on the region and the specific rivers you plan to fish. Generally, the prime fishing season spans from late spring to early fall. May and June bring prolific hatches and great dry fly action. July and August offer consistent fishing conditions and beautiful weather. September and October are ideal for fall foliage and less crowded rivers, while early spring can yield excellent results as the fish become active after winter.
What is the Fly Fishing Capital of Montana?
Ennis, Montana, often holds the title of the "Fly Fishing Capital of Montana." This charming town is nestled in the heart of southwestern Montana and provides easy access to legendary rivers like the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin. Ennis offers a perfect blend of angling culture, friendly locals, and breathtaking scenery, making it a haven for fly fishing enthusiasts.