Thinking about putting Montana on your fly fishing bucket list? If not, you should do so immediately. Montana is one of the world’s most spectacular and pristine fly-fishing destinations and somewhere you just have to fish before you die.
Montana boasts of some of the best fly fishing rivers in the United States, from the Blackfoot River to Yellowstone River among many others.
If you’re heading to (or are in) Montana, be sure to check out some of these amazing Montana fly fishing rivers.
12 Best Places for Fly Fishing Montana
1. Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone is one of the most famous rivers in Montana, without doubt, one of the best Montana fly fishing rivers. You can fly fish in this fantastic river for weeks at a time and you still won’t exhaust what this blue ribbon river has to offer.
The river originates in Yellowstone National Park flowing out of Yellowstone Lake and it is the longest free-flowing river plus one of the healthiest rivers in the US. You can fish pocket water in the upper reaches and the wider and blue ribbon sections between Gardiner and Columbus.
This is a big trout river and most trout anglers will catch their PB brown, rainbow, and cutthroat on their fly fishing trips to the Yellowstone, with some hard fishing of course. You’ll also catch a ton of native fluvial arctic grayling, aka mountain white fish too.
The upper sections are best waded while the larger middle and bottom stretches should be fished from a drift boat. The upper and middle sections of the river offers the best brown and cutthroat trout fishing while rainbows become more abundant down river.
The fly fishing season on this river runs from April to October but the best time to be there is July to October after the snowmelt has passed when the dry fly and streamer fishing is best.
Where To Fish On The Yellowstone River
Being the longest river you can fly fish in Montana, fishing pressure on the Yellowstone River is minimal despite a lot of Montana anglers and many anglers from the rest of the US fishing it regularly.
Access is easy outside of Yellowstone National Park and where the river winds around Livingston, Gardiner, and Columbus are great fishing spots.
If you’re up for one of the most epic day trips of your life, hike into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park to find unpressured fish and some of the most beautiful fishing scenery on the planet.
Recommended Flies For The Yellowstone
- Stoneflies, caddisflies, mayflies, adams
- White moth, brown ant, hopper
- Prince Nymphs, GRHE, Pheasant tail
- Oliver streamers
2. The Madison River
The Madison River is probably one of the most revered trout rivers in the whole of Montana when it comes to fly fishing and hence it has to be one of the best rivers in Montana.
This is not a large river and is more of a 50-mile riffle that joins the Gallatin river and Jefferson River to become the Missouri River downstream.
It takes time to learn the rhythms and the intricacies of this one river as the dynamic, swift waters of the river makes it a hard one to read. Anglers fly fishing it for the first time will be puzzled.
Once you crack it, which is a right of passage for every Montana angler, you’ll find a huge population of wild browns and rainbows and large trout too. It’s one of the best trout rivers in Montana when it comes to having high average-sized fish.
Fish will rise to dries throughout the fly fishing season but the best time to be there is during the annual salmon fly hatch in early summer between June 20 and July 4. Anglers from all over the world come to fish in Montana to fish this hatch.
Where To Fish On The Madison
The Madison is easy to access along its entire length and some of the best spots are near the town of Ennis, especially around Ennis Lake as well as the headwaters where it flows out of Earthquake Lake.
We recommend you stay at the Brook Trout Inn Cabins & Mountain Homes when you’re fishing the Madison River.
Recommended Flies For The Madison
- Salmon flies, stoneflies, caddis
- Beetles, ants, hoppers
- San Juan Worms, egg patterns, sculpins, and zonkers
3. Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot River is as magical as they come and of the best places to fly fish in Montana. Its fame is attributed to the book and film “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean.
Located in Western Montana in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, the Blackfoot arguably offers some of the most pristine freestone fly fishing in Montana. The scenery combined with the hatches is phenomenal enough while the trout fishing for cuttys, bows, and browns is just a bonus. Blackfoot River definitely needs to be in your checklist when you’re trout fishing USA.
This Montana river is a pretty textbook boulder river with some mix of whitewater and it’s a big fish river that is home to some of the most consistent dry fly fishing in Montana. This might just be the fly fishing nirvana you have been looking for.
Where To Fish On The Blackfoot River
With more than 130 miles of fantastic fly fishing and easy access via Highway 200 and Highway 141, there isn’t really a bad spot on the Blackfoot. Though the most prized section is between the River Junction Fishing Access Site to Clearwater Crossing near Ovando.
Recommended Flies For The Blackfoot
- Attractor dry flies – Olive Stimulator, Green Renegade
- Adams, X-caddis, Elk Hair Caddis
4. Hegben Lake
Hegben Lake is one of the special trout fishery regions of Montana, providing a summer and winter habitat for large schools of brown trout and large rainbow trout. These fish species mostly move in and out of the Madison River to spawn. On calm day, Hegben Lake provides you with some great sight fishing for cruising risers.
Depending on what is hatching at the time of fishing, the fish may feed on tricos or callibaetis mayflies. You might want to get yourself a float tube or a pontoon boat to get to the fish. Sometimes the fish get spooky; thus, you might want to bring long leaders as well. It would be best to concentrate around Grayling or Madison arms of the lake since you might find heavy boat traffic in other parts of the lake.
5. The Missouri River
Located near Craig, the Missouri River is a fine blue ribbon tailwater fishery in Montana with over 5,000 trout per mile.
If you are lucky enough, you can even land trout averaging 17-19 inches. For the doubting Thomases, trust me, grab your gear and head over to Missouri River to give it a try.
It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, Missouri River is a true year-round fly fishing spot for Montana. It is actually one of the few of its kind in big sky country.
The best time to fish the Missouri River in Montana is in late September through October or in April, May, and June. During this time, you can count on getting great caddisfly and mayfly hatches to keep the trout in the river looking up.
It’s also one of the most versatile trout streams in Montana as you can also find some excellent streamer and nymph fishing there.
Where To Fish On The Missouri
The Missouri is a long 700-mile river so finding a good fishing spot isn’t so easy but there is a special section of 30- to 40-miles that is better than others.
From below Holter Dam to 40 miles north of Helena holds wade fishing and float fishing opportunities with interesting water but expect to see plenty of other anglers there over summer.
Recommended Flies For The Missouri
6. The Bighorn River
The Bighorn River boasts great numbers of fish per mile, making it a trout fly fishing fantasy land. Furthermore, there are epic hatches around these parts of Montana which keep the fish just underneath the surface and looking up.
Although the fish populations have taken significant hits due to various environmental changes in this region of Montana over the years, the river remains a worthwhile destination for us fly fishermen.
Brown trout are the most popular trout species anglers come to find in this region of Montana but there are some 20-inch rainbows to catch too. So, get your fly fishing gear ready for this and head on down.
The Big Horn is characteristic with clear waters with over 6,000 fish per mile, with many of these fish species being 20 inches or longer.
The Big Horn River is a year-long fishery but the most productive months are July through September. There are plentiful hatches of caddis and morning duns.
Where To Fish On The Bighorn
Being a tailwater, this river can be fished all year round, and the best spot to cast your fly will be below the Yellowtail Afterbay Dam. This area is best fished on a float tube or from a drift boat as it’s quite deep. Expect it to be busy outside of winter.
Recommended Flies For The Big Horn
- Yellow Stimulator
- Foam Beetle
- Sparkle Dun
- Rusty Spinner
- Last Chance Cripple
- Captive Dun
7. Rock Creek
If you’re a wading angler, Rock Creek is probably the best location for your next fly fishing trip in Montana.
The area is not too small and not too big, just the right size of a stream for wading. You can expect lots of stoneflies, Yellow sallies, caddis, and salmon fly hatch mostly because of Rock Creek’s tumbling nature. This is why the area attracts anglers not only from Montana but also from all over the world.
The fish species predominantly found in the upper reaches are rainbow trout and cutthroat. It then slowly transitions towards brown trout as the river slows and widens in the lower catchment.
8. The Big Hole River
The Big Hole is a legendary blue-ribbon trout stream located in southwest Montana near Dillon. The river begins at Skinner Lake in the Beaverhead Mountains and hosts four major trout species.
However, the Big Hole is especially popular for its giant brown trout. Although the water level of the rivers in these parts of Montana reduces drastically in the summers, there are diverse conditions in different parts of the rivers suitable for fishing.
This means that despite the tough conditions, you can still find great fishing spots on The Big Hole River.
The best time to fish big hole river in Montana is in April because of the blue winged olive and skwala stonefly hatches. This time of year makes for one of the best dry fly fishing trips you’re able to have.
Furthermore, you can pass by the Sunrise Fly Shop in Melrose and get yourself the latest reports, fishing guides, and flies.
9. Paradise Valley Spring Creeks
Most of the Montana fly fishing destinations in this area are privately owned and on private land. Therefore, you can expect fishing here to be a bit more expensive than many other locations in Montana.
However, you will find the fishing experience in these parts worth the price of admission as the fishing is a lot less pressured compared to the likes of the Gallatin River or the Smith River, for example.
You can expect to find heavy hatches of morning duns that will bring almost every fish in the creeks to the surface.
The waters in Paradise Spring Creeks are very rich in nutrients so expect to find large brown and rainbow trout. However, this is not easy fishing as the nutrients also create a lot of weeds.
Due to the nature of the rivers, it can be pretty challenging to wade them plus hook and land the fish you fool with your flies.
10. Bitterroot River
The Bitterroot River is yet another exciting Montana fly fishing destination located near the southwest part of the state.
The scenery here is absolutely spectacular and with the river’s plentiful supply of rainbow trout, it is truly a must-visit river in Montana. You may also be lucky to land a brown trout or cutthroat along the way too.
The Bitterroot River has outstanding hatches, and if you’re lucky enough to be on the river during a skwala hatch, you’re going to have fun!
The best time to fish the Bitterroot is during the warm months, just around the time for green and brown drakes to hatch and then it transitions to tricos over the late summer period.
11. Clark Fork River
For some of the best dry fly and streamer fishing, you can find on any Montana fly fishing trip, you should head over to Clark Fork River.
The river starts up near Butte and Deer Lodge and follows the Interstate 90 road all the way past Missoula and into Idaho. The flathead and Blackfoot rivers both flow into the Clark Fork near Missoula but upstream the river is tiny changing dramatically as it flows downstream.
You should spend your time in the sections above Missoula as this is where the most browns, rainbows, and cuttys live.
The best time to visit the Clark Fork River is in June, July, August, or during the fall when you will find fish rising all throughout the day to most dries and will inhale a streamer too. That is why this river is a must-visit destination if you’re planning a Montana fly fishing trip.
12. North Fork of the Flathead River
There are only a few rivers in Montana that can offer the scenery, wildlife, and remoteness of the North Fork of the Flathead River it runs through the Lolo National Forest.
This river runs southward from the Canadian border into Montana and offers a great location for an adventurous Montana dry fly fishing experience. You can expect to find some of the native brook trout, cutthroats, and occasionally a bull trout in this river.
This far north it can be rather cold, which means there are comparatively poor fly hatches. That said, you’ll get smaller cutthroats to rise for a parachute Adams or yellow humpy.
The best way to fish the North Fork of the Flathead is by taking a fishing kayak or tubing from the section between Polebridge and Ford Creek Ranger Station.
If you need any help, you can head over to Arends Fly Shop located in Columbia Falls for some good advice, to buy the right flies, and even to hire a guide.
Fly Fishing Licensing & Regulations In Montana
In order to fish in Montana, you will need both a Montana State fishing license and a Yellowstone National Park Fishing license to fish in the park too.
You can buy the licenses at pretty much any fly shop in the state and near the park, or online.
Click here for a Montana License
Click here for a Yellowstone License
Recommended Fly Shops In Montana
There is nothing more helpful than being able to go to a fly shop and get some advice on where to fish and what flies at hot and being hit all day long. Here are some great fly shops in Montana.
- Parks Fly Shop – next to Yellowstone
- Kingfisher Fly Shop – Missoula
- Sunrise Fly Shop – Melrose
- Larrys Fly & Supply – Columbia Falls
Recommended Guides In Montana
It always pays to spend a few days fishing with a guide if you can as they will teach you the ins and outs of the rivers and set you up for your week of fishing without them. Here are some guide operations that are excellent.