Best Montana Fly Fishing Rivers
We are fortunate as anglers in Montana to be surrounded by some of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. From the famous tailwaters boasting trophy fish and some of the highest fish per mile counts in the country to our many freestone rivers filled with wild trout, Montana truly is the last best place for a fly fishing trip. As a professional outfitter, our Montana fly fishing guides are lucky to be able to spend so much time fly fishing and introducing anglers to our many great rivers.
Every river in our state has something to offer anglers on a Montana fly fishing trip and we feel strongly that our top 5 Montana fly fishing rivers should only be a starting point for anglers fly fishing in the Big Sky State. Nevertheless, we have put in the time on the water, explored all over the Big Sky State and are here to report on our top 5 rivers to fly fish in Montana.
1) The Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone River has always had a special place in our hearts and we without a doubt consider it the best river to fly fish in Montana. From its origins in Yellowstone National Park to its end just across our state line, the Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in our country, running wild and free. We consider the length of the Yellowstone River from Gardiner, MT to Columbus, MT to be the blue ribbon stretch in Montana, and are lucky to be able to consider the Yellowstone River one of our home waters in Bozeman, MT.
Great populations of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout populate the river upstream of Livingston, MT as well as wild rainbow and brown trout along its entire length. Fly Fishing on the Yellowstone River is freestone fishing at its finest. Great hatches of stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies as well as the annual hopper bite make for some of the best dry fly fishing anywhere in Montana. Anglers can fish dry flies from July through October every day and expect to do well.
Some of the largest brown trout caught every year in Montana come out of the Yellowstone River, from the many deep holes and cutbanks found along every bend. If our fly fishing guides had to pick one river to fish in Montana for the rest of their lives, the answer is the Yellowstone River every time.
2) The Missouri River
The mighty Missouri River near Craig, MT is without a doubt the finest tailwater fishery in Montana. 5000+ trout per mile, wild trout averaging 17-19 inches, and consistent hatches anglers have to see to believe. The Missouri River is also a true year-round fishery, one of the few in the Big Sky State. Our fly fishing guides consider the fly fishing in April, May, June, late September, and October to be the most productive in Montana. Anglers can count on great hatches of mayflies and caddisflies to keep the Missouri River trout looking up, often eagerly consuming dry flies in large pods of more than 20 fish at a time. There is no where else in the state of Montana an angler fishing two dry flies could possibly catch two 20+ inch trout on one cast. We’ve seen it happen on the Missouri River. A few times. The Missouri River is also one of our most versatile and dynamic fisheries offering great nymphing and streamer fishing throughout the season. No Montana fly fishing trip is complete without a day spent on the mighty ‘Mo.
3) The Madison River
The Madison River is likely one of the most well-known, published, and revered rivers in Montana and rightfully deserves a spot near the top of our list. Ennis, MT is one of Montana’s great trout towns, right on the banks of the Madison River. Fly fishing on the Madison River is nothing short of a right of passage amongst Montana anglers. Success on the Madison River comes with time spent learning the intricacies and the rhythms of this river. The waters of the Madison River are swift, dynamic, and absolutely loaded with healthy populations of wild brown and rainbow trout, but often hard to crack for first time anglers unfamiliar with the unique character of the fifty-mile riffle. Anglers find the struggle worth it, as they will be rewarded with great fly fishing for some of the largest average size trout in Montana. Trophy rainbow trout and brown trout can be found on every bend and are often willing to rise to dry flies throughout the season. The annual salmonfly hatch is the stuff of fly fishing legends and anglers make the pilgrimage from all over the world to test their skill against the Madison River.
4) The Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot River is known to many anglers as the river that runs through it, as it was the subject of Norman MacLean’s famous ode to fly fishing in Montana. The Blackfoot River is so much more than just a back drop for a book and movie to anglers and our guides. The Blackfoot River is arguably the perfect freestone trout stream. Gin-clear waters, native Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and great hatches make the Blackfoot River a favorite amongst all anglers fly fishing in Montana. The scenery alone makes a day spent fly fishing on the Blackfoot River worth the trip. The great fishing is often just an added bonus. From the upper reaches of the Blackfoot River down to its confluence with the Clark Fork River, anglers can find great fly fishing along the entire length. While Hollywood may have introduced the Blackfoot River to the world, it is still a top river in Montana for anglers.
5) The Bighorn River
Montana’s Bighorn River is a trout fly fishing fantasy land. With fish per mile numbers higher than good reason could believe and hatches of epic proportions, fly fishing on the Bighorn River is something anglers really do need to see to believe. In recent years, fish populations have taken a hit due to environmental factors, but the Bighorn River should still be considered a worthwhile destination for any Montana fly fishing trip. The wild rainbow and brown trout are as hearty as they come, and we have no doubt they will continue to swim in the world class waters of the Bighorn River for generations to come.