18 Places For Fly Fishing In Montana

Fly Fishing Montana

Fly fishing in Montana tops many a fly fisher’s bucket list. And we can’t blame them. We are lucky enough to live in a state that boasts the best trout fishing in the United States and one could argue the Planet. From the mighty Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, and other Missoula area rivers to the Yellowstone and Gallatin, we’ve gathered our 18 places for fly fishing in Montana. These are by no means in order of importance, but they are places you want to make sure to fish at least once in your lifetime, if not more! Without further delay, here are our top choices for places for fly fishing in Montana.

  • Clark Fork River
  • Blackfoot River
  • Bitterroot River
  • Rock Creek
  • Missouri River
  • Gallatin River
  • Madison River
  • Beaverhead River
  • Big Hole River
  • Smith River
  • Yellowstone River
  • Bighorn River
  • Jefferson River
  • Ruby River
  • Flathead River
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Lakes and Reservoirs
  • Nunya Business

Clark Fork River Montana Fly Fishing1. Clark Fork River Fly Fishing

If you like throwing dry flies to pods of rising fish then this is the river for you.  Depending on the time of the year and the hatches you’ll have dry fly fishing all day long.  Whether it’s PMD’s in June/July, Hoppers in August or our favorite Mahoganies in the fall there will be fish rising.  In fact, you can have pods of 30 or more fish rising in a back eddy!  This is a “must fish” river for all you dry fly fanatics like us to fly fish in Montana. Stop by our Missoula fly shop or visit our website for the most current Clark Fork River fishing report.

Blackfoot River In Montana Fly Fishing 2. Blackfoot River Fly Fishing

Made famous by Norman Maclean in his book “A River Runs Through It,”  the Big Blackfoot is a magical place full of native Cutthroat trout, rainbows, and browns.  This is a textbook, boulder-strewn river with a bit of whitewater mixed in.  It’s one of the most picturesque places to fly fish in Montana.  Trout thrive in its green-blue water and love eating attractor dry flies. If you want a lazy day throwing attractor dries and willing fish then you want to make sure to fish this river.  The beauty and majesty of this river along with it’s bountiful trout make it top place for fly fishing in Montana! From Missoula fly fishing, gear, and flies to our Blackfoot River fishing reports, we’ve got everything you need to have a great day on the Blackfoot River!

Fly Fishing In Montana On The Bitterroot River

3. Bitterroot River Fly Fishing

The Bitterroot has some of the best spring fishing in Montana.  The Skwala Stonefly, a size 8-12 dark olive stonefly, crawls up on the rocks and hatches in late March and early April. It’s the time of year that some of the biggest trout in the Bitterroot is willing to come out and gobble up a big foam dry fly, and catching fish on a dry fly in the spring will cure any cabin fever you might have from a long, cold winter. However, this isn’t just a spring fishery because major stonefly, mayfly and caddis hatches happen all summer and fall as well. If you’re looking for a good day of fly fishing in Missoula, the Bitterroot is home to some spectacular fish.  Swing by our Missoula fly shop or check out our up-to-date Bitterroot fly fishing report before you hit the water!

Fly Fishing Montana's Rock Creek4. Rock Creek Fly Fishing

If a perfect trout stream were to exist, it has to be Rock Creek.  This tributary to the Clark Fork has everything a fish could want – riffles, runs, pools, cutbanks, boulders, and strainers.  This all makes for a smaller, by Montana standards, river that is full of browns, rainbows and cutthroat.  It’s well known for one of the best Salmonfly hatches in all of Montana in late May and early June.  But its yearlong fly fishing near Missoula is just as wonderful as trout are always willing to eat a well presented dry fly, nymph or streamer. Know before you go when you check out our Rock Creek fishing reports.

Trout Fishing In Montana5. Missouri River Fly Fishing

The Missouri, a.k.a. the MO if you’re a local, is basically a giant spring creek with upwards of 5000-6000 trout per mile below Holter Dam, near the towns of Craig and Wolf Creek, MT.  If you like fishing small dries or nymphs to big trout then this is the place for you.  It fishes all year long due to the fact that it’s a tailwater, meaning that you will find a few fish to be caught, even in the winter!  Although the Missouri can get busy, it’s well worth the trouble as there are plenty of fish to be caught. Get the insider scoop when you swing by our Missoula fly fishing shop or check out our Missouri River fishing report.

Trout Fly Fishing The Gallatin River In Montana6. Gallatin River Fly Fishing

With its close proximity to Bozeman, MT, this is a great river to explore when visiting.  From fishing pocket water and riffles to it’s lower end braids and undercut banks, this river has it all.  The cookie-cutter rainbows and browns make for a great day of catching 13-16 inch fish on dries and nymphs alike.

Madison River Fly Fishing Montana7. Madison River Fly Fishing

The Madison is one of the most famous rivers in Montana as the fishing and the scenery is amazing.  The Upper Maddison, above Ennis, MT, is known as a giant riffle. The river is shallow and fast-moving for most of the way.  Fishing behind boulders, in mid-river buckets, and undercut banks is the way to go.  The Madison is best known for its Salmonfly hatch in late June, but there is good dry fly fishing through the summer and fall.

Beaverhead River Fly Fishing In Montana8. Beaverhead River Fly Fishing

The Beaverhead is basically an irrigation ditch with big browns and rainbows living in its waters near Dillon, MT.  It’s a typical tailwater with lots of fish being caught on smaller dries and nymphs.  But don’t be fooled into thinking you can only use small flies here.  The streamer fishing in August when they are letting a lot of water out of the dam can be downright amazing.  Put on a white streamer, hit the banks and hang on!

Big Hole River Fly Fishing9. Big Hole River Fly Fishing

The Big Hole is a freestone river in Southwest Montana near the town of Dillon, MT.  From its headwaters south of Jackson, MT to its confluence with the Beaverhead River it snakes its way through amazing country.  It is best known for it’s Salmonfly Hatch in June when it gets most of it’s fishing pressure, but it really shines before and after the “big” hatch.  Springtime Skwala fishing, as well as fall Mahoganies, BWO’s and streamer fishing make this a “must fish” Montana fly fishing river.

Floating & Fishing The Smith River10. Smith River Fly Fishing

The Smith is known for it’s amazing scenery, limestone canyon walls, and a wilderness feel.  The only way to float-camp this highly sought-after 60 miles is to draw a permit through a lottery system.  Although the Smith is not known for it’s trophy potential, the brown and rainbow trout fishing in the spring and early summer is fantastic. It’s one of the most coveted places for fly fishing in Montana.  All major hatches happen here, but it’s best fished with nymphs and streamers.  The Smith River is in danger from a potential gold mine at it’s headwaters that will threaten it’s an entire ecosystem.

Yellowstone River In Montana11. Yellowstone River Fly Fishing

The Yellowstone is Montana’s biggest un-dammed river, making it a cutthroat, rainbow and big brown paradise.  From fishing the headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to the big waters near Big Timber this is should be a “must” on every fly fisher’s bucket list. The trout are willing dry fly eaters with hatches like Salmonflies, PMD’s, BWO’s, Caddis as well as terrestrials like Hopper, Ants and Beetles.  In its lower trout water near Big Timber, you have a chance at catching some of the biggest browns in the state on big streamers.

Bighorn River In Montana12. Bighorn River Fly Fishing

The Bighorn near Fort Smith, MT is one of the states most famous tailwater rivers.  Here you have a chance at catching lots of browns and rainbows, everywhere from 14-18 inches with bigger fish being caught often.  The fish here love small tailwater flies like scuds, sow bugs and small mayfly patterns.  There are massive hatches of small Tricos and BWO’s depending on the time of year that make the fish rise with consistency.

Jefferson River Montana Fishing Trips13.  Jefferson River Fly Fishing

Although the Jefferson isn’t as well known as its headwater rivers like the Big Hole and Beaverhead, it needs to be on this list.  The Jefferson’s past isn’t stellar, due to dewatering in the summers for irrigation. Even though it isn’t your ideal trout habitat, the trout seem to come out of nowhere in the spring and fall with some great drake and BWO hatches as well as some really big fish being caught on streamers if you’re willing to throw the big fish for that “one” fish.

Wade Fishing In Montana14. Ruby River Fly Fishing

The Ruby River below Ruby Dam is very similar to it’s brother the Beaverhead.  It’s small, intimate, and loaded with fish.  Almost its entire length flows through ranch lands, which makes it a very productive Grasshopper river.  Brown trout are the dominant species, with a good number of rainbows mixed in.  This is a great caddis, PMD, and Terrestrial stream.  Access is somewhat limited, floating is basically out of the question, but it’s a wade fishermen’s paradise.  The Ruby is often overlooked with the Madison, Big Hole, and Beaverhead rivers all less than an hour away.

15. Flathead River Fly Fishing

The Flathead River is an angler’s paradise and features some of the finest fly fishing in Montana. Made up of three distinct and unique forks (north, middle, and south), there are few places that offer the same level of backcountry fly fishing experiences for westslope cutthroat. The north fork of the Flathead River originates north of the Canadian border and flows through stunning Glacier National Park before confluencing with the middle fork at West Glacier. The middle and south forks originate in the Great Bear Wilderness and Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, which is part of the third largest wilderness area in the lower 48. While the river above Flathead Lake provides exceptional dry fly opportunities, below the lake can be great for trout and warmwater species like Pike and Bass, as well. Note: the lower section of the Flathead River requires a tribal permit to fish.

gibbon river in yellowstone national park16. Yellowstone National Park Fly Fishing

While most of Yellowstone National Park isn’t truly fly fishing in Montana due to a majority of it being in Wyoming, we like to consider it in this list because it is relatively close to many other Montana fly fishing options like the Madison and Yellowstone. The park is broken down into four unique sections: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. While it would take a lifetime to fly fish Yellowstone National Park in its entirety, iconic rivers like the Firehole, upper Madison, upper Yellowstone, Gibbon, Lamar, Slough Creek, and more are worth the visit alone. Considering all of the other creeks and lakes that you can fish during a visit, this is a top destination to checkout while fly fishing in Montana.

To learn more, check out our blog on Yellowstone National Park fly fishing.

17. Lakes and Reservoirs

Montana fly fishing is famous for its beautiful rivers and the wild trout that live in them. While we love our local Missoula fly fishing rivers, Montana’s lakes and reservoirs are often overlooked as being viable options, which is unfortunate for anglers who like catching large trout and warm water species. Local to Missoula, we have a variety of different lakes like Seeley Lake, Lake Como, and Georgetown Lake that have fantastic fly fishing opportunities. And for those traveling east of the divide, visit famous Quake Lake or Hegben Lake for fantastic dry fly opportunties for the large brown and rainbows that cruise the shallow bays.

Montana Fly Fishing Creeks18.  Nunya – Secret Montana Fly Fishing Spots

There are a lot of places to fly fish in Montana that no one talks about and no amount of money or beer will get it out of those who hold those places close to their hearts.  Our advice is to get a map and find a blue line. If it’s in the western half of the state, there is most likely a trout in it. So, get out and explore. You might find a stream or river with big fish that not many people know about.  You won’t tell a soul and it will be just for you and your memories. If people ask where you fished in Montana you’ll just say Nunya, Nunya business!

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16 thoughts on “18 Places For Fly Fishing In Montana

    • Flathead is awesome fly fishing. All three forks offer something different. From huge catch and release bull trout to fat cutbows to 50 fish cuttie days. Throw them back though as the Flathead isnt a secret any longer!!

  1. I’m wanting to put a trout fishing trip together for myself and grandson.
    We are from Southern California and into bass fishing but not trout. No experience fly casting. I’m 82, grand son is 15, I’m in good health. Would like to do a wading trip and a drift boat trip.

  2. Hopper Imitations, mid to late summer, size 2-8 Golden Stonefly Nymphs, June and July, size 4-6 Streamers, just about any time but especially in the fall for large brown trout

  3. Greetings from PA. Will be fishing the Kootenai for a week at the end of July, and planning to do some reconnaissance for a 2021 trip with my women’s fly fishing group, Del Val Women’s FFA. I have fished with Erik Hess a few times a few years ago, and wondering if he is still guiding? Will be checking in this summer on my travels, but I will thank you in advance if you can connect me with Erik. Cannot wait to get into your shop again. Always fun!

  4. Hot up the north fork of the Blackfoot river! Fishing is always good in the summer time! Just cast out a size 18 purple haze and you’ll be set

  5. My wife and I are traveling to western Montana 2 week of September this year.
    1st fly fishing trip was a all day guided trip in aspen, colorado, 2 years ago.
    We have no equipment. Looking for a 1-day guided trips/ guide.
    Flying into Missoula and traveling up to Libby and back.
    My friend says the best fishing is in the south western part of the state.
    Fishing lodges seem to accommodate 2-3 days of fishing, so I think that would be out.
    The more I read the more I get confused.
    Can you recommend a couple destinations for us between Missoula and Libby?
    Planning on staying for a week.

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