Set your sights on the open road during an exciting fly fishing road trip in Montana! Our experienced staff and guides have cut their teeth on rivers and streams across Montana and are here to help you take in the best of Montana fly fishing. As you make your way through the Big Sky State, keep your fly rod and access maps handy. We have a lot of water and it’s teeming with various trout species.
Anglers flock to the river in between harsh Montana winters to take advantage of our state’s epic fly fishing opportunities. From small, blue line streams to large rivers, our state’s wide array of water types leaves much to be seen, and much more that remains unseen. Montana is connected by three major interstates and countless highways and gravel roads. This is our guide to several must-fish spots in Montana, best ways to get there and the best times to fish these rivers. Check out our ultimate fly fishing road trip in Montana recommendations below!
- The Madison River
- The Beaverhead River
- The Bitterroot River
- The Blackfoot River
- Rock Creek
- The Missouri River
The Madison River has rendered quite the reputation, and for the right reasons. The Madison is a tailwater in southwest Montana. The Madison begins in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. From there, the Madison flows into Hebgen, Quake, and Ennis Lakes before joining the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers at the headwaters of the Missouri River near Three Forks, MT. Many anglers focus on both the lower and upper stretches of the Madison. The Lower Madison flows through Bear Trap Canyon, while everything upstream of Ennis Lake is generally referred to as the Upper Madison. Both areas are home to world-renowned fly fishing.
The Madison can be fished well during the entire year because it is a tailwater. However, some of the most sought-after times to fish the Madison River are the Mother’s Day caddis hatch in May, during the salmon fly hatch in June, July for PMD hatches, and fall for big streamer-eating brown trout. Anglers can drive to the Madison from several directions because of the length of this river. If you’re making the trip during these times, get ready for some of the best Montana fly fishing available.
From Bozeman, head south on Highway 191 through Big Sky to reach Hebgen Lake and stretches of the Upper Madison. Alternatively, head west on Highway 84 to reach the Lower Madison or continue through Norris to reach Ennis and stretches of the Upper Madison. Anglers can camp along a slough of public campgrounds along with the entire Madison, or stay in Bozeman or Ennis for easy access to the Madison River by car. Many airlines fly in and out of Bozeman frequently. If you are wanting to road trip through Montana this summer, flying into Bozeman or Missoula is definitely your best option.
In the corner of SW Montana lies another famous tailwater. The Beaverhead River is a unique Montana fly fishing destination just miles south of the small town of Dillon, MT. Anglers on the Beaverhead River fool big brown trout and football-sized rainbow trout on small dries and nymphs. Some epic PMD and yellow sally fishing can be had in the beginning of July. Hopper fishing in late July and August on the Beaverhead River is also fantastic. The Beaverhead River is closed until the end of May, so be sure to travel to this river in the summer months when fishing is permitted and the best.
To get there, take Highway 287 from Ennis through historic Virginia City, MT. This drive is less-traveled and home to some fantastic scenery. Alternatively, hop on 1-90 in Bozeman and continue through Butte before heading south on I-15 to arrive in Dillon. There are several campgrounds at and around the first launch on the Beaverhead River beneath Clark Canyon Dam. Additionally, several campgrounds with full hook-ups are scattered around Clark Canyon Reservoir just minutes from the launch.
The Beaverhead flows NE through Dillon before joining the Big Hole River in Twin Bridges to create the Jefferson River. The Beaverhead River is home to some fantastic fly fishing from the Dam through Dillon. However, some of its lower stretches heat up in the late summer months and fishing closes. Be sure to check the conditions with us, any local fly shops, or Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks before planning your trip.
South of Missoula flows another renowned dry fly fishery. The Bitterroot River begins south of Darby, MT, at the confluence of the East and West Forks and flows through the Bitterroot Valley until its confluence with the Clark Fork in Missoula. Highway 93 parallels the main stem of the Bitterroot River the entire length of the Bitterroot. If the Bitterroot River is on your list, you’ll get to enjoy some of the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer.
To get there from the Beaverhead River, head north on Highway 278 to Wisdom, and then west on Highway 43 to the heavily forested Chief Joseph Pass. From there Highway 93 heads North, passing through several small towns in the Bitterroot Valley.
To the West of the river lies the Bitterroot Range and to the east are the Sapphire Mountains. These ranges are the cornerstone of the Bitterroot’s breathtaking scenery, which serves as a backdrop to some awesome fly fishing. From early spring through late fall, the Bitterroot River challenges anglers fishing dry flies, nymphs or streamers for big trout.
The best months for fly fishing the Bitterroot River are March, April, and July. Additionally, remarkable fall streamer and dry fly fishing can be had in September, October, and even November. Anglers looking to camp along the Bitterroot should look to the upper river, where more campgrounds and wadeable water are available.
A celebrated Montana freestone river flows just East of Missoula. Missoula is a unique “home base” for anglers looking to fly fish Montana because of its location and proximity to three major freestone rivers and Rock Creek. The Blackfoot River, or the “Big Blackfoot” as coined by author Norman Maclean, begins near Lincoln, MT, and flows roughly 75 miles before its confluence with the Clark Fork near Bonner, MT. Some of the best fly fishing in Missoula takes place here.
Highway 200 snakes along the Blackfoot River for the majority of its extent. Along this scenic highway you will find multiple boat launches and campgrounds (not to mention a few awesome local bars and restaurants.) Additionally, the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor, a gravel road that connects anglers to swaths of public access, launches, and campgrounds, runs for roughly 25 miles before Potomac, MT. This road connects anglers with water not seen from Highway 200.
Big cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and the occasional bull trout are seen in this river. Some of our largest dry fly hatches, including salmon fly, golden stones, October caddis, and spruce moth hatches take place on the Blackfoot River. The Blackfoot River remains frozen longer than any of our major rivers, leaving a small window for spring fishing before the runoff.
Excellent times to fish the Blackfoot River is in late June and July, as well as early fall months like September and October. It is a wonderful river, and any angler could spend the long summer days exploring different stretches while camping and fishing along the river bank.
Head east from the Blackfoot River on I-90 and you will find one of the most charming trout streams in the West. If you looked up “trout stream” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Rock Creek. Located just 30 minutes south of Missoula, this stream is nestled in the Rock Creek drainage just off of I-90. Anglers flock to Rock Creek because it offers roughly 40 miles of public access off the road from its confluence with the Clark Fork to Philipsburg. Rock Creek is regarded as more “wadeable” than other rivers in Montana because of its volume and structure. If you’re planning a fly fishing road trip in Montana, this water should certainly be on the list!
Many campgrounds along the Creek are found along this gravel road, as well as several pullouts to hop out of your vehicle and fish. Rainbows, browns and cutthroat trout are found in the Creek in ample numbers. Additionally, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, and black bears are commonly seen in the Rock Creek drainage. Anglers fish Rock Creek all year long, however, some of the best months to fish this stream are from June-August when hatches are plentiful.
The floating season on Rock Creek ends on June 30, so be sure to get your raft out there while you can. This is a novelty trout stream with picturesque scenery. Anglers of all skill levels can catch fish on dry flies here. Looking to stop and camp off the beaten path? This is your spot.
What better way to end a road trip through our state than fly fishing the Missouri River in central Montana. On top of being a fantastic dry fly fishery in the summer and fall months, the Missouri River is also a surefire winter and fall fishery. The most desirable and popular stretches of the Missouri lie beneath Holter Dam near Craig, MT. Anglers can travel to Craig several ways. From Rock Creek, a drive over Rogers Pass on Highway 200 to Wolf Creek is the quickest. Other quick options include driving through Garrison Junction or Helena, MT. The Missouri is a reliable option for many anglers looking to fish in May, when our freestone rivers are experiencing runoff. But the best fly fishing on the Missouri isn’t reserved to just May. Hoards of midges, BWOs and PMDs hatch in the spring and summer months on the MO, and hoppers come out in full force in late summer.
This list is just one collection of six sought after destinations for fly fishing in our state, but countless other rivers, streams and lakes hold various species of trout and warm water species alike. One thing is for sure: the more water you fish in Montana, the more you realize there is plenty left to be explored.
Fly Fishing In Missoula With Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop
Ready to hit the waters in and around Missoula? Don’t forget to check out our Missoula fishing reports. We’ll keep you updated on everything there is to know about fly fishing in Missoula, MT. River conditions, hatches, and successful tactics are only a few clicks away!
If you find yourself fly fishing in Missoula, Montana, we recommend joining our expert guides for a day of fly fishing on the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, or Clark Fork Rivers. If you’re road-tripping without a drift boat or raft, a Missoula guided fly fishing trip will be a nice treat after weeks of wade fishing. Let our guides provide the flies and put you on hungry trout for a full day or half-day guided trip. We can’t wait to see you on the river!