Where’s the best fly fishing in the U.S.? You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere better than the rivers of Montana! Teaming with trout, Montana’s long and beautiful waterways offer plenty of opportunities for anglers regardless of experience.
Even better, while wading in the river and preparing your next fly, you can pause for a moment to breathe in the crisp, clean air of the Treasure State.
Let’s look below at some of the best fly-fishing rivers in the U.S.A.
The Missouri River
What is the largest river in the United States? Nope, not the Mississippi River. It’s the Missouri River, which runs for more than seven hundred miles in Montana. Granted, choosing the best spot for fishing along this massive stretch of territory can be difficult!
Fortunately, prime trout fishing is limited to just a few spots on the Missouri River:
Starting at the Holter Dam and running for about 30 miles to the town of Cascade, this portion of the river offers prime trout fishing waters. The Missouri River is relatively deep here, as well as moderately wide, so you may find company (or competition) in the form of many rafts and boats.
Despite the traffic, rainbow and brown trout are common here, and the waters are typically clear unless the river is surging. Good fly choice is important, since these trout tend to be a little bit pickier about what they eat. During the winter months, you may want to try a Griffiths Gnat or a Midge Pupa to imitate midges and the larval stage, and perhaps a parachute lure during the spring and summer.
The summer is also hatching time for the Pale Morning Dun, a species of mayfly that’s a primary food source for trout in the area. The right imitation lure might help you snare a big prize!
As the river moves past Cascade and heads toward Great Falls, it slows down and gets warmer. Although the temperature change means there aren’t as many rainbow trout, you should fine plenty of brown trout, carp, and smallmouth bass.
Wade angling is popular along this wide, fast-moving stretch of the Missouri River. Rainbow trout love to chow down on the smaller fish that flow through the dam, so patience and a heavily weighted line are needed to catch these deep-swimming kings of the food chain.
Big Hole River
The Big Hole River is home to four species of trout, along with the fluvial arctic grayling – rendering Montana the only state in the contiguous U.S. to make this claim. It starts at the Beaverhead Mountains in the southwest part of the state, and it offers a variety of conditions as it makes its way down from Big Hole’s 7,340-foot-high origin. April is prime time for fly fishing, thanks to the hatches of skwala stoneflies and blue winged olives.
Winding through eastern Montana, the Bighorn River is one of the country’s top fly-fishing areas for brown trout. Numerous insect hatches throughout the year will help you find success on this clear, cool, slow-moving river. The average trout catch runs 17 inches! To obey official limits and preserve quality fishing, sport fishermen return many of their catches to the river. One important note: Because of Crow Tribal and private land ownership, you can access only a limited stretch of the river. Be sure to get information from the National Park Service beforehand.
Remember the movie A River Runs Through It back in 1992? Gallatin River was the backdrop for Brad Pitt’s fishing in that film – a good choice of location because of the beautiful canyon that the river…well, runs through!
If you enjoy wade fishing, the Gallatin’s breathtaking scenery more than makes up for the slightly smaller wild trout and yellow sallies that swim through the canyon. It’s a key reason the city of Bozeman was rated #1 in the best places to live in Montana.
Georgetown Lake, located high up in the snow-capped Anaconda Pintler Mountains, is home to large populations of rainbow and brook trout as well as kokanee salmon. Surprisingly, there is a lot of insect life in this alpine lake, leading to the abundance of fish.
May and June are good fishing months here, thanks largely to the presence of callibaetis mayflies on cloudy mornings. More fish are caught per person at Georgetown Lake than at any other lake in the state, and ice fishing during the winter months is excellent.
Let Montana’s Rivers Lure You In
These attractions and others have made Montana home to the best fly fishing in the U.S. The next time you plan an outdoor trip, check out the links in this post and bring your rod, lures, and waders to the Treasure State!