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Trout Fishing In Montana: 10 Best Fly Fishing Locations In The State

trout fishing in montana

Best Fly Fishing In Montana For Trout

A lot of the northern states are known for their abundance of fly fishing spots, but Montana ranks among the best of them. The state is filled to the gills with different trout species, and there are plenty of good spots for you to toss a few flies around. In this article, I’ll cover ten of Montana’s best fly fishing spots.

The Best Time Of Year To Fish For Trout In Montana

You can catch trout in the spring and the fall in Montana, but your best bet is to book a trip for July or early in September. That’s when the state’s highly sought after rainbow trout are the most active, and your chances of catching a lot of great fish are higher.

What Kind Of Trout Are In Montana

fly fishing in montana

If you do book a trip during Montana’s peak trout season, you can expect to catch these species:

  • Rainbow
  • Brown
  • Brook
  • Cutthroat
  • Lake Trout
  • Bull Trout

10 Best Trout Fishing Spots In Montana

Now, let’s go over the ten spots that I think yield the best results for trout fishermen in Montana. Many local trout anglers will agree that these are the best trout fishing locations in Montana.

1. Clark Fork River

trout fishing clark fork river montana

Clark Fork River is one of the state’s prime fly fishing spots. The river isn’t known for producing the largest trout due to how popular it is, but trout will bite your flies and lures all day long during the peak season and during the various spawn periods.

If you go to Clark Fork River during the peak season, you should bring along a lot of dry flies that mimic larger salmon flies. That’s what the river’s rainbow trout population will be striking on.

2. Blackfoot River

fly fishing blackfoot river montana

If you’ve ever seen cinematic depictions of trout fishing, Blackfoot River will look familiar to you. The river is dotted with white-water sections and boulders, and the calmer sections are bluish and green with plenty of foliage. Both types of areas are great for picking up trout, but you might want to start off near one of the white-water sections. They’re hot spots for trout throughout most of the year.

This spot is great if you just want to have some relaxing fun for the day. The atmosphere is calming, and there are plenty of trout for you to target.

3. Bitterroot River

fly fishing bitterroot river for trout

Bitterroot River should be your fishing spot of choice during the spring. Its trout aren’t as active during the peak season, but they come out in massive numbers during the spring.

Larger trout are also known to come out of this river during the spring. It’s not uncommon for anglers to pull out their personal-best trout on the end of a big foam fly at Bitterroot.

4. Missouri River

fly fishing for trout in missouri river montana

Missouri River is the place to go if you want to fish for trout year-round. The water maintains a good temperature for trout to stay active even during the winter months. The trout aren’t known for being massive, but they are plentiful. It’s estimated that there are more than 6000 trout in every mile of the Missouri River’s waters. With that many trout populating the Missouri River, it’s a great destination for those who are new to fly fishing as well as experienced anglers.

The trout tend to prefer smaller flies in this river. Don’t try to bust out your giant foam flies. Little nymphs should be the first lures in your rotation.

5. Gallatin River

fly fishing trout gallatin river montana

Gallatin River shouldn’t be your destination if you’re looking to break records, but it is a great spot for tourists. It’s easy to access the river’s best wading spots, and most of its trout are slightly above the state’s size limit. So, it’s easy to find fish that you can keep.

Try to stick to the banks and undercuts on this river. They’re the spots that are known for producing the best trout. You’ll find rainbows, browns, and brooks at Gallatin River.

6. Madison River

fly fishing for trout madison river montana

If you booked your fishing trip for late June, you’ll have to stop by Madison River. It’s one of the most beautiful rivers in the United States, and most of the water is shallow and fast. So, it’s great for catching moving trout. You will need to be careful, though. You don’t want to get dragged into the boulders and natural rock formations that make it so beautiful.

You should know however, it’s not the best fishing destination during the winter and the spring months. So, you might want to check out another river if  you plan on visiting Montana during those seasons.

7. Beaverhead River

Beaverhead River isn’t like the other rivers I’ve talked about. It’s basically just a bunch of runoff water from the nearby dam. However, it has a lot of brown and rainbow trout that bite year-round. They tend to prefer smaller flies, but larger lures will work wonders when the damn is expelling large amounts of water. So, make sure to check the dam before you pick out a lure to use.

8. Smith River

smith river montana trout fly fishing

Flanked by limestone canyons and tons of natural foliage, Smith River is a fishing spot that makes you feel as if you’re in the middle of a secluded wilderness environment even thought there are facilities and wildlife rangers in the area. It’s just a really beautiful fishing spot during the spring and summer. The fishing dies down during the colder months, but there are other rivers to fish during the winter.

Smith River also provides a rather unique opportunity of camp fishing along the river. If you enter yourself into a permit drawing, you might get to camp on the river. You have to win the drawing, though. Only a limited amount of people are allowed to float-camp each year.

Make sure to cross this spot off of your bucket list quick, though. There is a gold mine that is threatening to destroy everything that the river is known for, and your chance to experience Smith River properly might not exist within the next decade.

9. Yellowstone River

trout fishing yellowstone river montana

Yellowstone National Park is home to the headwaters of Yellowstone River. You can camp at the park, drive down to the river, and fish for some of the state’s largest rainbow and brown trout. Obviously, you’ll have to abide by the park’s rules if you want to fish in the park, but there are spots further downstream that aren’t governed by park officials.

This is a famous fishing spot that has a lot more to do than just fishing activities. So, it’s the perfect place to bring your family for a full outdoor adventure vacation experience.

10. Ruby River

fly fishing the ruby river for trout in Montana

If you want to catch a lot of brown trout in secluded areas, you’ll want to head to Ruby River. It’s another river that was formed by the creation of a dam. The river runs from Ruby Dam through about 100-miles of ranch land, and grasshoppers tend to be the preferred bait for the river’s trout population.

The river is shallow and calm enough for you to safely wade in it while you cast flies. And if fishing by yourself is what you need, there usually aren’t a lot of other anglers for you to worry about. The only bad thing about Ruby River is that a lot of its sections run through private property making it difficult at times to find river bank access.

Montana Trout And Fly Fishing Regulations: FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions anglers have about  Montana’s trout fishing regulations.

Do You Need A License To Fish For Trout In Montana?

You do need a standard fishing license to fish for trout in Montana. You don’t need a special trout permit, though. However, you will also have to buy a conservation license before you buy your normal fishing license. You have to do that before you buy any sort of fishing or hunting license in Montana. So, if you’re a Montana resident, you’re probably used to that.

How Many Rods Can You Use In Montana?

You can technically use up to six rods in Montana’s rivers, but you won’t be able to do that when you’re fly fishing. So, you might as well consider it a one-rod limit. That’s all your hands can handle.

How Many Trout Can I Keep?

If you’re targeting brook trout, you can keep 20 of them. Everything else is limited to five per day. Individual lakes and rivers can have their own limits depending on their own trout populations, though. So, make sure you find an information center that will tell you a specific body of water’s creel limits and rules.

Where To Find More Montana Fishing Regulations

If you need to know more specific regulations, you can visit Montana’s state wildlife website. That’s the site that contains all of Montana’s official regulations.

Written by Don

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure.

I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!

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