2012 N. 7th Ave
Bozeman, Montana 59715
FB Sow Bug #16-18
Ray Charles #18
Lightning Bug #16-18
Czech Nymph # 16
Wire Midge #18
Beginning about 20 miles from Bozeman, at the confluence of the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson rivers, the famous Missouri River starts at Headwaters State Park outside of Three Forks, Montana. Here it begins the long journey northward. For the first 18 miles, the grade is fairly flat, not the typical tail-water fishery we most commonly think of when picturing the Missouri River. This upper stretch of the river is home to some very large Trout, Carp, and in some spots even Northern Pike. Although there can be, at times, good trout fishing in this area, the fish numbers are not considered outstanding. This is however a popular stretch of river for those interested in sight fishing for Carp.
The Missouri River then heads downstream well over 100 miles and through several lakes and dams before it reaches the outlet of Holter Lake near the town of Craig, Montana. Here, the river is known as a serious tailwater trout fishery, boasting thousands of fish per mile. Don’t be fooled by that statistic though as the Missouri River in Craig doesn’t simply hand over big trout to anyone that wets a line; she’ll make you work for them. At times the fishing in Craig can be as technical as any spring creek you’ll find. With the daily hatch creating a cloud effect and tiny bugs covering the surface of the water, trying to convince any trout to eat your specific fly can be difficult, to say the least. That being said, there are plenty of days, when the stars and the moon align, and the fish will eat a well presented fly with reckless abandon. Those are the days we live for. Downstream from Craig, the fish numbers drop a bit as the river move’s its way towards Great Falls. Once the river hits Great Falls, the trout fishing stretch is considered to be mostly over.
From it’s headwaters in Three Forks, Montana, northward to Great Falls, Montana, the Missouri river covers 198 river miles, just 8% of its complete 2,341 mile journey to the Mississippi River.
Zebra Midge #18-20
Bow River Bugger #4-6
FB Ray Charles #18
Czech Nymph #16
The longest free-flowing river in the continental U.S., the Yellowstone River in Montana offers a wild character and incomparable setting that is second to none. Forming deep within the borders of Yellowstone National Park, the river meanders nearly 700 miles before coming to its confluence with the Missouri River in North Dakota. On a journey nearly impossible to comprehend, the Yellowstone River travels and changes its mood through staggering canyons, picturesque mountain valleys and vast ranchlands.
Though trout aren’t found throughout the entire course of the river, more than 120 miles of water outside of Yellowstone National Park offer healthy populations of rainbow trout, brown trout, and cutthroat trout with more than 20 public access points along the way. From riffles and runs to whitewater and deep holes, the Yellowstone River has it all. Being characterized as a large, powerful river bordered predominantly by private land, fly fishing the Yellowstone is most easily done from a drift boat or raft. While it is certainly possible to float the river in your own craft, a Montana Fishing Guide is recommended, at least for your first trip, due to the Yellowstone River's large size and tricky currents which can look deceivingly tame to the novice boater.
With nearly endless amounts of water from which to choose, anglers have the ability to spread out so that crowding is seldom an issue. Those seeking solitude should keep on the move. If certain stretches of river are busy, it’s typically the product of random luck; more than likely other parts of the river will be vacant.
Once crossing the Yellowstone Park Boundary, the stretch of river from Gardiner to Yankee Jim Canyon is loaded with pocketwater and several sizable rapids, making this stretch of the Yellowstone River dry fly fishing heaven and one of the most scenic parts of the river. Yellowstone Anglers would be wise to spend at least one day of their trip casting large dry flies to cutthroat trout amidst the canyon walls of this stretch. Once leaving Yankee Jim the river flattens out as it flows past the town of Emigrant and through Paradise Valley to the town of Livingston, Montana. Without a doubt this is the most popular section to fish the Yellowstone River due to easy rowing, incredible scenery and solid fishing throughout the year.
Once reaching Carter’s Bridge, just south of Livingston, the Yellowstone begins to gather character in the form of channels, rapids and powerful back eddies. And while the riffles and runs from here to the Highway 89 bridge hold good numbers of fish, rowing and wade fishing this section can be difficult. From 89 to Big Timber, typically considered the “Lower Yellowstone River,” insect and fish populations are lower than those found upriver and while this can mean less action, some of the largest fish caught each season come from this long section. Streamer fishing is an excellent choice here as are hoppers and large attractor dry flies during the summer and early fall.
Without a doubt, the pre-runoff conditions of spring offer some of the best fly fishing of the year. From midges in February and March, Blue Wing Olives in April and a phenomenal Mother’s Day caddis hatchoccurring towards the end of April or early May, there is plenty to keep an angler busy. Spring fly fishing on the Yellowstone River can be risky with the weather and water conditions, but if you happen to come at the right time you can find yourself with unbelievable dry fly fishing opportunities with much of the river to yourself. In normal runoff years, fishing is typically shut down by mid-May as snowmelt turns the river to mud. In the event of low snowpack the river might clear by mid-June in time for the salmonfly hatch. Once the river clears, fishing should remain productive throughout the rest of the season into late fall.
Though nymphing is productive throughout the season, the sights of a Yellowstone cutthroat trout's slow rise to a dry fly is something not to be missed. Caddis flies, Pale Morning Duns and various stoneflies are predominant hatches in early summer and while matching them exactly is an effective approach, most Montana Anglers can keep it simple with proven attractor patterns that represent a wider variety of bugs. Of course, some of the most noted fly fishing in Montana on the Yellowstone River occurs in late summer with the presence of terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, ants and beetles. Many people return to the Yellowstone every year to experience the wonderful hopper fishing that this river has to offer. Beadhead droppers fished 15-24” below these highly visible “indicator” flies can produce great results as well.
The Yellowstone River is certainly one of this country’s national treasures and everyone should experience its beauty and wildness at least once in a lifetime. There are very few trout rivers in the world that can rival the Yellowstone for its diversity. One can fish for three days on this river and it seems like you are on a different river each day. A fly fishing trip to Montana would certainly be incomplete without a day spent floating the Yellowstone River. If you would like more information about the Yellowstone River or would like information on a Yellowstone River guided float trip, please feel free to contact us.
Upper Madison River
High-Viz Midge #20
Rubber Legs #8-10
Wire Worm #10
Griffiths Knat #18
Pink Pierre #16
Known as the 60 mile riffle, the world famous Upper Madison River is a large shallow rocky river originating in Yellowstone Park and flowing through Hebgen and Quake lakes then north to the town of Ennis.
One of Montana’s most well known trout fisheries, the Madison River has earned its fabled reputation for good reason. Consisting of two dramatically different stretches outside of Yellowstone National Park, and widespread public access along the way, this Madison River offers plenty of diversity for boat fishermen and wading anglers alike. Having made a strong recovery from whirling disease it is safe to say that the river is back, and once again one of southwest Montana’s top fly fishing destinations.
Formed by the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River flows a distance of 14 miles before entering Hebgen Lake, another excellent fishery located 8 miles north of West Yellowstone. From the Hebgen Dam, a short stretch of fishable water sends the river into Quake Lake, the product of a landslide that occurred in 1959. Once leaving Quake Lake, more than 50 miles of boulder strewn riffles and runs carry the river to the town of Ennis, Montana. This famous stretch, referred to as the “Upper Madison River,” serves up consistent action for rainbow trout, brown trout and plenty of whitefish.
Wading anglers should note that negotiating the swift, boulder strewn runs of the Upper Madison River is not easy. Felt or cleated rubber soles, wading staffs and waterproof cameras are recommended. Closed to fishing from a boat, the stretch between Hebgen Dam and Lyons Bridge as well as that between Ennis and Ennis Lake are popular wading options. Raynolds Pass, Three Dollar Bridge, Eight Mile Ford and Valley Garden are all good access points for wading anglers.
Due to the nature of the water and the above mentioned regulations, the stretch from Lyons Bridge to Ennis is typically considered best suited for boat fishermen with the ability to cover water. Fishing from a comfortable driftboat allows anglers to get the most out of the experience and also allows them to take in the majestic views of the Madison Valley.
Throughout the season a variety of angling techniques can produce fish making a current Upper Madison Fishing Report extremely important before a days fly fishing. Nymph fishing is always a productive option for anglers on foot or in a boat. Throughout the year, extremely small patterns fished behind standard attractor-type nymphs or rubber-legged stonefly patterns can work wonders under an indicator.
Subtle changes in the river bottom create many of the best and most overlooked runs. Slightly more obvious spots are depressions above and below rocks as well as the pocket water along the banks. Such places are always worth a shot so long as anglers work on proper presentation and good drift as the Madison’s trout have seen a few flies and want it just right. Heavily weighted nymph rigs and tungsten beaded flies might be necessary to get flies down to the fish. One way to entice some of the river’s biggest fish is to cast large streamers tight to the bank and then strip them quickly back to the boat, and then hold on!
Of course, there’s nothing quite like a day of fishing dries through the Upper Madison River's endless riffles. Not only can it be productive, but few things can test your timing and vision like trying to watch for strikes in the Madison’s quick current. Early mornings and late evenings are prime time to walk the banks and watch for rising fish. Evening caddis hatches are prolific throughout much of the summer. Highly visible attractor dry flies trailed by specific caddis fly imitations work well. Terrestrial fishing can be spectacular on a windy and warm summer afternoon with grasshoppers, beetles and ants. One would certainly do themself a favor by spending an afternoon casting hoppers on this beautiful river.
With so many different types of food sources and river features it is difficult to say what tactic will work best day-to-day on this river, but if you are willing to try a couple of different tactics great fishing can usually be found on this river. The Upper Madison River has a well deserved reputation as one of Montana’s most famous trout rivers. We urge you to give it a try and find out about that reputation yourself. If you have further questions or are looking for a Madison River guided fly fishing trip, please contact us for more information.
Lower Madison River
Zebra Midge #16-18
Wire Worm #10
FB Ray Charles #16-18
Pink Pierre #16
Providing anglers with abundant public access, relatively easy wading and a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout, the water of the Lower Madison River is an exceptional alternative to the Upper Madison River, considered the river upstream of the town of Ennis. Starting immediately below the Madison Dam, the Lower Madison’s journey to the town of Three Forks takes it through the picturesque Bear Trap Canyon, open ranchlands and cottonwood bottoms.
Considering the absence of a boat ramp below the dam and the presence of a Class IV rapid known locally as the “Kitchen Sink,” the eight-mile stretch through the canyon is rarely floated except by those with rafts and solid whitewater experience. Fortunately, traveling this stretch on foot is a viable alternative. There is nearly a mile of great wade fishing opportunities below the dam, and this combined with trails starting at the northern mouth of the canyon gives those fly fisherman willing to hike great access to pocketwater, deep holes and boulder strewn runs.
Starting around the Warm Springs Boat access, the river begins its gradual retreat from the canyon towards the open valley below. It is here, with a well maintained boat ramp, that most floating begins. Wade fishing is also popular between Warm Springs and Black’s Ford fishing access. This seven mile stretch is nearly 100 percent accessible through state land that borders the river. Generally speaking, this is a shallow stretch of water with a forgiving river bottom that makes for easy wading.
Trout populations are substantial between the Warm Springs and Greycliff fishing access points, and while this stretch is often considered difficult to read and figure out, the effort it takes to do so is well worthwhile. Concentrate on weedbed edges and deep holes, keeping in mind that such “deep” spots are seldom more than 2-3’. Many such spots exist in the middle of this river and those who stay oriented towards the banks will miss much of what the Lower Madison River has to offer.
Downstream from Black’s Ford, wading access is limited to the Greycliff Fishing Access Site and the Cobblestone Fishing Access Site. Boat fishermen should note that Cobblestone does not have a boat ramp, and as a result floaters must travel from Greycliff to the Blackbird fishing access point at the I-90 bridge near Three Forks, nearly a 17-mile float trip. Meandering through cottonwood bottoms and an open high desert landscape, this last stretch of the Madison River boasts beautiful water with fish numbers somewhat lower than those found upstream. This is a quality over quantity stretch well suited to streamer fly fishing.
Because of its shallow nature and warm water discharges from Ennis Lake during the summer months, the Lower Madison could be considered a seasonal fishery. From mid-September through the end of June, water temperatures are prime. Once the water warms to the 70 degree mark during July and August, the river’s fish become relatively inactive. This, coupled with the fact that the Lower Madison becomes a popular inner tubing destination during the summer, tends to make it less popular during these months.
Midges, Blue Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, caddis flies and a variety of stoneflies are readily present, and anglers can find a variety of classic insect hatches. While surface activity can be tremendous at times, particularly with the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, the Lower Madison isn’t often considered a dry fly haven.
Nymphs and streamers are typically the flies of choice. Sculpin and crayfish patterns trailed by small beadhead nymphs and soft hackles are very effective. As a shallow river, heavily weighted flies aren’t entirely necessary nor are long leaders and fine tippets. Stealth is always helpful when moving into position to fish a run or cast to a rising fish. Because the river is shallow, it is easily wadeable, but you have to be concientous of what the fish can see and feel.
The Lower Madison River has long been one of the favorite rivers in southwest Montana for many reasons. Its proximity to Bozeman and large trout are just two of the many reasons why people make the trip every year to fish this river. A spring or fall afternoon on this river with its big trout are as good a reason to come out and fish as any we know!
Griffiths Knat #18-20
Black Bugger #2-4
Zebra Midge #16-18
BH Prince Nymph #16-18
BH San Juan Worm #10-12
Perhaps the most accessible river in the Bozeman area, the Gallatin River offers great year-round fly fishing for the ambitious angler. A river of multiple personalities, it can easily be divided into several different sections, all with great access.
Starting in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, the initial stretch of this freestone fishery is arguably the finest piece of dry fly water that the river has to offer. A meandering meadow stream at this point, it is rich in insect life and boasts a solid population of rainbow trout and brown trout in the 12 - 14” range. Stealth is of paramount importance. Blind casting with attractor fly patterns and standard nymph flies can be productive and a stealthy approach with accurate casts will often lead to larger fish.
Once reaching its confluence with the Taylor’s Fork, just north of the Yellowstone National Park boundary, the river’s character gradually changes to a fast-paced canyon type fishery. Traveling parallel to highway 191, numerous pullouts provide access to pocket water and deep runs. Heavy nymph rigs are necessary to get flies down to the fish on this stretch. Throughout the summer months surface activity can also be prolific, particularly in the early or late hours of the day. Anglers looking to avoid the crowds should note that most rafting and kayaking activity occurs between Storm Castle Creek and Moose Flats in the middle of the Gallatin Canyon.
Leaving the canyon several miles south of Gallatin Gateway, the Gallatin River changes character once again. The textbook qualities of a classic freestone trout fishery are evident here as it flows uninterrupted through the ranchlands and mature cottonwood stands towards Headwaters State Park and its confluence the Missouri River. Access is scattered throughout this stretch. Long runs, riffles, and undercut banks provide prime habitat for fish slightly larger than those found upstream.
In most instances, a good rule of thumb for Gallatin River Guides and Anglers is to keep on the move. With so many fishable areas and so many types of water, it pays to travel until finding active fish or a bit of solitude. Remember that most anglers rarely leave sight of the vehicle.
From drifting nymphs to stripping streamers and fishing dry flies, most standard trout fishing techniques will succeed. And while nymphing is often the most consistent bet, a variety of hatches provide dry fly anglers with plenty of opportunity as well. In the pocket water of the Gallatin Canyon, trout are often quick to respond to attractor dry flies and terrestrial patterns. Further down river, anglers may find much the same in long riffles and along undercut grassy banks.
The Gallatin River is rich in forage foods, offering a variety of stoneflies from salmonflies to Yellow Sallies. Consistent caddis fly hatches are available throughout the summer and there is abundant mayfly activity early in the summer and into the fall. Fish numbers are also strong, meaning that most good looking holes are likely to hold fish. Those willing to be persistent and thorough will typically get results. Move often, explore different depths, add a weight, move the indicator and try a new fly, as experimentation is key.
As an undamned river, spring runoff often hammers the Gallatin and in many years renders it unfishable from mid-May to the beginning of July. Anglers should also note that the Taylor’s Fork, above Big Sky, is a known sediment producer and summer thunderstorms can turn the river to mud.
With so many different types of water and some of the most incredible scenery in southwest Montana the Gallatin River is always a great place to spend some time if you were to find yourself in the Bozeman area. There are few places that can rival the Gallatin Canyon on a hot summer day with its cool and refreshing water and willing trout just waiting to strike your dry fly! For more information about fishing the Gallatin River or if you would like to hire a Gallatin River fishing guide for a day, feel free to contact us here at the shop.