Sean Jansen

Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers of Montana

   ~Sean Jansen

With the days shortening and the temperature beginning to fall with the sun, the days of summer are showing in the rearview mirror as we continue driving down the road to fall. With the beginning of school starting and the leaves slowly changing their colors, there is one thing that doesn’t seem to change with the switch of the seasons, the fishing. The summer crowds have thinned with the textbooks open and the seasonal job crunch in full effect, the trout continue there chase of the remaining flying insects. Here is a list of the top ten trout streams in our, “Trout Mecca,” of a state.

10. Clark Fork

Known for its darker past of polluted water, the river has since recovered to a vital lifeline for surfers, college students, and anglers alike. Long are the days of a hostile river. Nothing but outdoor recreation and casting dry flies to pods of fish on this river.

9. Jefferson River

One of the mighty tributaries to the longest river in the country, and aptly named after our third U.S. President, the Jefferson braids its way to form the Missouri. Under fished and under the radar, probably just the way it likes it.

8. Gallatin River

Once a river of solitude despite the highway running from Big Sky to Bozeman, the Gallatin still holds the picturesque quality that Robert Redford used in the film, “A River Runs Through It.” A sanctuary from the heat in the late summer and early fall days, the trout are holding even with the traffic lines blazing down the highway.

7. Big Hole River

A tributary to the Jefferson, the Big Hole runs for around 150 miles through some of Montana’s prettiest landscapes. The fishing is as varied as the landscape and with strict regulations keeping this blue ribbon fishery happy and healthy.

6. Missouri River

The longest river in North America begins its life here in Montana. With nutrients coming from Yellowstone National Park, the Continental Divide and the Madison Gallatin Range, making it a hot bed for a healthy river system and trout fishery.  Whether by float or wade fishing, the Missouri is a gem in our state.

5. Beaverhead River

One of the first rivers I fished in Montana, the Beaverhead is lodged in my brain with large and numerous trout. Though it is a relatively short river in Montana standards, what it lacks in length it makes up for in abundance of quality fish.

4. Smith River

As we all know, the Smith River could potentially be the most sought after fishery in the state, but sadly it’s also the most threatened. If you get the chance to score one of the highly prized permits to be able to float and camp on the Smith, take advantage of the situation and its beauty for we don’t know how long it will stay that way with the threat of the mine.

3. Big Horn River

Though the river starts its life in Wyoming, the epic fishing begins in the state of Montana. Flowing through the Bighorn National Recreation Area, the world-class tailwater fishing of the river has a higher fish count than any other river on the list. Nymphing, streamers, and hoppers all making the angler happy for nine months of the year.

2. Yellowstone River

The famous Yellowstone River. Flowing from the first national park of its namesake, this river boasts what seems like an infinite amount of water and some of the greatest fly fishing on the planet. Known around the world, grab your raft, hire a guide, or slap on the waders and fish from shore, the Yellowstone is a must-cast river.

1. Madison River

You can’t think of fly fishing anywhere in the world without the Madison coming to mind. Named after U.S. Secretary of State James Madison by Meriwether Lewis in Three Forks, the river brings in most of the annual revenue of Montana’s fishery. With every variety of fly fishing from swinging streamers to casting midges in winter, it is the ultimate fly fishing river.