Montana

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Top 10 Fishing Destinations in Montana

Montana, or the Treasure State, has a simple motto: “Oro y plata,” which translates from Spanish to “gold and silver.”

But the real gold and silver in Montana isn’t found in its soil and mountains, but in its waters. Montana is home to over 56 native fish, many of which are threatened or endangered. Many of the state’s most famous sport are not native to Montana, but they’ve learned to adapt and thrive in its rivers and lakes.

Here is our list of top ten fishing spots that you absolutely must check out in Montana:


Types of Catch Available

Freshwater

chinook salmon

Chinook Salmon

coho salmon

Coho Salmon

sockeye salmon

Sockey​​​​e Salmon

raindbow trout

Rainbow Trout

brook trout

Brook Trout

brown trout

Brown Trout

cutthroat trout

Cutthroat Trout

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

smallmouth bass

Smallmouth Bass

White Bass

White Bass

northern pike

Northern Pike

walleye

Walleye

Crappie

Crappie

grayling

Grayling

Carp

yellow perch

Yellow Perch

bullhead catfish

Bullhead Catfish

Bluegill

Bluegill

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

State Fishing Records

Top 10 Fishing Spots Across Montana

Gallatin River

Gallatin River

The Gallatin River starts a Gallatin Lake, up in the Gallatin Mountain Range in Yellowstone National Park. The river stretches for 115 miles and connects with the Missouri River.

The majority of the Gallatin River prohibits float fishing, but since the Gallatin is relatively narrow, wade anglers can fish to their heart’s content without worrying about incoming traffic (and competition) from float fishermen.

In the upper stretch of the river, the shallow water makes for the best wade fishing, the dry fly fishing is good along most of the length of the river. Brown and rainbow trout average around 1 foot in length, but you can also catch a few graylings and cutthroats. Trout sometimes reach up to a foot in a half in length.

The best fishing season is before May, when the water level isn’t too high. Spruce Moth flies work well in the summer starting in the month in July, but the fish aren’t finicky eaters and will gobble up any dry fly you throw at them.

 The scenery along the Gallatin is breathtaking, starting from the high mountains and dropping into a wide valley.

Hyalite Reservoir

Content

The Hyalite Reservoir is named after hyalite, also known as water opal. Hyalite is a form of opal with a glasslike appearance, found in the areas surrounding the reservoir. At first look, hyalite seems like but some stones have a fluorescent quality which makes them glow bright green under a UV light.

The Hyalite Reservoir is considered part of the Bozeman water supply, and the reservoir was created when the dam was built in 1940. The reservoir is a 206-acre impoundment, just 12 miles south of Bozeman, Montana.

Pick up your tackle box, cast your line, and you may just snag a Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a brook trout, or a very special fish known as the artic grayling. Like a hyalite gem, the grayling looks like an ordinary, gray-colored fish, albeit with a very large dorsal fin. But if you splay out its dorsal fin and its scales catch the sunlight just right, the fish flashes bright, iridescent colors, in all shades of blue, green, purple, and pink imaginable.

Late spring and early summer in the early morning and evening are the most popular times to go fishing. Whether you’re going fly fishing or boat fishing, the Hyalite Reservoir is a great place for angling. We recommend using short, light rods and light lines, with a hook baited with a red worm, maggot, or nightcrawler.

While the arctic grayling is now extinct in Michigan, its numbers are steadily growing in the surviving southwestern Montana population. All arctic grayling caught must be released, to ensure that future generations can admire this beautiful animal.


Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald was once covered entirely in glaciers thousands of years ago, and it is now the beautiful, water-filled valley that we see today. The lake stretches for ten miles, and it drops to a whopping 500 feet deep. Its depth is a reminder of the ability of ice and time to shape solid rock.

Lake McDonald was once a premium bull trout fishing location, but due to the introduction of foreign species, the bull trout population has shrunken. The Lake is dominated by lake trout, but there is a healthy population of smaller cutthroat and rainbow trout, as well as a handful of large bull trout.

There is very little fishing pressure, and the trout have not caught on to the tricks used by anglers. Almost any dry fly will work for catching trout. The best time to go fishing is when the lake is still and the wind has died down, in the early morning and in the evening.

Come to Lake McDonald and enjoy a scenic hike around the lake and admires its small waterfalls and the surrounding, snow-capped mountains.


Madison River

Madison River

The Madison River is a year-round fishing spot. Springtime and summer are the best seasons for catching fish, and the upper Madison River should be fished using nymphs, dry flies, or streamers. The best fish can be found in the middle section of the river. During June and July, stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies hatch by the hundreds, and the nymphs attract a large number of trout to the Madison.

There are 11 native fish species in the Madison, including the arctic grayling, longnose sucker, Rocky Mountain sculpin, mountain whitefish, longnose dace, stonecat, white sucker, and west-slope cutthroat trout.

Stonecats are tiny catfish, about the length of a man’s hand, and their dorsal and pectoral spines are poisonous, causing pain similar to a wasp’s sting. They are one of the smallest natural marvels of the Madison River, and even if they’re not good for eating, it’s always a joy to see one weaving through the rocks.


Nelson Reservoir

Nelson Reservoir

The Nelson Reservoir is a 4,000-acre expanse of water that dwarfs the 288-acre recreation area beside the water. The Reservoir is regularly stocked with walleye, yellow perch, and northern pike, and record-sized fish of each species have been caught. A 14-pound walleye was caught in the reservoir, and, in 2005, a 25-pound catfish was caught. But In the following year, locals caught an even larger channel catfish, weighing in almost 30 pounds.

Access to the Reservoir is very good, and the road leading up to the boat ramps is paved. If you’re not afraid of the cold, the Nelson Reservoir is a popular ice-fishing spot for spear fishermen and anglers alike.

Hot colors like chartreuse, pink and orange and silver crankbaits and minnows attract pike, while a plastic tail or crankbait tossed into the algae or weeds is irresistible to a smallmouth bass. But the most prized fish at the Nelson Reservoir is the walleye. Bait your hook with minnows or night crawlers to catch a walleye.

 Come to the Nelson Reservoir, and you can catch any one of the twenty-five fish species that live in the river.

Two Medicine Lake

Two Medicine Lake

Prior to the construction of the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, travelers on train would visit Two Medicine Lake to spend a night in one of its tent camps or chalets before the next day’s journey. Here, you can sit by the lake and admire the green, snow-covered mountains as you fish in its waters.

Brook trout and rainbow trout are abundant at Two Medicine Lake, and it’s common to catch a 10- to 12-inch trout. Due to high winds, fly fishing is difficult, and most fly fishermen opt to fish at Pray Lake (at the edge of the Two Medicine Campground) instead.

 Lake access is great, with a road ending just at the east shoreline of the lake. The other sides of the lake are easily accessible by hiking trails. Use heavy streamers or silver spinners as lures to attract trout.

Clark Fork River

Clark Fork River

The Clark Fork River stretches for more than 300 miles, through grassy river banks and evergreen-speckled hills. The river is well-known amongst locals for its brown trout and rainbow trout.

The width of the river varies greatly, from being easily crossable by a child, to being the largest river in Montana once it reaches Plains.

We recommend fly fishing with streamers, and large Wooly Buggers for catching brown and rainbow trout. The fish here can get quite large, so don’t be shy about baiting with a larger nymph.


Blackfoot River

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River follows the footsteps of Lewis and Clark as they journeyed into the unknown. See the same sights that the famous explorers did as you stand on the grassy riverbanks and enjoy a lazy afternoon of fly fishing.

The Blackfoot River is known for its large cutthroat trout, but there are plenty of brown and rainbow trout throughout most of the river’s 130 miles. The Blackfoot is a very popular local and tourist spot, so plan your visit accordingly. The river is emptiest in the week before or after a major national holiday.

Avoid fishing near the origin of the river to Lincoln, as this 22-mile stretch offers the poorest fishing experience. But after you’ve past Lincoln, the fishing is excellent. The section from Lincoln to the Mineral Hill Fishing Site is excellent for wade fishing, and 20-inch brown trout are very common here.


Rock Creek

Rock Creek

If you’ve ever played Oregon Trail, whenever you hit a creek or river, you were asked if you wanted to caulk your wagon and float it, or ford the river. Spoilers: Fording the river was almost always the wrong choice.

The original 1971 game—and the numerous versions of it—has given millions of children (and their parents) anxiety about crossing moving bodies of water. But no more.

Unlike many of the other fishing spots on this list, if you’re looking to cool down from the summer heat, you can roll up your pant legs and walk across the Rock Creek.

Rock Creek, located close to the city of Missoula, is known for its excellent trout fishing. The creek flows mostly through national forests, giving anglers plenty of access to fine fishing points. The creek is relatively narrow, and there are many shallow points in the creek, making it perfect for wade anglers.

Rainbow, cutthroat, brook, brown, and bull trout, as well as white fish, call Rock Creek home. The largest hatch of the year is the salmon fly hatch that happens every spring, from mid-May to early June. Cast salmon dry flies and nymphs, and you’ll likely snag a trout.

Even if you come in late June or early July and the hatch is over, you can still take advantage of it. If you cast a dry fly or nymph, there’s still a good chance that the trout will grow curious and take a bite.


Bitterroot River

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot is known across Montana as one of the best spring fly fishing spots in the state. In late March to early April, the Skwala Stonefly hatch attracts large trout to the Biterroot River. If you come to the river in May through September, don’t worry—it’s not too late! Mayflies, caddisfly, and other stonefly hatches happen throughout the summer and autumn.

Cast a dry fly, and you may snag a cutthroat, bull, rainbow, or brown trout, or even a mountain whitefish or pike.


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