People from all over the nation come to Montana for the sole reason of fishing, and Bozeman is situated right in the heart of Montana’s fly fishing country. Montana mountain scenery; warm, mild weather; and a lifetime of water to explore are home to more rainbow, brown, cutthroat, cutbow, brook and lake trout than you could catch in five lifetimes. But that’s no reason not to try.
When to come
No matter what time of year you come you’ll find great fishing around Bozeman. Summers tend to have warmer, more consistent weather and the long days are filled with fish and a variety of hatches, including stoneflies, mayflies and caddis. When hatches slow in mid-July, expect for fish to start striking more at terrestrials.
Fall has the potential for some absolutely fantastic Montana fishing – crisp days, changing colors and bugling elk make for striking surroundings, just like the fish. Smaller angler numbers also mean that you’ll have the rivers all to yourself. During this part of the season, beatis hatches can make for great action (although dry flies are typically slowing down), and large brown trout start biting after streamers and nymphs. If you want a trophy fish, this is the time to come looking. In the colder weather of late fall, turn your gaze toward the Spring Creeks.
While most people who travel to Bozeman in the winter come for the skiing, if your winter vacation runs on running water instead of frozen, hit up Madison or Spring Creek for some midge fishing or head up to the Gallatin with your nymphs. The fishing is more challenging than the rest of the year, but the winter scenery is spectacular.
In spring, warming weather brings out the fish and anglers alike, and both groups take to the rivers hungry. Runoff usually peaks between mid-May and mid-July. The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch (late April to early May) is renowned as one of the best times to go dry fly fishing on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers.
Guide or no guide?
If you only have a day or two, the sheer size of the area and amount of fishable waters can seem daunting. To make best use of your limited time, a guide can be useful. If you have more than a few days, take the time to explore by yourself – you’ll find spots that guides don’t always go to, and you’ll have the thrill of discovering them on your own. If the season’s right, try starting at the Spring Creeks and moving out from there.
The Spring Creeks
Armstrong, DePuy’s, Nelson’s and Milesnicks Creeks, collectively known as the Spring Creeks, have all been referred to as “the most picture perfect spring creek” ever – we’ll let you decide which one actually takes the title, but we will agree that all these creeks will leave you talking about the scenery and the fishing for years to come. Paradise Valley, surrounded by the Absaroka and Gallatin mountains and cut through by the Yellowstone River and the crystal-clear Spring Creeks, makes a picturesque setting with excellent fishing for 12-20” rainbows, browns and cutthroat. Don’t forget your waders.
As you would expect from the longest free-flowing river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone River has a wide variety of fishing for rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout. In fact, the hardest part of fishing the Yellowstone River isn’t finding the fish; it’s finding a place to start. If you only have a day or two, don’t try to see the whole thing. Instead, pick a section to explore – you’ll find some hidden treasures and have a better chance to appreciate the land around you.
Within Yellowstone National Park, large flat water provides excellent wader fishing (floating isn’t allowed). Many of the easily accessible points become relatively crowded, but if you’re willing to work for it, more solitary fishing can be found.
Within the Black Canyon, the Yellowstone River becomes harder to access and the current much swifter, although the scenery is stunning and well-worth the trip drown. Large cutthroats can be found down here, and the difficulty of access keeps away some of the extra people.
After leaving Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone River runs through a few fast whitewater sections (popular with boaters) before flattening out past Yankee Jim Canyon. Float trips on these lower sections of river can find everything from slow-flowing, wide waters to ponds to riffled currents reminiscent of small creeks. The section of river starting at Grey Owl Recreation Area is especially nice, with a great mix of different pools, currents and deep banks. Oh yeah, and some big, fat trout, as well.
The Gallatin River
While you probably won’t find the larger trophy fish you will on the Yellowstone River here on the Gallatin, you will find fewer people and plenty of hungry trout (mostly rainbow and brown, with grayling and cutthroat thrown in as well). Once it leaves Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin River cuts through mountainous terrain and the cold water becomes a wading anglers dream – Highway 191 provides access to the river at almost any point, and much of the river is closed to float fishing. During early summer, this section of river may run muddy; head upstream and into Yellowstone National Park if this happens.
Between Big Sky and the Spanish Creek Bridge, the Gallatin enters a canyon, running much faster and becoming harder to fish. Past Spanish Creek, the Gallatin flows into the agricultural bottomlands of the lower valley, slower, lower and warmer water, as well as less access, make this section less fishable, although the largest fish are generally found here. Better fishing can be found above Shedds Bridge and past Gallatin Bridge.
For anglers wanting to float a bit, the fishing from the junction of Highway 205 to Missouri Headwaters State park is a good section, especially during the fall spawning runs.
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