Jefferson River Montana Fly Fishing, Camping, Rafting

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Jefferson River

The Jefferson River, stretching 80 miles through fertile Montana farmland, offers a slow current that is rich with brown trout and provides the lifeblood to dozens of farming communities along its path.

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  • The Jefferson River originates in Twin Bridges, Montana.
  • Fishing the Jefferson River is best by boat, where patient use of nymphs and hoppers can yield trophy-sized brown trout to anglers of all skill levels.
  • The Jefferson offers an easy float, with a slow moving current and no rapids found anywhere on the river. 

Overview

The Jefferson River originates in Twin Bridges, Montana, with the confluence of the Beaverhead River and Big Hole River.  Because water from the river is used to help sustain the regional agriculture, flows on the Jefferson River can fluctuate throughout the year, reducing it to a trickle by the time it reaches the Missouri River Headwaters State Park, 80 miles downstream from its origin.  The gentle flowing conditions and beautiful landscapes can make for a relaxing floating trip and an unforgettable fishing experience.

Fishing

Fishing the Jefferson River is best by boat, where patient use of nymphs and hoppers can yield trophy-sized brown trout to anglers of all skill levels.  The uncrowded nature of this river coupled with the calm waters, great fishing, and beautiful broad valley scenery is appealing to many fisherman in the area. 

The best fly fishing is found in the upper section, between Twin Bridges and Cardwell, accessed along the Jefferson via routes 41, 287, 55, 2 and 10. Floating and wading can both be successful methods here as the Jefferson River flows through farmland.

After about a 4-6 week snow meltoff (about mid-May to mid-June), the large "salmonflies" come out, offering anglers both a challenging and rewarding experience. Try using large streamers or nymphs to attract large brown trout. As summer continues, and before the river gets too warm, try fishing with Muddler Minnows, Bitch Creeks, Girdle Bugs, Prince Nymphs, and Matukas. Experienced area guides and outfitters listed here can also assist you in finding the best spot, fly, and perfecting your cast. In early September, the river is back in prime form offering excellent fishing for big pre-spawn brown trout and spirited rainbows. The same Matuka and Muddler patterns work this time of year, as will sculpins, wooly bugger-style streamers and rubber-leg stonefly nymphs.

To find the better fishing locations,  Bozeman's local fishing guides are always happy to share their knowledge of the river.

Rafting

The Jefferson offers an easy float, with a slow moving current and no rapids found anywhere on the river.  The current, although still slow, moves the quickest in the upper section, between Twin Bridges and Cardwell.  Beyond this section, frequent paddling may be needed to gain any speed and low waters, channels, and diversion dams can lead to longer than expected floats.  Another great way to explore this river is by kayak or canoe.

Camping

There are a few privately owned campgrounds on guest ranches along the river, however public campgrounds are limited.

Highlights

  • The Jefferson River MT Canoe Trail is a 6 day trip that retraces an essential segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
  • Moose, elk, bears, eagles, and even wolves have been spotted along the Jefferson River.

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