It is certainly presumptuous to name the best fishing spots in Montana, the fourth largest state and one with more than two dozen major rivers. However, it is still helpful for an angler planning a visit to know how many places to fish in Montana – the legendary rainbow trout and cutthroat trout fisheries. While the best places to fish are hundreds of unannounced and smaller rivers, the following twelve famous rivers provide good starting points.
1. Beaverhead River
The Beaverhead meanders 50 miles from Dillon at Clark Canyon Reservoir to its junction with the Big Hole River at Twin Bridges. It is fast, deep and difficult to fish. It’s best reached by boat (with a guide) and is known for its high average-sized fish.
2. Big Hole River
A famous, scenic, and classic trout river, the Big Hole flows 150 miles through the southwestern portion of the state and makes every short list of the best fishing spots in Montana. It offers both wading and float fishing for four species of trout and grayling in the Arctic in the run-up. The spring salmon fly hatch is particularly popular.
3. Bighorn River
The Bighorn flows from the dam on Bighorn Lake southwest of Billings to the Yellowstone River. It’s too big to wade over in the spring and early summer, so it’s often best to fish from a boat.
4. Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot is located in the western part of the state and has wooded banks and open grasslands. It flows from Lincoln to Bonn and is cold, fast and deep and offers different types of trout.
5. Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River essentially begins in Warm Springs and drains west. It eventually takes up volume from other rivers and becomes one great river. It is a productive river with large fish, different conditions, and different habitats.
6. Flathead River (North and South Forks)
The north, center, and south forks of the Flathead River fill the vast Flathead Reservoir in northwest Montana. The South Fork is remote, especially the upper reaches which are home to bull trout and cutthroats. Also remote is the North Fork in the shadow of Glacier National Park and is also known for cutthroat fishing.
7. Gallatin River
This beautiful and generally accessible river begins near Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park and flows 100 miles. It offers excellent wading fishing and a good number of trout, particularly from the park to the Gallatin Valley.
8. Madison River
Known as classic dry fly water, the popular Madison River begins in Yellowstone National Park and flows 100 miles to the Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers. Three different sections offer many trout in the midst of an extraordinary landscape.
9. Missouri River
The Missouri has always been one of the best fishing spots in Montana and has a long way to go through Montana. Trophy trout fishing takes place from the junction with the Gallatin River west of Bozeman to the Canyon Ferry Dam near Helena. The section from Holter Dam to just above Cascade is known for dry fly fishing for trout. Below Cascade, the river becomes hot water fishing.
10. Smith River
The Smith testifies to its status as one of the best fishing grounds in Montana and has one of the highest fishing pressures in the state. Float trips (via pre-booked permits) on this scenic 60 mile trout waterway in northern Montana are seasonally limited to ensure the quality of the resource and the fishing experience.
11. Yellowstone River
This river is a revered waterway that is often referred to as one of the best fishing spots in Montana. In the upper reaches from Yellowstone National Park to Billings there is a cold water fishery and further a warm water fishery. Trout fishing is world class, with anglers particularly enjoying the caddis hatch in late spring, the salmon fly hatch in early summer and hopper fishing in late summer.
If you are visiting Montana for a short or long term fishing trip, be sure to purchase a fishing license.