Two anglers fishing a stream in Montana.
Getty Images: Stewart Sutton

Montana Fly Fishing: Where and How to Fish Trout Paradise


Montana fly fishing is some of the best on the planet.

When it comes to quality fishing experiences, many fly anglers already know Montana is one of the best places for someone to experience this type of angling. Big Sky country is filled with big rainbow and brown trout, and it's hard to find a more picturesque place in North America. The high elevation lakes and valleys provide a gorgeous backdrop for a world-class fly fishing trip. The scenery is so perfect that was beautifully showcased in movies like "A River Runs Through It."

Because fly fishing opportunities are so abundant in Montana, there's literally something for everyone. Beginners looking for help from an experienced fly fishing guide will find plenty here. Someone looking for a quick session while visiting a big city can easily find a fly fishing day trip. Experienced anglers hoping to get away from it all on a float trip deep into the backcountry will find that, too.

In some opinions, Montana may offer the best fly fishing on the planet. If it's time to prepare for your first time fishing there, or you're looking for extra info to fill your knowledge base, you've found it. We'll also provide tips on some of the best trout fishing spots in the state. Read on for the Montana fly fishing information you ought to know.

Montana Fishing Regulations

A freshly caught trout in Montana being held by an angler.

Getty Images: chucknGaleRobbins

Everyone should go through Montana's fishing regulations before ever casting a line, because residents and non-residents alike need both a fishing license and a conservation license. For residents aged 12-15, 16-17, and 62 and older, the conservation license is only $4. For residents 18-61, it's $8. For non-residents the cost is $10.


Montana also introduced what's known as an AIS Prevention Pass in 2017. It's an extra pass designed to help with funding in aquatic invasive species prevention. There's no fee for residents 12-15 and non-residents 12-15. For all other residents, it's an extra $2 fee. For non-residents 16 and older, it's $7.50. Other than those two fees, the rest of Montana's fishing licenses are straightforward enough:

  • Two-day resident ages 12-15 - $5
  • Season resident ages 12-15 - $10.50
  • Two-day resident ages 16-17, 62 and older - $5
  • Season resident ages 16-17, 62 and older - $10.50
  • Resident disabled ages 18-61 - $10.50
  • Two-day resident ages 18-61 - $5
  • Resident season - $21
  • One day nonresident ages 12-15 - $14
  • Five-day nonresident ages 12-15 $56
  • Season nonresident ages 12-15 - $100
  • One day nonresident - $14
  • Five-day nonresident - $56
  • Nonresident season - $100

Considering the great fishing in Montana rivers and trout streams, these license fees are not bad. Fly fishermen are likely to spend way more on licenses in other parts of the country. When you are planning your trip, make sure to pay close attention to the state's river and stream-specific regulations. Many have specific legal fishing times, and some rivers and streams may be wade fishing only. They may not be open to any kind of float fishing.

In some worst-case scenarios, entire rivers have been closed due to low wild trout numbers, giving the fish a chance to rebound. It may only be certain stretches of river. If you happen to wander into a no fishing area, game wardens can and will ticket you, whether you realized you crossed the line or not.

It should also be noted that the western district of the state has season-specific opening dates for fishing their rivers and streams. It runs from the third Saturday in May until November 30. This western section includes popular waters like the Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Clark Fork River, and Flathead River. Most waters in the state's other districts are open all year round.


One last key thing to keep an eye on are equipment specific regulations. Many waters may require the use of flies with barbless hooks because it makes for a quicker release of fish.

Where to Fish in Montana

Two anglers fly fishing in Montana

Getty Images: Stewart Sutton

There is no shortage of places for fly fishing adventure in Montana, although the west and southwest portions are usually considered the prime spots to go. One of the main stretches you'll hear about is the Yellowstone River, which houses cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and mountain whitefish along it's nearly 700-mile length. This Blue Ribbon Stream has its origins in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and flows all the way to North Dakota, where it eventually confluences with the Missouri River, another great fly fishing waterbody. You'll find plenty of fly fishing guides and access points stationed along the length of both of these.

Speaking of the Missouri, that river confluences near Bozeman with two other Blue River Trout Streams, the Gallatin River and the Madison River. The former was where they filmed many iconic scenes in "A River Runs Through It," and the latter is considered one of the best dry fly fishing spots on Earth, especially near Madison Junction. The excellent Jefferson River also confluences near there. Consider camping at Missouri Headwaters State Park as an excellent home base while you explore each of these rivers.

If you're looking for a place to target Arctic grayling, consider trekking to the headwaters of the Ruby River, which is one of the smaller rivers in Big Sky Country. Most anglers who target trout wait a little later in the year to fish this location. The only problem with it is that access points are somewhat limited. The Big Hole River is another storied grayling fishery, but it's also a famous Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. Keep in mind that it's almost exclusively catch and release fishing only.


We already mentioned the Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers, two Blue Ribbon Streams fork off the larger Clark Fork River in the western part of the state. All these waters are excellent places to plan a trip. We also cannot forget about the Bighorn River, which offers excellent angling for rainbows and browns. The only downside to the Bighorn is that it's quite popular and can be very crowded with anglers, especially during prime insect hatches.

Hiring a Montana Fly Fishing Outfitter

If you've never been to Montana before, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's not a bad idea to hire a guide to give you the low down on good general locations to fish, and the best time to tie on a streamer or a nymph. It's one of the places so many anglers return year after year, but no one knows what's going to catch fish better than the locals.

For those who are totally new to fly fishing, the nice thing about hiring a guide is that many will supply all the gear you need from your waders to your fly rods. They'll also be willing to teach you how to properly use them. Going with a guide is a nice option if you're not sure what gear to buy before you go, or whether you're ready to invest at all.

Most outfitters offer the option of a half or full day trip. The good news is most charge rates that cover two anglers. This means you could split the costs with a buddy to save money. Most will not do more than two at a time, and those that do usually charge a little bit extra. In any case, expect to pay $300 to $450 for most half-day excursions and $500 to $700 for a full day trip. Most of these trips provide lunch and non-alcoholic beverages as part of the service.


There are also some outfits that offer an all-inclusive package that comes with lodging, too. Obviously, these are going to be much more expensive depending on the types of lodging and other services offered.

If you do choose to hire an outfitter, it's usually best to book in advance. Many book their entire season early, although you may sometimes be able to find a deal if one has a cancellation.

Going to fish Montana is an experience every dedicated fly angler should have at some point. Between the great fishing and gorgeous scenery, you are sure to have an adventure that will last a lifetime in Big Sky Country!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels




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