Montana Fly Fishing 6 min read

36 Best Places to Fly Fish in Montana: Map & Guide

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 4, 2024

guide to fly fishing in Montana

If you’re new to fly fishing and looking for that perfect spot to learn some skills and enjoy the sport, then Montana has plenty of opportunities for you.

Montana offers the opportunity to build the exact kind of experience you want at a price point that works for you.

As for the fish species that the state is known for, Montana is ideal for wild trout as they love the abundant alpine lakes and rivers in the state.

There are strict rules and restrictions in place so that wild trout can flourish and there is no need for fish born from hatchery.

How Montana Became THE Best Trout Fishing Destination

In 1974, Montana stunned anglers across the state and the nation by stopping stocking trout in streams and rivers that supported wild trout populations.

On the anniversary of this monumental decision, Wild Fish Conservancy presents The Montana Story: Forty Years of Success.

After decades of use and millions of dollars invested, hatchery production was not helping, and in fact, it was the leading cause of the fishery’s collapse.

Fisheries biologist Richard Vincent’s groundbreaking research on the Madison River in the late 1960s and early ’70s led to that decision. His study showed that trout abundance decreased as hatchery production increased, and native stocks were displaced.

Nearly forty years after Richard Vincent’s study, Montana is one of America’s premier trout fishing destinations. By focusing on habitat and discontinuing river hatchery stocking, trout fisheries have recovered, and wild populations are self-sustaining.

Best Places to Fish in Montana

You certainly won’t be at a loss to find a great fishing opportunity in Montana. If anything, you’ll have a hard time narrowing down the options. And as mentioned, because you can enjoy fishing year-round, you can have unique experiences.

Montana Fly Fishing Destinations

Montana Trout Stream Map

map of the best places to fish in Montana

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Montana is a big state. You can break Montana down into four main regions to make things easier. These include the southwest and southeast region, west region, central region, and eastern region. Let’s take a closer look at what each region has to offer.

Best Fly Fishing in Southwest Montana

Southwest Montana has an abundance of world-class trout fisheries. Below are candidates for southwest Montana’s 13 best places to fly fish.

Madison River Yellowstone

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Madison River

The excitement is palpable. You will be heading to Montana to spend some time fly fishing and getting back to nature. The Madison River is easily one of the best places in the country to go for great fly fishing.

Yellowstone River Livingston Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

The longest river in Montana is the Yellowstone, which presents unique challenges to the angler considering a fishing vacation to this famous destination. Most of us are somewhat familiar with Yellowstone National Park, but our focus here will be on the

Jefferson River

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Jefferson River in Montana

Beginning near Twin Bridges, the Jefferson River is often overlooked as a prime trout river in Montana, but it can still provide some great opportunities for skilled anglers. Despite its relatively large size, the Jefferson is somewhat of a hidden

Big Hole River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Big Hole River in Montana

No matter where you call home, there’s no better fly fishing destination than the Big Hole River in Montana. The Big Hole River flows for 155 miles, starting near the Montana-Idaho border in the Beaverhead Mountains at Skinner Lake. Its

Gallatin River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Gallatin River in Montana

The Gallatin River is one of the top fly fishing destinations in Montana. It is located in the beautiful Gallatin Valley in south-central Montana. Flowing north from Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin River travels ~100 miles and then joins the

Upper Ruby River

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Ruby River in Montana

The Ruby River is an excellent trout fishery in Southwest Montana and begins its journey in the Gravelly Range. As it runs through this region of Montana, it flows into the Ruby Reservoir. It is at the reservoir that the

Shields River flowing through valley near Livingston Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Shields River in Montana

Are you looking for a new place to go fly fishing? Perhaps you want to find a river that doesn’t get fished quite as often to see whether you can hook a larger trout. There are plenty of fantastic rivers

stillwater river montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Stillwater River in Montana

Of all the small rivers and hidden gems in Montana, the Stillwater River provides some of the best fly fishing opportunities in some of the most beautiful scenery one could hope to find.

East Rosebud Creek in Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Rosebud Creek in Montana

West and East Rosebud Creek in south central Montana are lesser known than the famous rivers you always hear about. This can be to your advantage if you are looking to get away from the crowds.

Boulder River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Boulder River in Montana

For the fly fishing angler looking for an adventure, with an element of danger thrown in, the Boulder River in Montana offers just this. You will not find an abundance of guides and outfitters here, as the conditions are not

Beaverhead River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River in Montana

The Beaverhead River produces more large brown trout than any other river in the state of Montana. This river runs for approximately 70 miles and is a tributary of the Jefferson River. Traveling through the southwestern and central quadrant of

Red Rock River in Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Red Rock River in Montana

Planning a fly fishing trip to Montana? This state is known for having some of the best and most productive rivers and lakes in the country. There are countless places to go fishing, including the Red Rock River.

Clark Canyon Reservoir in Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Clark Canyon Reservoir in Montana

While a lot of anglers head out to Montana’s famous rivers to fly fish, larger bodies of water such as the Clark Canyon Reservoir can provide fantastic fishing for large rainbow and brown trout, as well.

Best Fly Fishing Southeast Montana

Southeast Montana doesn’t have quite as many blue-ribbon trout streams as southwest Montana, but there is definitely one you don’t want to miss. Of course, I’m talking about the Bighorn River! You might also check out the Tongue River if you are looking for a place a bit more off the beaten path.

bighorn river fly fishing

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Bighorn River in Montana

A trip to Montana to fly fish for brown trout is an experience that anglers dream of. The beautiful landscape of Montana and the clear waters of the Bighorn River combine to excite the senses.

Best Fly Fishing in Western Montana

Western Montana boasts stunning natural scenery and plenty of rivers to explore. The northwest region shines because there are plenty of accommodations in the towns of Kalispell and Whitefish, and you’re close to Glacier National Park.

Below are eight of the best places to fly fish in western Montana.

Kootenai River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kootenai River in Montana

If you want a new and exciting fishing experience, the Kootenai River in western Montana could be just what you want. It is unlike many of the more popular blue ribbon rivers in Montana, but it provides

Bitterroot River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River in Montana

Situated between the Sapphire Mountains and the Bitterroot section of the Rocky Mountains is a scenic and lush area known as the Bitterroot Valley. It is in this valley that one of the best trout fishing rivers in all

blackfoot river

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Blackfoot River in Montana

Most anglers outside Montana had little to no association with the Blackfoot River. It wasn’t until the blockbuster movie A River Runs Through It that the world’s attention was brought to one of the best fishing rivers in Montana.

rock creek montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Rock Creek in Montana

Rock Creek, a tributary to the Clark Fork River, is nestled a short drive to the southeast of Missoula in the beautiful state of Montana. There are two rivers named Rock Creek in Montana; one in the southeast near

[DIY] Guide to Fly Fishing the Clark Fork River in Montana

The massive Clark Fork watershed comprises over 14 million acres, with its vast network of streams and rivers cascading and meandering for over 28,000 miles through the rugged, mountainous landscape of western Montana. This hard-working watershed supports

Map of Flint Creek in southwest Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Flint Creek in Montana

If you are looking for a fun brown trout stream, you have several options across Montana. Flint Creek is a small stream, but it does hold some promise for anglers. Despite the name, it is not located in the Flint

St Mary Lake in Glacier National Park

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Glacier National Park

In far western Montana, out beyond the legendary fly fishing streams of Yellowstone National Park lies Glacier National Park. This 1600-square-mile natural preserve provides sprawling high meadows, rocky snow-capped peaks, and cold water streams, rivers, and lakes filled with trout.

Middle Fork Flathead River

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Flathead River in Montana

The Flathead River is unique among Montana’s rivers in that it has three rivers in one, with two main sections that are good for fishing. Beginning in the Canadian Rockies north of Glacier National Park, the Flathead

Best Fly Fishing in Central Montana

The central district is made up of a number of rivers. These rivers offer true “back-country” type of fishing as there is nothing else around you other than the trees and the river. This is important to keep in mind because if you’re not crazy about remote locations, this district may not be for you. Be prepared to hike your way to many of the rivers as they aren’t always accessible by car.

The most remote and least frequented rivers tend to be the Sun River, Teton River, and Dearborn River. If you’re looking for less of remote feel, head to the Smith or Missouri River. All of these rivers are ideal for trout fishing. A good rule of thumb is that the closer you are to the mountains, the better the fishing will be. This is largely due to the water temperatures, as they are cooler near the mountains, which trout like.

You need to be comfortable with camping and a rustic experience when it comes to lodging. Options include state run campsites, camping on your own in the woods, or camping in your car. Remember, the temperatures get quite cold at night, so come prepared. As far as hotel lodging goes, you can look at Helena and Great Falls.

Missouri River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Missouri River in Montana

The state of Montana is not shy of angling options and fly fishing the Missouri River is top of the list. 45 miles from Helena, Montana is Holter Dam. This dam is the central focus of a 30 to 40

smith river montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Smith River in Montana

The Smith River is one of the most beautiful rivers in all of Montana and provides some of the most superb fly fishing opportunities in the state. This remote stretch of river between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains

Sun River Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Sun River in Montana

The Sun River in Montana is a great fishing destination for only the most ambitious anglers. It is a remote rivers and presents multiple challenges. But for those willing to embrace the challenge, it provides some of the best fishing

Teton River in Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Teton River in Montana

The Teton River in northwestern Montana is a 150-mile tributary of the Marias River and Missouri River, starting on the eastern side of the Rockies and flowing eastward through the plains of Montana. Much of this river is privately owned,

Musselshell river montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Musselshell River in Montana

The state of Montana is brimming over with fly fishing destinations that are worthwhile of a fishing vacation planned months in advance. The Musselshell River, on the other hand, is not regarded as one of the premier destinations. The trout

Big Spring Creek Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Big Spring Creek in Montana

Big Spring Creek is a popular fly fishing destination in central Montana. Originating from an artesian spring, Big Spring Creek flows over thirty miles north and northwest, through (and at some points under) the town of Lewistown, MT before finally

Dearborn River in Montana

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Dearborn River in Montana

Fly fishing on the Dearborn River offers a unique opportunity for anglers of all levels to enjoy the pristine wilderness of south central Montana. The river boasts a diverse ecosystem providing an ideal habitat for various trout species, including rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout.

Montana offers more than just trout fishing opportunities and the eastern district is a perfect example of this. You won’t find any trout here, but instead you can fish for smallmouth bass, catfish, and walleye.

The rivers in this region are much warmer, which trout want no part of. This area is easily accessible and you can get to most of the rivers by car. The area is known for its prairie landscape, which is a stark contrast of what you’ll find in other areas of the state. If you aren’t into crowds and don’t mind missing out on the trout, then this can be an enjoyable district to visit.

Why Fly Fish in Montana

Renown fly fishing guide and author, Jenny Grossenbacher shares what fly fishing in Montana means to her in this beautiful video by the Montana Office of Tourism.

For many, fly fishing Montana is a way of life and for others it is a fly fishing trip of a life-time. And for good reason. Southwest Montana is blessed with over 700 miles of blue ribbon trout streams, crystal clear spring creeks, and productive lakes.

Best Time to Fly Fish in Montana

Montana is one of those states that offers year-round fishing opportunities, which means it can really work with your schedule. With that said, the weather from about November until March can be pretty cold and wet, so it may not be the most comfortable time to visit. As well, some times of the year offer much better catch rates.

Where the timing really starts to matter is with the insect hatches. These tend to happen in the early part of the fishing season each year, which means April to about mid-May. This makes for an excellent time to fish.

Another ideal time is from mid-June until early July. You’ll get some of the nicest weather of the season, you’re pretty much guaranteed good fishing, and the fish tend to be pretty hungry and read to bite. Opt for float fishing during this time period.

If dry fly fishing is what appeals to you, then you’ll want to visit in early July right into late July. There are plenty of hatches going on when it comes to aquatic insects.

Gear Recommendations

When putting together your packing list, you’ll want to bring chest waders, a reel that is able to offer a good amount of drag, a floating line, and 9- or 10-foot rod. A 5-wt or 6-wt rod is recommended and tend to be quite popular among anglers in the area.

Montana Fishing Regulations

In the state of Montana, the fishing regulations depend on the region in which you’re fishing and the time of year. In the western district of the state, you can start to fish from the third Saturday in the month of May all the way until November 30. The central district is open to anglers all year long. The eastern district is also open on a year-round basis.

No matter where you fish in the state, you will need a valid fishing license. In fact, two are required. You’ll need the fishing license as well as a conservation license. Be sure to obtain these before you head out onto the water. You can get a license whether you are a resident of the state or not.

Trip Planning Tips

The state of Montana offers a great opportunity for those who are new to fly fishing and who might be working within a tight budget. There is no need to hire guides and join tour groups as you can head out on your own and easily find incredible places to fish. Lodging can be as simple as pitching a tent in the woods.

You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy quite solitude as you fish or head to the more popular spots and enjoy spending time with other anglers. It’s a relaxed and laid-back experience that can yield some pretty high catch rates when you come at the right time of year.

The state has a few international airports, making it easy to get in and out of if you choose to fly. These include Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Billings Logan International Airport, and Glacier Park International Airport.

Recommended Reading

There have been more books written about fly fishing in Montana than probably any other state in the US. A few that come highly recommended are listed below.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.