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 populations on this river are not as strong as many of the other rivers, and the Musselshell is known to dry up during the summer months in its middle section due to irrigation, leaving pools of water connected by small trickles.
That said the Musselshell River is a perfect complement to the fly fisherman who is traveling to Montana and tackling one of the more famed rivers that receives high fishing pressure.
A glimpse of the Musselshell River in Montana - Video by MontanaPictures
The Musselshell is primarily fished by locals as access is limited. Therefore, the angler who is in search of solitude will find it here. That is what makes this river the perfect complement to one of Montana’s heavily fished rivers.
The vacationing angler can experience one of Montana’s premier fly fishing experiences, and then experience the peace and quiet of a morning and evening on the Musselshell River.
The upper portions of the river, from Martinsdale to Harlowton, is the area where trout can be found. Brown trout average around 12 inches, with the occasional larger browns coming in at 5 pounds.
Plenty of whitefish are found on this upper section, as well as the occasional rainbow and brook trout. The water is too warm below Harlowton to support trout populations. It is along the warmer portions of this river that smallmouth bass and catfish can be found.
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Access is going to be a challenge for any angler who decides to fish this river. Access points are few and far between.
Let’s focus on the 25 miles that contain the cooler water that trout thrive in from Martinsdale to Harlowton. Happily, there are access points within this 25 mile stretch, and since this river receives such little fishing pressure anglers will find plenty of solitude at each of them.
The Selkirk Fishing Access Site offers plenty of access and good tree coverage, yet anglers typically have to go a ways up or downstream to find a fishing spot due to the bushes along the bank.
The Two Dot Road Access Site and the Harlowton Fishing Access Site (Highway 191 Bridge) also offer good entrance to the Musselshell River.
Unlike many of the rivers in Montana, the Musselshell sees the best fishing opportunities limited to the months of April through June and some of the fall months.
Early mornings and late evenings are the prime times of day. Irrigation makes for low water levels during the months of July and August, as well as warmer water temperatures. These conditions can persist into September.
The Musselshell River is not known for any particular hatches, so plan on having an arsenal of the usual trout tackle. Nymphs and streamers floated along down timber and banks that are undercut proves worthwhile. Additionally, the deep pools often hold larger trout.
The upper Musselshell River is ideal for wading due in large part to its relatively narrow width (at best 30 feet wide) and slower currents.
This is not, however, a river that can be waded without regard for spooking trout. Due to it’s calm current, small width from bank to bank, and lack of whitewater, trout are easily spooked by the ignorant fly fisherman.
The rule of thumb is slow down and be careful when wading. This upper 25 mile stretch is rarely floated, so anglers will find the river to themselves as they wade.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Musselshell River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
If you decide to travel to the warmer portions of the river and try your hands at the smallmouth bass, try a 6-weight rod with crayfish fly imitations.
This is truly rugged Montana country. Using Martinsdale as the central point for travel purposes, the upper section of this river lies in between the major cities of Helena, Butte, Bozeman, and Billings.
If you will be flying in, I would suggest Billings Logan international Airport (which is a 2 hour drive to Martinsdale) as your flight destination. Airfare should be more affordable with this as your flight destination.
Lodging may prove to be a challenge if you procrastinate on reservations. If your plans involve camping, the Martinsdale Reservoir offers primitive camping for tents and trailers.
The Crazy Mountain Inn in Martinsdale is highly reviewed, and other hotels and Inns are scattered about within a 30-40 mile radius.
This river is not known as a premier fishing destination in Montana, yet it should not be totally ignored by the anglers who love to have a river to themselves.
I suggest you put some consideration into extending your stay and trying this river out so as to experience the solitude of the Montana landscape.
Looking for more places to fish in Montana? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Montana.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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