Montana Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Rosebud Creek in Montana

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 22, 2024

East 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 and like fly fishing small streams.

Here you will find Yellowstone cutthroat trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout that are eager to take a fly. Fish in the upper reaches of each creek tend to be small, averaging 6 to 12 inches. As you move down into the meadows, the fish get larger with some getting to 18-inches.

Read on to check out our DIY guide for fly fishing West and East Rosebud Creeks. This guide includes information about each creek, where you can gain access, and more.

About Rosebud Creek

Fly fishing West Rosebud Creek and Stillwater River in Montana

A lot of people consider the Rosebud Creeks to be one of those perfect, secret fishing spots in Montana. It has a lot going for it. It’s not too close to other streams that are popular with fly fishermen, which means it’s not over fished.

What Is Rosebud Creek Like?

The Rosebud Creeks are found in the high prairie north of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. This is an absolutely beautiful part of the state. Both creeks cover some 50 miles before merging and joining the Stillwater River just above the town of Absarokee.

Crystal-clear waters, embraced by towering trees, wild brush, or open meadows, have fast pocketwater in their upper reaches, transforming into tranquil meadow streams downstream.

Both streams tend to be rather similar in terms of how to fish them and the type of fish they contain. The difference tends to be access to the creek. We will discuss more about the access to these areas below.

Types of Fish on Rosebud Creek in Montana

You can find several types of trout in the creek. The majority of the fish in the forks are rainbows, cutthroat, and brook trout. They tend to be on the smaller side—between eight and 12 inches.

However, you can also find some good-sized brown trout on the lower section of the east fork and the main stem. Of course, these areas also tend to have more anglers vying for the same fish, so it may be a little more difficult.

What to Expect at Rosebud Creek in Montana?

One of the first things you can expect when you fish this creek is beauty. The mountains, trees, and prairie provide stunningly beautiful backdrops along the river.

If you are spending your time on the fork with on the Forest Service Land, you will find that the fish might be a bit smaller, but you will not have as much competition from other anglers.

Fishing season starts on the third Saturday in May and goes through November 30. The summer tends to be the busiest.

Rosebud Creek Trout Fishing Map

Map of best fishing spots on East and West Rosebud Creek in Montana

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

Best Places to Fish Rosebud Creek in Montana

The best access on both West and East Rosebud Creeks is in the upper reaches that run through Custer National Forest. On West Rosebud Creek there is good access between the Emerald Lake and Pine Grove campgrounds.

The Mountain section of East Rosebud Creek flows through Forest Service land and has a road paralleling the creek. The 3-mile stretch from Jimmy Joe to East Rosebud Lake campgrounds provides the best access. Park along the road, and fish wherever it looks good.

The lower reaches of both creeks are not as easy to access, as they mostly flow through private property. The access is limited to just a few bridge crossings. You can head up and down the creek from the bridges as long as you stay below the high water line.

Best Time to Fish Rosebud Creek

Except during the runoff, you will find that the springtime is a good time to fly fish on the Rosebud Creeks. This is because there are a substantial number of hatches at this time of the year.

During the summer, the water still stays relatively cool in the upper sections and both creeks fish well for the entire season.

The fall can be a good time to fish the creek, too. Many consider this to be the best time. However, it will depend on the water levels.

The water levels in the creek can start to get low depending on how the summer went. This can make fishing more difficult. You may want to check the water levels before committing to this creek.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Rosebud Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Roscoe, MT on West Rosebud Creek provides a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

West Rosebud Creek near Roscoe MT

  • Streamflow: 291 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.55 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Rosebud Creek

You will find that the fish at Rosebud Creek respond to a range of different types of flies and are not too picky. 

When fishing the upper sections of the two forks of Rosebud Creek, you can use most dry flies with success. An Elk Hair Caddis or Parachute Adams works wonders in the pocketwater you’ll find here.

Standard dry flies, grasshopper imitations, and streamers can work well in the lower reaches of each creek that flows through more open meadows. Grasshopper patterns are particularly effective during the latter part of summer.

Here is a list of general fly pattern recommendations for Rosebud Creek:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 – 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 – 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 – 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 – 22)
  • Light Cahill (#10 – 18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#8 – 16)
  • Yellows Stimulator (#8 – 14)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 – 12)
  • Griffith’s Gnat (#16 – 24)

Nymphs

  • Pheasant Tail (#12 – 20)
  • BH Hare’s Ear (#12 – 20)
  • Rainbow Warrior (#14 – 22)
  • Pat’s Rubber Legs (#4 – 12)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 – 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 – 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 – 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Y2K Egg (#12 – 16)

Streamers

  • BH Wooly Bugger (#2 – 6)
  • Sculpzilla (#4)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 3- or 4-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing for trout on Rosebud Creek. Some like to fish a shorter rod since the creeks are not that wide. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Rosebud Creek Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Rosebud Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of Montana requires that all people who are 12 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a Montana state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Trip Planning Tips

The nearest towns to West and East Rosebud Creek are Red Lodge, Columbus and Absarokee. The closest major city is Billings, Montana, and the nearest airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International.

Embrace the wilderness spirit and camp under the starlit sky. Several campgrounds dot the area, like the primitive Mystic Lake Campground or the more developed Rosebud Campground.

For those seeking creature comforts, Absarokee, a charming town nestled near the creek’s confluence with the Stillwater River, offers cabins, motels, and a grocery store.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Montana