There are miles of rivers flowing through Montana — about 169,829, to be exact. And with that, you’ll find some of the best fishing in the world, especially if you love catching trout in front of a scenic, mountainous backdrop. Many of the visitors to the Treasure State come to visit Yellowstone, the country’s first national park. And fortunately for them, there are plenty of rivers to fish in and around Yellowstone. Here are five of the must-cast runs to wade or float.
The Mighty Mo starts from the confluence of the Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison Rivers in Three Forks, just west of Bozeman. From there, it winds its way through the state, heading north through Helena, then east through the renowned Great Falls, and on to the Missouri Breaks. You have to fish this river, even if it’s just for bragging rights. But the river won’t disappoint.
The Jefferson River is a historical waypoint in the valley, since this was the famed fork that Lewis & Clark took after their journey took them to the headwaters of the Missouri. Follow in their footsteps while you float this river. Farmers and ranchers draw on this river for irrigation, so its water levels drop fast after spring runoff. And sections may keep flowing all through the winter, so you don’t have to take a day off fly fishing, no matter what month it is.
The upper half of the Madison is known for its 50-mile riffle, where brown trout and rainbows will put up a fight, making a fun challenge for any angler. It’s also a place where you can find big hatches that produce some big fish. This is a fun one to wade, so pack your waders and ditch the drift boat to get the ultimate Montana fishing experience.
The Gallatin River starts in Yellowstone, and its upper section winds through the unique landscape of the park. As it leaves Yellowstone and flows through Gallatin Canyon, you’ll find a scenic spot where jagged cliffs rise up starkly from the banks of the river. This section is reminiscent of a River Runs Through It, and for good reason. The movie was filmed on the Gallatin, making this the representative spot for fly fishing in Montana.
As the longest undammed river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone River lives up to its reputation of wild water. But as you float through the famous Paradise Valley at the gateway to Yellowstone, you may struggle to keep your mind on the fishing. With some of the most scenic country you can find, this is a float for wildlife watching. It’s common to see elk, bison, pronghorn, and bears down by the river, loving life in paradise as much as you are. But if you can keep your mind on what lies beneath the water, you have the potential to catch some historically huge brown trout that lurk in a few of those holes.