Southwest Montana’s Beaverhead River starts at the Clark Canyon Dam, only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bozeman. The river then flows approximately eighty miles, where it dumps into the Jefferson River. Well-known for its abundant hatches of mayflies and caddis, as well as a large brown trout population, the Beaverhead has been attracting anglers from around the world for decades.
A small and intimate river, the Beaverhead is usually never more than eighty feet in width. It features numerous runs, undercut banks, slow-moving pools, shelves, and drop-offs. Due to the heavy traffic that the Beaverhead receives, especially in the upper section above Barrett’s Dam, the fishing can be very technical. Long leaders, fine tippets, drag-free drifts, and precise casting are usually required to succeed here. However, if you’re pursuing a trophy-sized brown trout on the fly, fishing the Beaverhead is an excellent option.
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Sections of the Beaverhead River
Clark Canyon Dam to Barrett’s Dam
The upper section of the Beaverhead flows through barren, rolling hillsides for nearly sixteen miles before it reaches Barrett’s Dam. This section of the river is most well-known for its great dry fly fishing opportunities and healthy population of sizable brown trout. Because of this, it is also a pressured fishery, which, in turn, constitutes a technical fishery. The river is narrow compared to that of the nearby Big Hole; thus, it pays to take your time and hunt these fish.
River flows are essential to your fishing success or being able to fish at all. Generally, solid float fishing flows on the Beaverhead range from around 600-1000 CFS. The upper Beaverhead above Barrett’s Dam is not well-known as a wade-fishery. It becomes easier to wade the upper section when flows drop below 400 CFS, but one should still consider extra caution.
The best time to target trout using dry flies is during periods of cloudy and cool weather. Trout will still rise during blue-bird skies; however, a low-pressure system can trigger a substantial hatch. Keep in mind that trout don’t have eyelashes or eyelids, so when the sun is high in the sky, they seek cover in places like deep holes or undercut banks – this is also to keep away from predators in the sky. While one can catch trophy-sized trout using dry flies, most are caught on streamers or nymphs drifting close to the bank.
Anglers can expect solid hatches of caddis, tricos, pale morning duns, and yellow sallies during the summer months. The best dry fly fishing usually occurs in the early morning or evening. Later in the summer, crane flies and terrestrials can provide some exciting action on the surface and help break up some mid-day lulls.
Barrett’s Dam to Dillon, Montana
When the Clark Canyon Reservoir water reaches Barrett’s Dam, almost half of that water is used for irrigation purposes for the nearby ranches. Because of this, the water in this section is far less swift than the upper. This allows for more accessible wading opportunities. However, anglers can still target trophy-sized brown trout on foot by putting in the effort to walk up or downstream from the Fishing Access Sites.
The Beaverhead in this section slowly meanders through open fields where trout take cover near the grassy banks, deep holes, and undercuts. The water that comes out of Barrett’s Dam flows fourteen miles, primarily through private land, downstream to Dillon, Montana. Because this section of the Beaverhead has fewer access points, coupled with slightly less trout than the upper, the fish here aren’t as difficult to fool.
Hatches of pale morning duns, caddis in the evenings, tricos in the early morning, and terrestrials provide some great dry fly action throughout the summer. However, targeting fish using nymphs or streamers is still the best way to connect with a larger trout.
Dillon, Montana to Jefferson River Confluence
Below the town of Dillon, the trout population begins to decline as compared to the upper sections. Warm water can quickly become an issue on this section of the Beaverhead. During hot summers, it becomes unfishable. It is a great section to fish in the early spring or during the fall months.
Large browns can be targeted on the fly in this section, even though there are fewer of them. Anglers can experience seclusion here when the water is cooler versus floating higher up. Private land surrounds both sides of the river, creating fewer public access sites. Collectively, the fish here have minimal contact from anglers versus other areas on the Beaverhead.
Seasons on the Beaverhead River
Because the Beaverhead is a tailwater, it doesn’t experience heavy run-off periods like the Big Hole or Yellowstone Rivers. Instead, in early May, anglers can fish the tail-end of the blue-winged olives and midge hatches to rising trout during periods of cloudy weather.
The most notable hatch in May is the Mother’s Day caddis hatch that, depending on the year, can happen between mid-to-late May. This hatch gets the fish looking up and kicks off the dry fly season on the Beaverhead. Nymphing and streamer fishing can be productive during this time. For anglers wishing to fish in solitude, try fishing below Barrett’s or the town of Dillon.
Some of the top pale morning dun hatches in the western United States can be found on the Beaverhead River. These yellow mayflies begin hatching in solid numbers around the end of June. Fish feed well on spinners, cripples, and PMD emergers. Try to fish in the early morning or late evenings if possible.
Throughout July, fish will feed on the Yellow Sallies, a small, yellow stonefly, and PMDs. During mid-day lulls, when there aren’t bugs emerging or on the water’s surface, nymphing and streamer fishing can be productive.
In August, the Beaverhead has hatches of tricorythodes, or “tricos,” that can cause fish to pod up and feed on the surface. Tricos are a small mayfly (size 20-24), and much like midges, they can attach to look like a bigger meal. Buzzballs or midge cluster flies in sizes 16-18 work well to represent a cluster of tricos. These hatches can last well into September.
The Beaverhead is also famous for a crane fly hatch, which requires anglers to skate their dries over the water’s surface to entice an eat. These large flies, which are present in late August through September, can trigger some aggressive eats. In addition, terrestrial fishing during August can provide some excitement on the surface throughout a day’s fishing.
Throughout September, spinner falls of tricos in the early morning hours can bring pods of big fish to the surface. As stated above, try fishing a fly representing a cluster of tricos stuck together versus a single trico. You’ll be able to see it better! If the fish seem uninterested, then you can drop a single trico fly off of your larger cluster fly. Just be sure that you’re getting close enough to the fish that you’re not experiencing any micro drag, which can increasingly become an issue the further you make your presentation.
Popular Beaverhead River Flies
- DOA Cripple (size 14-18)
- Last Chance Cripple (size 14-18)
- Film Critic (size 14-18)
- Sparkle Dun (size 14-18)
- Buzzball (size 16-18)
- Rusty Spinner (size 14-20)
- Sweetgrass Hopper (size 6-12)
- X Caddis (size 14-16)
- Corn Fed Caddis (size 14-16)
- Two Bit (size 12-20)
- Zebra Midge (size 14-20)
- Pheasant Tail (size 12-20)
- Hare’s Ear (size 12-20)
- Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear (size 12-20)
- Prince Nymph (size 14-20)
- Barely Legal – olive/white (size 4)
- Home Invader – black, white, olive, yellow (size 6)
- Bow River Bugger (size 4-6)
- Sparkle Minnow Sculpin (size 4-8)
Silver Bow Club – The Silver Bow Club is a high-end, family-owned Montana guest ranch perfectly situated on 1,800 acres with 3 1/2 miles of private river access on the Big Hole River outside of Divide, Montana – perfect for a Montana fishing trip. Enjoy the entire 15,000 square foot main lodge when coming with family, spouse, or a group. Spend time fishing the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, and other area rivers. The main lodge is the perfect setting for corporate retreats as well. With eight bedrooms, a private chef, a hot tub, stocked trout pond, and a massive “great room” complete with a grand stone fireplace, the lodge is a spectacular setting for a western fly fishing adventure.
Ruby Springs Lodge – Ruby Springs Lodge has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best-run, most exceptional fishing lodges in the entire Western United States. High-end and incredibly nice in every detail, this operation consists of two main lodge buildings and a number of private cabins built directly on the banks of Southwest Montana’s Ruby River. The cabins are truly magnificent and the amenities and setting will satisfy even the most discriminating guests. The numerous meandering miles of the Ruby River and Clear Creek – the lodge’s “home waters” – provide guests access to a private and intimate fishery that is unpressured and loaded with fish. Fish the lodge’s home waters and then spend a day or two floating a few of Montana’s famed rivers, all located within a close and easy drive from the Lodge. A Ruby River fly fishing experience should be on every trout angler’s fly fishing bucket list.
Four Rivers Fishing Co. – Located in Twin Bridges, Montana, Four Rivers Fishing Company is one of the oldest full-service fly fishing operations in the area. With five of Montana’s most famous rivers located within a 40-mile radius of Twin, this is truly the “trout Mecca” of the lower-48. Four Rivers is licensed to outfit every watershed in the region, and on a daily basis guides the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, Jefferson, and Ruby Rivers. Four Rivers claims to have one of the best guide staffs in the region, and their combined number of seasons attests to that. To complement their outfitting offerings, Four Rivers’ lodging program is extremely flexible and varied. They also offer their clients numerous dining options, including various steak houses and restaurants in and close to town (a fun alternative and complement to the typical “lodge-style” meal program). Collectively, Four Rivers offers a great fishing and lodging package with some of the best prices found anywhere in the Northern Rockies.
Stonefly Lodge & Inn – The Stonefly Lodge and the Stonefly Inn – an operation that calls itself “Montana’s Last Best Fly Fishing Lodge” – is located in the heart of Montana’s “Blue Ribbon” trout country. Based out of Twin Bridges, the Stonefly Lodge & Inn giving angling guests opportunities to fish famous Southwest Montana rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, Jefferson, and Ruby Rivers. With some of the finest guides in the state, this operation offers more than three hundred miles of world-class Montana fly fishing water, all within a one-hour drive of your door. With five “Blue Ribbon “ rivers, choice of accommodations, and the best guides in the zip code, the Stonefly Lodge & Inn is one of Yellow Dog’s favorites. Low-key, relaxed, and comfortable, this is one of the very best destinations in the region.
Other Nearby Rivers:
– Big Hole River
– Ruby River
– Jefferson River