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The Backstage Pass

Montana: Fish the Same River Intimately or Multiple Rivers in One Trip

May 03, 23

Montana is home to hundreds of miles of world-class fly-fishing rivers and creeks. Choosing where to plan your fishing trip can feel like a monumental task, but Montana is Yellow Dog’s home and we know fly fishing in Montana. If you desire native trout in a wilderness river or access to a local brewpub once off the water or a lodge with a professionally trained chef and a first-class wine list, put our experience in Montana to work for you….and our knowledge and services are always free. That’s a win-win. 

With as much variety as we have, choosing how to fish Montana requires assistance. Here’s some more food for thought.

There is no wrong answer in choosing just one river or choosing a location where you can have multiple rivers to fish. Every Montana fly fishing river has a week or two that is known for its prime weeks. Wanting to fish a river during its best window is exciting indeed, but during that expected time frame, some of the nearby rivers might not be in optimal conditions yet.

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One river and fish it intimately

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” Your Montana fishing guide may not expound Greek wisdom, but, they can surely show you a great experience and tie a two-fly rig fast enough to keep you fishing when the bite is on.

Montana’s Bighorn, Missouri, and Smith Rivers are ideal for anglers who want a first-class fishing experience on the same river for multiple days. The Bighorn River is about 90 miles from Billings and is known for high fish counts and consistent hatches. Serviced by several destination lodges ranging from high-end to economy and a handful of regionally-recognized fly shops with motel-style lodging, the Bighorn River serves up something for every angler’s taste. Activities for non-anglers are limited and a Bighorn trip is best suited for anglers looking for a fishing-centric trip to a rural part of Montana.

Like the Bighorn, the Missouri River in central Montana is located between Helena and Great Falls and is a tailwater river home to several thousand fish per mile and serviced by a variety of lodging and dining options, the “Mo” is worth a look. Add to the consistency and large average fish size, a possible jet-boat trip to the appropriately named “Land of the Giants,” the Missouri River is a destination fishery unlike any other in Montana. Non-anglers will enjoy a short drive to Helena or Great Falls. Helena offers rich Montana history, easily accessible hiking and mountain biking, and several quality restaurants. Great Falls is home to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center.

With the first launches of the season in May, the Smith River is a splendid 5 day floating and camping trip. If casting a fly on a secluded river all day then rolling into camp with hors d’oeuvres prepared, dinner by the campfire, and losing count of the stars in the Montana night sky, then the Smith River is something you should experience.

Multiple rivers and embrace a variety

Fly fishing in Montana is blessed with an abundance of rivers, creeks, and lakes. To fish them all would be angling’s equivalent of traveling to the moon and back. Fortunately, you have Yellow Dog’s experience in our home state to help you maximize your time on the water while enjoying the cornucopia of options Montana provides.

Southwestern Montana is home to our highest concentration of famous rivers and creeks. The Beaverhead, Big Hole, Madison, Yellowstone, DePuy’s, and Armstrong’s spring creeks, and a few off-the-radar waters in the region. Western Montana is home to the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Kootenai, Rock Creek, and a few others. Jump over the Montana border south of West Yellowstone to Island Park, Idaho and you could sneak Henry’s Fork of the Snake River onto the list even though it lies in Idaho.

Going to a location with multiple rivers to pick from is a good idea when conditions might be variable in the area – like later in the summer. That way you have multiple cards to play based on the hand you’re dealt.

For southwestern Montana trips, anglers will want to base in or near Bozeman, Ennis, Twin Bridges, Divide or Melrose, or in Paradise Valley. If you want to fish in western Montana and variety is your spice, then choose a lodge near Missoula. Our list of lodges, guides, and outfitters is carefully vetted to ensure quality lodging, meals, and guides across any budget.

Southwestern Montana’s line-up of rivers is matched by its choice of angling towns and destination lodges. If you desire to be in a rural setting at a fishing lodge enjoying gourmet meals and hand-picked wines, Yellow Dog can do that. If you want a small-town Main Street feel, but still retain easy access to great waters, we know those unique spots as well. Or, if you want a more suburban feel with access to do-it-yourself dining or more hip-and-happening apres-fishing activities, consider a trip based out of Bozeman or Missoula.

Locations closer to Bozeman or Missoula also provide non-anglers with a wide array of options. Western Montana’s largest city, Missoula, is a jumping-off point to the region’s waters. Like Missoula, Bozeman is an ideal home base for non-anglers. Variety can still be had out of either town as guides will make the short half- to one-hour drive each morning to a diverse selection of waters.

Choosing a small town like Twin Bridges provides an opportunity to enjoy some local bars and restaurants if you prefer hotel or motel accommodations. A diverse fishing itinerary can still be created, maximizing your time on Montana’s best fly-fishing waters.

If a destination lodge is desired, contact us to find the ideal fit. Whether you choose luxury with high thread count sheets and an acclaimed wine list or comfortable with all the necessary amenities, it is possible to fish a large river like the Madison one day, enjoy a pleasant evening at the lodge swapping fishing stories over a warm campfire the next, then wake up the next day with several options available—perhaps gaining private access to a small creek, floating another river, or a repeat of the previous day.

Choosing to fish one Montana river for several days or discover a variety of waters in one trip is a darn good problem to have. No matter what you decide, you will certainly shift into “river time” as you wake each morning to spend another day fly fishing in Montana. Be thankful because whether you chose one river or a diverse line-up, fishing with Yellow Dog is your most important choice.

Because of the vastness of Montana and the diversity, rely on our experience to choose where and when to make a trip to southwestern or western Montana. Conditions change from season to season and from year to year, so our up-to-date knowledge is important.

Contact us today to begin planning or to learn more.

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