The Ruby River is a small river fishery that flows through its own beautiful Ruby Valley. With towering, steep rocky structures and scattered pines, the view above from the river below is fantastic. In Alder, Montana, the Ruby Reservoir is responsible for the river that flows above and below. From the Ruby Dam, the Ruby flows to the confluence of the Big Hole and Beaverhead to form the Jefferson right outside Twin Bridges. The Ruby is only 30 minutes from Ennis and about an hour from Bozeman, Montana. On the Ruby, there are over 30 miles of excellent trout water; the struggle with those 30 miles is the limited opportunity for public access. On the bright side, the fishing where access is available is top-notch.
The Ruby does not compare in size to its neighboring, more significant freestone streams. Although, on average, its ability to hold good-sized trout is fantastic. The stream below the dam contains great browns, a plentiful amount over 20 inches. Although the majority caught will be between 14-18 inches, which is a tremendous average catch. Even though floating the Ruby is not an option, it can have great days walking and wading.
The Ruby consists of two sections, the upper and the tailwater section. The Ruby exits the reservoir quite cold, a perfect habitat for aquatic life. Expect to see the complete buffet; midges, caddis, and PMD’s. The river that travels for a few short miles through the canyon right below the dam is great for fishing. The peak season to fish the Ruby River is between June and September. Similar to the Jefferson, the Ruby is very condition-dependent. Flows, water temperature, clarity, and weather all should be considered. If all the stars align, the fishing can be off the charts. The Ruby doesn’t tend to be as consistent; when it is on, it is ON. It will bounce in and out of shape in regards to flows with irrigation demands from downstream. It is essential to keep an eye on the flows before heading out to fish. Stable, fishy flows tend to be around 200-300 CFS. The river fishes well below 200 and provides apparent underwater structure and safe wading. Although when the flows begin to rise above 300 CFS, wading becomes a tad bit more complicated.
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Sections of the Ruby River
There are a handful of pullouts and access points. Right below the dam, there are two public FAS access points in the upper three miles. Below the first three, there will be another two access points within the next six miles. A great bet for anglers is parking two cars and walking a section between access points, staying in the water, and being mindful of private land.
The water below the reservoir is characterized by tight bends, wood structure, and buckets or drop-offs. Some of these buckets can hold multiple fish simultaneously; nymphing down to them can be very productive. Streamer fishing and quickly covering water can produce the willing, hungry, larger browns. In terms of dry fly fishing, a solid PMD hatch can come off. If the fish are not rising strongly during the hatch, consider throwing PMD nymph patterns and swinging them higher in the column; some forget that fish feed 90% of the time subsurface!
After the short canyon section, the river will transition into a meandering, open agricultural valley for the next 40 miles. This is where we tend to find the struggles of private land access where the Ruby flows through. If careful with public and private access, one that fishes these waters will find less pressure and less fish per mile, but great sized, willing fish in small water to eat large, foam attractor dry flies, terrestrials, and small heavy streamers.
From the top of the Ruby Mountains, snow melts and runoff drains to one of the gorgeous valleys in Southwest Montana. A small stream known as the Upper Ruby River begins as the smallest volume of water, trickling down gravel beds cutting through undercut, grassy banks. It makes its way down toward Ruby Reservoir. It grows in size as it fills from over a dozen other small freestone creeks from the mountains.
The distance from the first 15 miles on National Forest trickling water to the valley flowing water near the reservoir adds up to 40 miles. The upper Ruby doesn’t hold the largest fish, but it has the numbers to have a fun day. The fish average between 8-14″ and consist of browns, rainbows, cutthroat, big whitefish, and even grayling. Fish of this size tend to be quite eager, and these Ruby River fish especially love to come up and eat dry flies. There is an abundant stonefly population in the upper Ruby; throwing small foam attractor patterns to imitate golden stoneflies or terrestrials will fool these fish. If a dropper below the foam is put on, get ready to have a fun day full of lots of action!
Seasons on the Ruby River
Fishing in the spring can be very productive. During runoff, watching water levels is extremely important. If large spikes inflows, stay off the water and wait for the straight line; consistent flows will get the fish behaving back to normal. Baetis and midges will pop off every day in spring, just like many other tailwater streams in the spring. Also, caddis can be found amid these hatches, especially on a warm evening. Nymphing in the spring as the temperatures are still on the cold side will be most productive. Using natural color midge and Baetis nymphs will produce dropped below your bigger rubber leg or worm. Fish the buckets and deep, inside and long seams. Also, springtime calls for streamers as fish are coming out of winter looking for a big meal.
As spring progresses and the temperatures rise, runoff is in full bloom. Ruby Reservoir fills up in large volumes from the snowmelt and lets out a great amount of water through the end of May and throughout June. It is very tough and dangerous to wade fish during this time, but if the flows are in the fall, nymphing deep in the side eddies before everyone else does will help you catch the fresh fish of the season.
Once July hits, the fishing is game on. The bugs start to hatch, and dry flies can get fun on the Ruby River. Anglers will pull out their terrestrials and foam dry flies to run the dry-dropper rigs. PMD’s fish well in July too. When everyone is nymphing or throwing dries, wake up extra early or stay out until the sun drops dead drifting streamers deep or pulling them across fast to find that larger fish that everyone couldn’t fool throughout the day. Sculpin patterns or coffee sparkle minnows to imitate baitfish are great bets all season long, especially in the fall.
The Ruby stays open all season long, so spawning brown trout in the fall make for a fun streamer bite. Of course, it is proper to stay away from redds and let these fish do their thing. Work these fish on cool days in early October to find these browns in prime colors and hungry in Pre spawn.
The wintertime can be productive on the Ruby. When a warm Montana day comes along, a quick walk and wade section with dry fly fishing midges can be fun. Also, fishing during peak warm hours throughout the wintertime will better help the bite with active fish. Fish will pod up and work the midges. Using smaller Baetis and midges under an indicator with a subtle approach nymphing in the low water could also be very productive. Getting deep into those fish during the winter months can produce some bites as there is much less pressure throughout the winter months.
Popular Ruby River Flies
- Sparkle Duns (size 12-20)
- X Caddis (size 10-20)
- Lawson’s Henry’s Fork Stone (size 4-12)
- Chubby Chernobyl (size 4-14)
- Amy’s Ant (size 10-14)
- Pink/Black Morrish Hopper (size 8-12)
- Sweetgrass Hopper (size 8-12)
- Rusty Spinner (size 12-20)
- Film Critic (size 14-18)
- Two Bit Hooker (size 12-18)
- 3 Dollar Dip (size 12-18)
- Pheasant Tail (size 12-20)
- Pat’s Rubber Legs (size 6-14)
- Red Copper John (size 12-18)
- Zebra Midge (size 14-18)
- Galloup’s Barely Legal – olive/white (size 4)
- Galloup’s Dungeon – olive, black, white, yellow (size 4-6)
- Home Invader – black, white, olive, yellow (size 6)
- Bow River Bugger (size 4-6)
- Sparkle Minnow Sculpin (size 4-8)
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 on 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.
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.
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
– Jefferson River
– Beaverhead River