Fishing in Montana
Fishing in Montana is a freshwater angler’s dream with its many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs dotted all over its landscapes. Montana is an exceptionally large state where people come from all over the world to recreate and enjoy the many fishing opportunities that are offered. Fish species and environments are various and abundant in different waters including some that are ancient.
On the west of the state sit the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide which separate the two vastly different environments that make up Montana as a whole. From the small town of Darby all the way north to Kalispell and even further north, Glacier National Park.
Within Glacier Nation Park you can fish high mountain lakes for Grayling and Trout in waters that are so pure that you can see the rocks at the bottom of the lake.
West of the Rocky Mountains you will find the vast plains that cover the majority of Montana. Lakes such as Canyon Ferry Reservoir near Helena offer Trout, Walleye, Ling, Pike, and, Channel Catfish. Creek fishing is a major pastime and there are abundant areas in which to try your luck. Streams in Montana offer Cutthroat, Brook, Brown, and, Bull Trout.
Many Waters, Species and Ways to Fish
Montana is a landlocked state that only offers freshwater fishing, but the waters are different depending on where you fish. This variance in water clarity and particle content can help you fish successfully in these areas.
Water conditions vary based on what side of the divide you are fishing. West of the Rocky Mountains, you will see clearer waters the further you go north towards Glacier National Park. These clearer waters are popular for huge trout that love live bait and can also be caught easily enough with artificial methods as well.
Waters found on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains are typically not as clear as the west side of the state and a colored line is recommended. Braided line is a favorite on this side of the state due to its tendency to resist catching on weeds and particles found in the water.
Fishing in the unique waters of eastern Montana is quite easy and fun. Live bait is popular among most species of fish with crankbaits being a popular tactic for lake water that is not running. Bite time in lakes and reservoirs is typically early morning and pick up again early afternoon.
Boating and watercraft recreating are a large pastime in Montana and some of the best fishing in the state is done out of the boat. Trolling with a spoon and nightcrawler setup is particularly good for hauling in walleye and rainbow trout one after the other.
Here is a Montana resident secret for trolling lakes in Montana. Troll your baited lines about 45 to 50 yards off the shore and make a large sweeping run up and down the shore during the early morning when the waters are cool. Fish come to shallow water to feed and retreat to deeper water when it gets warm so be sure to get out there early.
River fishing in Montana is a fly-fishing favorite. Try to visit during the nymph or mayfly hatch to catch ridiculous amounts of cutthroat trout. Shortly after the hatch is over, try grey Wooly Buggers to get those stubborn trout.
Major Fishing Locations in Montana
Montana is a great place to fish and there are so many great places to fish in that we cannot fit it all in this article. There are, however, a few places that stand out that you may want to look at when considering your trip.
Fort Peck Reservoir
Fort Peck Reservoir is nestled in northeastern Montana and hosts some of Montana’s best fishing. If you look at a map of Fort Peck you will see that it has many tributaries around it. These tributaries are great for trolling with spoons or other artificial lures and can yield you a huge catch.
In the Fort Peck area, Montana has a fish that has ancestral roots that go back thousands of years, the paddlefish. This fish is very recognizable due to its large “paddle” billed nose and can be as long as 7 feet. This fish is caught by snagging and is a favorite among Montanans.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is as I am sure you heard, one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Yellowstone River has some of the best trout fishing in the country. Typically fly fishing is the best approach on the Yellowstone River and there are many charters and guides that will take you into the park for some great fishing.
While in Yellowstone, visit the Beartooth highway and fish a few high mountain lakes on your way to Red Lodge. You will catch Grayling and Cutthroat Trout In abundance in this area. Beartooth Highway is extremely high in elevation and is only open briefly in the summer. If you want to see tundra and snow in September, then take a trip up the Beartooth.
The Missouri River is among the best fly fishing rivers in Montana. This river runs through the eastern part of Montana and is accessible from hundreds of fishing access sites. Floating this river is great for trout during the late afternoon with many flies; however, we recommend that due to the murkiness of the water you use a medium fly rather than a small one.
One species of gamefish that is popular in the Missouri is the channel catfish. As with most catfish around the country, you will find these guys feeding low. They also love live bait such as nightcrawlers and leeches. Try trolling about 3 or 5 feet above the river bottom against the current with either of these live baits for good results.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is the largest attraction in the state of Montana and for good reason. This park is home to countless bodies of water and creeks as well as areas to camp and hike. It really is heaven on earth.
Fishing in Glacier National Park is terrific and there are guides and people to help you do it. Fishing here can be done at any body of water within the park (apart from those that are closed when you visit) but many say that the best angling is done at the higher altitudes.
The Bitterroot River runs north to south along western Montana spanning between Darby and Missoula. Outfitting is a major industry here and there are many outfitters that are available year-round. Some of the best fly fishing in Montana occurs here, due in part to the fact that the Bitterroot River is typically more shallow than other rivers in the state.
As with most rivers in Montana, the larva hatch always indicates great fishing. If you want a great fishing experience, try to plan your visit to this river in early May to get in on the hatch.
Bob Marshall Wilderness Area
This wilderness area is neither to the west nor the east of the Rocky Mountains. This wilderness is on top of the Rocky Mountains. Though it might be more of a chore to get there, this wilderness is one of Montana’s most wild, remote areas.
Fishing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area is primarily high mountain lakes and streams that always yield great brook trout and grayling. There are outfitters available year-round to help get you into the wilderness and show you the best spots for fishing once you arrive.
Where Should You Visit?
In short, anywhere. Montana has so much to offer for anglers that you are going to have a good time wherever you decide to travel. Some visiting anglers do not want to be fishing close to others and may opt to visit somewhere remote. The parks and wilderness areas are great for this.
Those looking to use watercraft or charter a watercraft trip may want to look to the eastern side of the state for a more abundant list of bodies of water. Trolling is prevalent in these areas but there are outfitters that operate from shore and excursions.
Fly fishing in the spring and summer is the biggest fishing outfitting venture in the state by far due to Montana’s excellent fly fishing and strong larval hatch seasons. Because of this, there are many outfitters in the state to choose from.
Montana is often called “The Last Best Place” due to its natural, unaltered nature. Because of this, Montana always protects its outdoors. If you want to see some beautiful country and do some great fishing, then have a look at some area fishing guides that can help you start an adventure!