August 25, 2020
Courtesy of WildOutdoor Media
Beautiful. Serene. Peaceful. While these words describe the Montana countryside where anglers are fly fishing, they don’t quite describe the action taking place. When the fish are biting, the more appropriate words are: Exciting. Fun. Productive.
Fly fishing is a technique used quite often in the water systems throughout Big Sky Country; whether it’s a lake, river, or creek, anglers can find plenty of opportunities to fly fish. There are major rivers running through Montana, such as the Missouri River, Yellowstone River, and Big Horn River; as well as smaller streams and creeks available for fishing. The beauty of this technique is that you don’t need a boat and can fish from the banks of rivers or lakes. Major lakes include Flathead Lake and Fort Peck Lake.
If you’re familiar with “A River Runs Through It” (a novel by Norman Maclean and then a movie directed by Robert Redford) then you’ll no doubt recognize Blackfoot River, the location of the autobiography. Blackfoot runs about 75 miles from east to west and is located in western Montana. The fast and cold river is fed by nearby springs and snowfall throughout the year, and has several deep holes that trout like to feed and spawn. It’s also known as Big Blackfoot River to distinguish it from the Little Blackfoot River, but both are great spots for fly fishing.
Clark Fork River is another bucket-list fishing destination for fly fishermen and women. With the mountains as a backdrop along the 310 mile river, it’s one of the most picturesque fishing grounds in the country. It’s the largest river by volume in Montana and flows northwest along the base of the Cabinet Mountains before emptying into Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. This shouldn’t be confused with Clark’s Fork River, a tributary of the Yellowstone River.
Speaking of Yellowstone, this is another great river for anglers to go fly fishing. It’s one of the major rivers of Montana, and is actually a tributary of another major river: the Missouri River. Yellowstone is one of the longest rivers in the country, giving anglers ample opportunity to make a catch. Or try your hand at fly fishing the Missouri River, the longest river in North America. Travel to the Holter Dam (about 45 miles from Helena) for another bucket-list location for those interested in fly fishing in Montana.
No matter what water system you decide to fish, there are a variety of species looking to catch your fly. Trout, in particular, are found in good numbers throughout the rivers of Montana and are great options for fly fishing. Typically when someone thinks of fly fishing in Montana they are dreaming of trout at the end of the line. Brown trout, cutthroat trout, cut-bow trout, brook trout, bull trout, and rainbow trout are very popular and anglers will have a great time targeting these fish.
The idea of fly fishing is pretty easy to understand: you want to give the fish the impression they are feeding on bugs or small bait fish near the surface of the water. Actually making the fish believe the act takes a lifetime of mastering the technique. To help fool the fish, lures are used; more specifically: artificial flies. You can purchase a fly pattern, or make your own. Depending on your targeted fish, the materials used when making an artificial fly include yarn, feathers, or wire and beads (colors also vary).
Whether you are a local or visiting the area, you’ll want to plan your fly fishing excursion when the fish are biting. We recommend anytime from early spring to mid-fall (March to November) if you’re not picky about what you’re catching. If you have a certain species of trout in mind, a local guide can let you know the best month or season to schedule your trip. We also recommend planning either a small or midsize group (typically 1-4 people) as each angler will need enough room to cast their line.
If you’re fishing from a boat, you’ll need all the safety gear and essentials for a boat trip. Or you can try your hand at wading as you fly fish, in which case you’ll need a good pair of waders. Every fly fisherman and woman will also need a fly rod, wheel, and fishing line – specifically a line for fly fishing with the correct weight and length. And don’t forget those artificial flies, you’ll want to entice the fish to the line with an attractive pattern.
Fly fishing is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Make sure you have enough time and space to practice a few casts before heading to the river. With enough practice your experience can fit those descriptive words at the beginning of this piece: fun & productive! And Montana is one of the best places in the world to fly fish – beyond just the scenery. It’s no wonder so many anglers have fly fishing in Montana on their bucket list, it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
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