With an abundance of rivers, lakes, and streams close to town, fly fishing opportunities are easily accessible and endless in southwestern Montana. With a variety of different techniques based on the season, options to wade or float, and an abundance of fish species, Bozeman is a great area to get into the sport, or further your angling progression. Below are some of the Outdoor Recreation Program’s tips and helpful resources for successful fly fishing in southwestern Montana.

Required Gear:

  • State of Montana Fishing License and Conservation License
    • Can be purchased on the Montana FWP website, or any area fly shop
    • Be sure to check different license time options, as well as options depending on your residency status
  • Fly rod, reel, and line
    • 9’ 5wt or 9’ 6wt will cover a variety of fishing scenarios
    • A 5wt or 6wt will suffice for many different rivers and rigs in the area, when paired with an appropriately sized reel and a floating fly line.
  • Leaders and tippet
    • This extra line, either monofilament or fluorocarbon, will be attached at the end of the fly line, to attach a variety of flies.
    • 7.5’- 9’ leaders, 1x-5x
    • 1x - 5x tippet, monofilament, or fluorocarbon
  • Flies and Seasonality
    • Successful flies in southwestern Montana vary greatly depending on the season, with changing tactics and options depending on the weather and river conditions. Below are some basic suggestions and overviews for the fishing seasons around Bozeman.
    • Spring- As the snow begins to fade, and ski lifts stop spinning, spring around Bozeman means breaking out the rods and hitting the river. Expect success when nymphing, especially when targeting slower pocket water, streamer fishing before runoff hits, and sporadic dry fly fishing on warmer spring days.
    • Summer- With warmer weather and gorgeous summer days, fishing is in full force in southwest Montana. Enjoy success fishing many different hatches as the weather heats up, expect to see hatches of caddis, mayflies, midges, terrestrials, and stoneflies. Expect dry flies to fish well beginning in April and continuing through August. When fish aren’t committing to your big dry fly floating down river, nymph rigs and bigger streamers can turn the day around.
    • Fall- Big fish season around Bozeman! As big brown trout prepare to spawn later in the fall, many fish start to focus on bigger food options, providing great opportunities to fish larger streamers, imitating sculpins, crayfish, and baitfish. Be sure to check with fly shops and stay up to date on fishing reports, as once these fish begin to spawn, we want to give them rest and not overstress spawning browns. Fall also presents opportunities for late season hatches, focusing on waning terrestrials and mayflies.
    • Winter- For those willing to don gloves, jackets, and waders, winter seasons can offer great fishing with limited angling pressure. Winter around Bozeman often means fishing nymph rigs, downsized streamer patterns, and midge hatches when the cold lifts.


Local Fishing Options:

  • With a wide variety of waterways surrounding Bozeman, choosing an area to fish can often be overwhelming. Below are some of the favorite rivers to fish around Bozeman, and suggestions for fishing.
    • Madison River- The Madison River begins all the way in Yellowstone National Park and flows over 180 miles until its confluence with the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers. With several different sections, above the lakes, between the lakes, the Upper Madison, and the lower Madison, there is an abundance of different spots, water types, and fish species to target. The Madison is a favorite among locals, tourists, and guides alike, with great fishing year-round. Drive time between 2 hours and 30 minutes for fishing access.
    • Gallatin River- Originating in Yellowstone National Park, and flowing through Big Sky, Bozeman, and Manhattan, the Gallatin finally ends at Headwaters Park at the confluence with the Madison and the Jefferson Rivers. Above Big Sky, the Gallatin is a smaller waterway option, great for the solitary walk wade angler. From Big Sky all the way to Manhattan, the Gallatin has numerous access sites, long stretches to walk and wade, and several boat ramps. Please be aware that in Yellowstone, there is a special permit to purchase to fish the Gallatin, and that fishing from a boat is not allowed above the Nixon Bridge fishing access in Manhattan. Drive time can range from 1.5 hours to 20 minutes for fishing access.
    • Yellowstone River- Most anglers around Bozeman fish the Yellowstone River from its beginnings in Yellowstone National Park to below Big Timber. In this stretch, the Stone has over 200 miles of excellent water to target big trout. As one of the larger rivers in the area, be aware there are limited options for wade fishing apart from in Yellowstone, and near Livingston, with most successful fishing being from a boat. Make sure to stay aware of seasons and changing river conditions, as some sections may be hazardous at certain flows. Drive time ranges from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on the preferred fishing access location.
    • Missouri River- Beginning in Three Forks, the Missouri flows through two lakes, as well as the famous lower stretch, beginning below Holter Dam. The Missouri offers some of the most diverse fishing opportunities in southwest Montana, with brown trout, rainbow trout, and even populations of large carp. Great fishing exists in all the river sections, as well as in Canyon Ferry Lake and Hauser Lake, with most anglers and guides targeting the lower stretch of the Missouri below Holter Dam. There are options for wade anglers to fish the Missouri, however much of the productive techniques occur from a boat. Drive time ranges from 30 minutes to over 2 hours for fishing opportunities.
    • Jefferson River- Beginning in Twin Bridges with the confluence of the Beaverhead and BigHole Rivers, the Jefferson flows through some of southwest Montana’s best scenery, ending at Headwaters State Park meeting up with the Gallatin and Madison Rivers. With diverse water conditions and a unique habitat, the Jefferson can be very good at different times through the season, typically fishing well before runoff and again in the fall. With 3 main river sections to target, there is a lot of low-pressure water to fish, with typically limited amounts of other anglers. Due to the large nature of the river, it is a good option to float, but can be wade-fished at low water flows. The Jefferson offers great opportunities to target big fish with streamers, as well as during terrestrial time in the summer and early fall. Drive times range from 1.5 hours to 30 minutes.
    • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks- If you are looking to target big fish, hang out under gorgeous scenery, and fish challenging water, the Paradise Spring Creeks south of Livingston offer a great opportunity. Both Depuy Spring Creek and Armstrong Spring Creek offer challenging yet rewarding fishing environments and are highly regarded for the variety of different water types that can be fished with dry flies, nymphs, or smaller streamers. Drive time from Bozeman is around 45 minutes to an hour. Be aware there is a limit on anglers per day, as well as a daily usage fee to fish both spring creek locations, depending on time of year this price may vary.


Suggested Local Fly Shops and Resources:

  • Montana Troutfitters
    • In Central Bozeman off Main Street
    • Have a very friendly laid-back staff, happy to help suggest flies, equipment, book trips, and share river knowledge
  • Fins & Feathers of Bozeman
    • Located at 4 Corners west of Bozeman
    • Very convenient location for anglers headed to the Madison or Gallatin
    • Have a large shop offering gear, flies, equipment, fly tying materials, and a staff ready to get you out catching fish
  • Stonefly Outfitters
    • Located in Twin Bridges, this is a great shop for those headed to fish the Beaverhead, the Big Hole, the Jefferson, or the Madison
    • Highly qualified and professional staff offering trips, equipment, flies, and knowledge for any local fishing opportunities
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
    • Great resource for river updates, closures, suggestions, and licenses
    • https://fwp.mt.gov/