Nicknamed “Land of the Shining Mountains,” Montana is a powerhouse of cold alpine water, changing elevations, and blue ribbon waterways. More so, it boasts a showcase of top-notch fly fishing rivers in Montana.

But with the best of the best for fly fishing streams come many sought-after species. These include the likes of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout, and elusive golden trout, to name a few. Making Montana every fly fisher’s dream come true.

But, to get that trophy trout on your line, you’ll want to know where to cast your fly rod. Here is a compiled list of the best fly fishing rivers in Montana.

1. Gallatin River

Perhaps, the most underrated fly-fishing river in and around Yellowstone National Park, this waterway is perfect for those who don’t like crowds.

The Gallatin River can be a bit of a pain to get to, but those who wander to its banks, about 25 miles within Yellowstone, will be rewarded with a scenic and bountiful trout fishing experience. Once there, anglers will appreciate the pristine water, snaking banks, and pools. As a bonus, the water runs lower in the valley, providing ample wading opportunities.

It is important to note that a fishing permit is required for any of the waterways in Yellowstone National Park. And certain species may be catch and release only. The rule of thumb, if you are unsure, is to release the fish back into the water!

Alternatively, for those who prefer to stay out of the park, there are over 40 miles of river that passes Big Sky and the Gallatin Canyon.

2. Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River is what you would call a celebrity if rivers were one. It was written in the non-fiction novel A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean in 1976. Furthermore, in 1992, it was adapted into a movie. Hence, this attention, matched with the contention of a gold mine, has led the Blackfoot River to have a bit of a fan base.

But fame aside, the river is a phenomenal rainbow trout haven, teasing sparkling water and riffles galore. From where the Blackfoot River rises to where it meets the Clark Fork River, fly fishing is fantastic, no matter where you swing your line.

Browse some outfitters in Missoula, and see what flies and pools are hot. Locals always know best!

3. Madison River

When the words fly fishing and Montana come to mind, many imagine the Madison River. Another river that starts in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River, flows for about 20 miles before heading to Bozeman. 

Have you ever wanted to wade into a geothermal pool? At Yellowstone, you can do just that! For those who wish to fish in the park, the Madison River provides several spots to safely wade into the warm geothermal pools.  Although, this makes absolutely no sense, since trout love cold water, the Madison River is one of Montana’s most popular fly-fishing spots. And for a good reason!

Staying out of the park? Check out the Hebgen Dam or Quake Lake.

4. Yellowstone River

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Image credits: Vicki T. via Unsplash

With so much of Yellowstone National Park, it wouldn’t seem appropriate not to mention the river with the same name. While it’s true that the Yellowstone River is one of the most visited attractions of Yellowstone National Park, it is almost 700 miles long. And once outside the park, a little piece of an uninterrupted trout fishing paradise awaits.

There are a few notable stretches along the Yellowstone River, that are easily accessible. Looking to fish against an unforgettable backdrop? Take a look at the river from Gardner to Livingston, which is widely known as Paradise Valley. Otherwise, see the downstream trout action around Billings.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, brave the Yellowstone National Park hike to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. A little sweat to get there will pay off when you pull a monster trout from beneath an iconic waterfall.

5. Bitterroot River

Are you looking for a kingdom of riffles and pools? Then, look no further than the Bitterroot River! Rainbow trout, brown trout, and even cutthroats can be found on the gravel-laden bends of the Bitterroot River.

But what makes the Bitterroot River attractive is the skwala hatch that fuels the river in the spring, meaning fat summer and fall trout.

The Bitterroot River is an excellent fly fishing destination for those looking to be alone. But, if you enjoy river hopping, take a look at this neighboring river next up on this list!

6. Big Hole River

Big Hole River

Image credits: Mike Goad via Pixabay

The Big Hole River is the best fly fishing river you never heard of. In fact, fly fishing is so good that this waterway flaunts a blue ribbon designation.

The Big Hole River Valley has a bit of everything, from rocky ledges to farmer’s fields, to cater to all fly fishers with varying tastes. And the change in topography offers anglers the chance to try out new techniques or test an arsenal of flies. Moreover, with picky brown trout, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout meandering about, it’s no guarantee what will end up on your line!

The Last Word

Montana boasts some of the best fly fishing rivers found in the US. So good, in fact, that some anglers can land monster trout with one swing of the line without really intending to catch on their first cast.

If you have never contemplated fly fishing in Montana, it’s a journey that any avid fly angler should try at least once. With so many blue ribbon rivers at your disposal, there really is no going wrong.

Visit in the spring, summer, or fall against some of the most beautiful scenery; the only thing missing is you wading into crystal clear water.

Have you gone fly fishing on any of these rivers? Please let us know in the comment!