Three Fantastic Trout Streams

The Stillwater River

The Stillwater River

One of the last best streams in the last best place, the Stillwater is what fly fishing memories are made of. A tributary of the Yellowstone, the Stillwater begins in Yellowstone Park and flows north to Columbus, MT, a distance of around 75 miles. The first 25 miles of the river runs through the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness and is accessible only by foot or horseback. Lots of brookies and rainbows, some of them fairly large. This area is also the home of the state's largest population of golden trout, some fish weighing over 4 pounds. After the Wilderness, the river loses much of its rate of fall and becomes floatable. Brown trout replace the brookies, a few individuals surpassing 20". In late June, July, and early August float fishing here is superb The trout are opportunists and attack just about anything you throw at them including big, bushy, high-floating dry flies and/or nymphs of all kinds and sizes.

The Yellowstone River

One author described the Yellowstone as the "soul of Montana". Still the longest undammed river (670 miles long) in the contiguous United States, the Yellowstone connects the Rockies of Yellowstone Park with the prairies and badlands of eastern Montana. Leaving the Park at Gardiner, MT, the river flows north through the Paradise Valley turning east at Livingston, MT. It then flows past the Shields River toward Big Timber, The Yellowstone River MT where the Boulder River joins. Still heading east, the Yellowstone flows around the small towns of Reed Point, Columbus, and Park City, MT. The river passes Billings, MT, then rolls through the eastern half of the state. It finally meets the Missouri River just inside North Dakota. Having gained the water of at least a dozen major rivers, the Yellowstone becomes a world class warm-water fishery.

The river supports trout all the way to Billings, but the best fly fishing for trout is from its confluence in Yellowstone Park to Columbus, MT, a distance of about 200 miles. When the Yellowstone is fishing well, every other trout stream in the state can take a back seat. This happens 4 times a year; during the Mother's Day caddis hatch, just as the river below Livingston starts to clear after spring runoff (streamer flies!), following stonefly hatches as they progress upstream, and in late July and August when the grasshoppers are thick. At other times the river is just great trout water, but during these not-so-brief moments the Yellowstone is awesome.

The Bighorn River

Born high in the Wind River Range of the Wyoming Rockies, the Bighorn in Montana was just another "downstream" prairie river full of muddy water and bullhead catfish. With the completion of Yellowtail Dam, the river took on an entirely different complexion. Now the Bighorn offers superb fly fishing from a boat as well as wading along the shore. Some would argue the Bighorn is the premier nymph fishery in the state; it's also one of the best hatch-oriented rivers on the planet. The river flows north from Yellowtail ReservoirThe Bighorn River (Ft. Smith, MT) through the Crow Indian Reservation all the way to Custer, MT where it joins the Yellowstone, a distance of over 70 miles.

The fish here are huge and there are plenty of them. State and federal biologists have been doing exhaustive research since the early 1980's; their conservative estimates place trout populations at over 5,000 individuals per mile, around 10% of them 18" or larger. The Bighorn is one of the best rivers you can find to test your fishing skills.

There you have it! Three fantastic trout streams guaranteed to put a dangerous bend in your fly rod and fill your head with sweet Montana Fly Fishing memories.


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