With over 900 miles of fishable water within a 75 mile radius of town, the Bozeman area is truly an angler's Mecca. The legendary waters of the Madison, Yellowstone, Gallatin and Missouri Rivers are within easy reach, but in addition, anglers can find solitude and eager trout waiting in many of the areas smaller streams and spring creeks. When it comes to fishing variety, the Bozeman area provides some of the most versatile angling opportunities in the West.
Probably the best way to convey the many opportunities this area has to offer is to describe a typical itinerary. With that in mind, here is a typical five day trip:
Let's begin on Day 1 with a float at the base of the Absorka Mountains on the famous Yellowstone River...
The Yellowstone River, which flows from the world's first national park to the Montana-North Dakota border, is often described as "the last best river." The Yellowstone River is a true Mecca for flyfishers. Beginning in the Teton Wilderness in northwest Wyoming, the Yellowstone winds through Yellowstone Park before leaving the park and entering Montana. The productive trout waters continue all the way to the town of Big Timber. That makes nearly 250 continuous miles of trout water!The Yellowstone is the longest (671 miles), wild (undammed) river in the "lower 48". The Yellowstone is a "must do" for any angler intent on fishing the best of the best.
The Yellowstone River is internationally known as one of the premiere trout waters in the United States and it comes by its reputation honestly. While cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout are all found in abundant numbers, the ecological importance of the Yellowstone cannot be overstated. The rich Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery in the river's upper reaches sustains wildlife species ranging from grizzly bears to otters. Downriver, cutthroat populations slowly give way to brown and rainbows. Both fisheries offer excellent dry fly fishing, as well as superb subsurface fishing with nymphs and streamers. The Yellowstone has played an important economic, historic, and cultural role in the lives of many Native American tribes and was central to the explorations of Lewis and Clark. A voyage along its meandering shores still reveals scenes described in the journals of Lewis and Clark written two centuries ago.
Our clients most often fish the middle Yellowstone. This section flows for 103 miles from Gardiner, MT, at the northern border of Yellowstone Park (also the border between Wyoming and Montana), to Big Timber, MT. Just outside the park is four-mile Yankee Jim Canyon and its huge browns and Class III rapids (which make catching these beasts no small feat). The canyon marks the beginning of Paradise Valley, where world-famous Armstrong's, Nelson's, and Depuy's Spring Creeks enter the Yellowstone River. These spring creeks are viewed by some as national treasures and offer some of the most challenging and rewarding fishing found anywhere in the world in a truly spectacular setting. These streams allow anglers to observe the daily life cycle of a trout stream in minute detail making a guided day on these creeks truly a learning experience.
The Yellowstone is famous for its hatches. Salmon flies, caddis flies, and golden stoneflies all offer superb fishing during the month of July and present the angler with the opportunity to catch a trout of a lifetime on a dry fly. Late July and August is hopper time. This annual infestation brings the biggest trout to the riverbanks looking for their share of the bounty. Takes can be explosive and the fishing fast and furious. Some of the best trout of the year are caught during hopper time.
September and October puts the big browns on the move and hell bent to participate in the fall spawn. Streamers and wooly buggers become the fly of choice for catching these lovesick trophy browns.
On Day 2, we'll get you out of the boat to venture on foot along a private ranch stream...
With the Bridger Mountains as your backdrop, we'll stalk a pod of rising trout in a slick below a perfect riffle corner. Here, the subtle takes suggest big brown trout who are rising to a fine hatch of pale morning dun mayflies making a size 16 comparadun the fly of choice. Later, with bald eagles and pronghorn antelope as our companions, we rig up a large royal Wulff with a bead head caddis dropper. Casting into holding water along a seemingly endless eddy, we entice large rainbows out of their perfect lies. The takes are explosive and the runs are powerful as we watch the big 'bows dance in the sun.
On Day 3, we're back in the boat floating on the Madison River just outside of Ennis.
The headwaters of the Madison River begin in Yellowstone National Park where the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers come together to form the famed Madison. It was in this meadow that the Langford-Washburn-Doane expedition of 1870 conceived the idea of making the area a national park. Yellowstone would soon become the world's first national park on March 1, 1872. Anglers should be forever grateful to these individuals whose foresight preserved such a special place.
From the Park, the Madison flows northwest to Hebgan and Quake Lakes, formed by the earthquake of 1959. From the spectacular spillover dam at Quake Lake, the river meanders down the beautiful Madison Valley towards Ennis.
It is this area below Quake Lake to the town of Ennis that we most often spend the majority of our fishing time. This is choice water, with many large trout ranging in size from 14 to 20 plus inches. This water is loaded with massive insect life from big stoneflies to smaller mayfly species and from a multitude of caddis species to large crane fly larvae. When it comes to insects, the Madison has it all! There are even a few larger meals such as sculpins to fatten up these Madison River trout.
In the spectacular thirty miles of the Madison that we float from Lyons to Varney Bridge, the river is strewn with boulders and you'll find not only long riffles, but also pockets with deeper runs. Here, the Madison is catch and release only and offers excellent fishing. Below Varney Bridge, the river begins to assume a different character, with deeper runs and riffles. In this section, particularly during the fall, we target some of the biggest trout in the river.
The Madison River's early season kicks off in April and continues into May or until runoff. This period can offer excellent fishing as the fish have had no pressure over the winter. Typically, we enjoy warm spring weather with the river all to ourselves during this early part of the season. Runoff usually ends in late June and as the water begins to heat up, so does the fishing! The warming water trigger the salmonflies and thousands of two-inch-long adults crawl out of the river along the Madison's banks and molt from their nymphal stage to become the winged adults of angling lore. This big bug really kicks off the dry fly season on the "Upper Madi" as the locals call it. When the salmonfly hatch is in full bloom, the action is incredible. Anglers throw large dries that bring some of the biggest trout to the surface.
As spring slowly gives way to summer, the Madison is now often fished with big dry flies usually with droppers off the back. As summer matures and lazily rolls on into late July and early August, grasshoppers and other terrestrials are often the fly of choice, but elk hair caddis, humpies, royal trudes, and royal Wulffs are some of the top dry fly producers all summer long.
By mid-September, the air is noticeably cooler and it's time to begin thinking of streamers and large brown trout. Fall fishing on the Madison is some of the most exciting of the entire year for now the fish become a little less wary as they readily feed in preparation for winter. There are no hatchery trout found on the Madison and you'll be reminded of this when you hook into one of these magnificent, wild fish that average 15" in length.
On Day 4, we're back on another private ranch...
We travel through rolling hills to the base of a spectacular hidden canyon. Here we prospect the banks and weed beds with #14 yellow stimulators. You'll cast your fly delicately behind a boulder and let it float down the foam line. A quick slurp confirms you were right on target as a 17" brown darts up the river. This is trout fishing at its finest and it can go on like this for as many days as you choose. Some of our anglers come for three days while others stay three weeks. In either case, we won't run out of classic trout water!
On Day 5, we venture to the fabled Gallatin River where amazing scenery frames a spectacular fishery...
The Gallatin River flows for 115 miles from Yellowstone National Park to its confluence with the Missouri Headwaters at Three Forks. Throughout its length, the Gallatin River offers a wide variety of trout water, excellent river access, relatively low fishing pressure and beautiful surroundings. All the river scenes in "A River Runs Through It" were filmed within the spectacular Gallatin Canyon. The Canyon is relatively narrow and forested with lodgepole pine and Douglas fir. The conifer forest often reaches the stream bank, providing a pleasant atmosphere in which to fish. Many cold mountain streams feed the Gallatin in this canyon only adding to this river's significant allure. There are bighorn sheep on the walls above the river and in May and June, the sheep often come down to the river to give anglers a rare glimpse of these "high country"creatures. One can also encounter deer, moose or elk at any time on the Gallatin.
The Gallatin River is our favorite walk/wade trip. Although the Gallatin is the perfect river to teach fly fishing to beginners (due to the large number of spunky rainbows), it is also the perfect place for the advanced fisherman to improve his dry fly and nymphing skills on the mile after mile of great pocket water and large pools. Along its upper stretches, the river is not very deep allowing wading from shore to shore. In these headwaters, you can catch idigenous Yellowstone cutthroat trout in their native habitat. Other trout species include both rainbows and browns that average around 12 inches. Sixteen inches is considered a large trout here although some lunkers exceeding 20 inches are caught every year.
The Gallatin is a cool stream. The stable cool temperatures makes an excellent environment for the trout. The Gallatin is only moderately mineral rich, but is well supplied with oxygen. The mayfly and caddis that dwell in its riffles are small and not overly plentiful. As a result, the trout often look to the surface for terrestrial food. You can fish on the surface with the dry fly or terrestrials and then subsurface with small wets or nymphs. Unless there is a hatch on, the dry fly fisher will have more success with big general floaters and attractors. More so here than in many other places, the lime trude in size 12 or 14 is nearly always a good producer. Hoppers from June through September are a good choice. Ants and a size 14 elk hair caddis do a good job in late summer. It is said that these caddis imitate the adult of the spruce budworm which infests the canyon's forests through which the river runs. The trout are not extremely large on the Gallatin, but they are eager making this one of the friendliest rivers in the West.
In the Bozeman area, we offer both lodge-based experiences and custom trips. A couple of the lodges we recommend include: the Madison Valley Ranch and the Gallatin River Lodge. If you are looking for a lodge-based fishing vacation that offers comfortable accommodations, impeccable meals and knowledgeable and friendly guides, give us a call and we send you info on any or all of these destinations. All these lodges offer wonderful trips on the legendary public access rivers and streams described above, but in addition, all have access to great private water that offers a wonderful change of pace during your vacation. Another option in the Bozeman area is to let us arrange a custom trip for you. You can rent a beautiful home for your stay and we will arrange the guides using our vast experience and contacts in the area.
We'll make sure everything is just the way you want it! From the accommodations to meals to your guide, we'll make sure all the details fit both your budget and your trip goals.
In order to do that, we'll need to know what you want in the way of lodging, meals and especially fishing. We need to know if you want to float fish, wade small streams or a combination of both. We'll need to know if you want to customize your trip by renting a home or work out of a traditional fishing lodge. Prices will vary according to the options you choose. But whatever options you choose, we want to do it your way and fulfill your goals... afterall, isn't that the way a fishing trip is meant to be? So give us a call and we'll get you all the information you need to get started planning your fishing adventure... and welcome to Montana!