The Best Trout Fishing in Montana

Mark Barnett
Last Updated: February 27th, 2023

Montana is famous for stunning natural terrain and landscapes, and fishing is usually associated with such geographical features. This is especially the case with trout fishing, which is one of the many attractions of the Big Sky State.

Those who are looking for trout in Montana either already know, or are thrilled to find out, that it is surrounded by some of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. The renowned tailwaters of Montana have some of the highest fish per mile counts there are, and the rivers are brimming with wild trout.

The Rainbow Trout is the number one game fish in Montana. Introduced from numerous hatchery stocks beginning in 1989, and now can be found in every suitable habitat in the state. Montana also has one of the most sought after trout species in the Cutthroat trout which is a highly protected species.

recognizing the blackspotted cutthroat trout

Deciding on where is best to experience the best trout fishing in Montana is a mammoth task in itself, as pretty much all the rivers in the state have something to offer anglers on a fishing expedition.

But Montana trout fishing is some of the best in the whole country, which is one of the reasons why it is known as the “Treasure State”.  Many of the famous rivers across the region are indeed esteemed trout fishing hot spots, as are some of the lesser-known ones.

There are literally dozens of famous rivers, as well as hundreds of smaller streams and creeks, which often tend to be equally fruitful.

So to give some idea of what is on offer in the state as far as trout fishing goes, here are ten potential options which will all undoubtedly feature somewhere in an attempt to catalog the best trout fishing in Montana.

A Guide to the Best Trout Fishing in Montana

Montana truly is a great place for fishing. Both fly fishing and trout fishing in Montana are common recreational activities and many people travel to Big Sky Country Just for the experience. South Central Montana is particularly revered for its trout fishing at locations like the Bighorn River.

  1. Madison River
  2. Bighorn River
  3. Yellowstone River
  4. Gallatin River
  5. Clark Fork River
  6. Smith River
  7. Missouri River
  8. Flathead River South Fork
  9. Blackfoot River
  10. Big Hole River

the madison river

1. The Madison River

The Madison River is certainly one of the most well-known and revered trout fishing rivers and for many offers the best trout fishing in Montana.

For many die-hard enthusiasts fly fishing on the Madison River is some form of right of passage, and success is more likely guaranteed when time has been spent learning the dynamic and swift rhythms of the river.

First-timers here may find it something of a challenge, but the struggle is usually well worth it, especially if they are rewarded with what are some of the largest average-sized trout in Montana.

The good news is the waters of the Madison River are packed with healthy populations of wild brown and rainbow trout. The skillful angler can find rainbow trout and brown trout on every bend of the river, which is one of the reasons why anglers from all over make the pilgrimage to test their fishing skills on a stretch of the Madison River.

2. The Bighorn River

the bighorn river

The Bighorn River in Montana is a veritable trout fishing haven and is considered by most to be the best river for trout fishing in Montana. With epic numbers of fish per mile, fly fishing is unsurprisingly one of the biggest attractions of this river.

This is still the case even though environmental factors have impacted the fish to some degree over recent years, and the Bighorn River is considered a worthy stop-off point for any Montana fly fishing venture.

The arduous and plentiful wild rainbow and brown trout that swim in the Bighorn River make it something of a world-class fishing option for anglers across the world.

3. Yellowstone River

yellowstone river

The Yellowstone River will always be a special place when it comes to the idea of trout fishing in Montana, and many consider it simply the best river in the state for fly fishing.

This may have something to do with the fact that the Yellowstone River is the longest undammed stretch of water in the entire state, with a distinct feel of the wild and free to it.

There are large numbers of cutthroat trout to be found upstream of Livingston, and wild rainbow and brown trout populate the entire stretch of the river.

Fly Fishing on the Yellowstone River is undoubtedly some of the best dry fly trout fishing anywhere in Montana, and some of the largest brown trout that get caught in the state come out of the Yellowstone River.

If you could only pick one river to fish on a trip to Montana this would probably be one of the best options.

4. Gallatin River

gallatin river

The Gallatin River is definitely a much shorter option than any other river in Montana, but it is very easy to access as it is close to a highway.

This makes it a popular option for anyone wanting to avoid hiring a guide who prefers to test out their skills on their own.

The river also still manages to provide nothing short of excellent trout fishing, and this spot is actually ideal for anglers who prefer to wade as it is virtually devoid of rafts and boats.

5. Clark Fork River

clark fork river

The Clark Fork is sometimes confused with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, but this particular stretch of water in Montana begins as Silver Bow Creek and in some regions merges with waters from a few other rivers renowned for trout, namely the Blackfoot, Rock Creek and the Bitterroot.

The Clark Fork has suffered its fair share of setbacks by way of nearby mining and floods, but today it is one of the well-stocked trout rivers in Montana, with some monster wild rainbows that apparently don’t give up too easily once hooked.

6. Smith River

smith river

The Smith River is considered something of a national treasure by many local anglers, although it is often overlooked by visitors. This could be due to the one public put-in and one public take-out along the whole stretch of water, which adds up to around 60 miles in total length.

You’ll find plenty of blue-ribbon trout in one of the most unique and scenic trout fishing experiences in the state, and the river benefits from having a protected status and a permit system.

The wildness of the Smith remains well-preserved in no small part due to these restrictions, and rightly so as the U.S. Conservation Organization listed it as one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers back in 2016.

7. The Missouri River

the missouri river

The Missouri River presents, for many, the absolute finest trout fishing stretch in Montana, in no small part due to its sheer size it.

The river is also accessible for fishing year-round, unlike many others in the state, although the months between April and October are considered to be the most productive by local experts.

There are reportedly consistent averages of 5000 or more trout per mile in this Montana River, which many visiting anglers have to see to believe.

Many local anglers claim there is nowhere else in the state of Montana so versatile and dynamic for trout fishing that offers such great opportunities all throughout the season.

8. South Fork of the Flathead River

south fork of the flathead river

If you fancy the idea of a remote adventure and wild, native trout, the South Fork of the Flathead in northwestern Montana could be for you.

This is one of the more remote rivers and is surrounded by the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The river can only be accessed by a Forest Service dirt track along the lower quarter, while its upper reaches are only reachable on foot.

The South Fork is a wild, west slope, cutthroat fishery, and is unique in that it is one of the only stretches of water in Montana where you can specifically find bull trout.

9. The Blackfoot River

the blackfoot river

The Blackfoot River has been the backdrop for various books and movies, as well as the lives of anglers seeking out idyllic freestone trout streams.

The clear waters are a haven for the region’s native Cutthroat Trout, and the picturesque scenery alone makes for a worthwhile day spent fly fishing on the river.

The Blackfoot River’s upper reaches flow all the way down to its confluence with the Clark Fork River, and anglers are able to find great fly fishing opportunities along the whole stretch, making it a worthy addition to any Montana anglers’ stop-off points.

10. Big Hole River

big hole river

The Big Hole River has often been described as one of the most scenic stretches of river in Montana. It’s not hard to see why exactly when you consider its gentle banks and the way that they wind and flow steadily through both meadows and canyons.

There is a fairly diverse range of fishing opportunities along the river, with various breeds of fish such as Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Brook Trout all being prevalent in these waters, as well as the odd Westslope Cutthroat.

Another Montana River that should be on every angler’s fishing list at some point, the Big Hole River is the ideal blend of good trout fishing and picturesque scenery.

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About The Author

Mark Barnett

Mark Philip is a writer and lifestyle enthusiast from the Midlands in the U.K. With a background in martial arts and fitness, Mark headed out to Bangkok, Thailand where he now lives and works. Mark has authored e-books, articles, and blogs across a wide range of topics for commercial, educational, factual, lifestyle and leisure-based purposes.

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