The Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) is a species native to northern North America. The only populations native to the lower 48 states were in Michigan and Montana, and the Michigan population is now extinct. Consequently, the fluvial or river-dwelling population in the upper Big Hole River are the last remnants of this native Fish of Special Concern. Originally, the fluvial Arctic Grayling was widespread throughout the upper Missouri river drainage as far downstream as Great Falls. Lewis and Clark made note of these "new kind of white or silvery trout" in 1805. The lake-dwelling form is fairly common in 30 or more lakes across the western half of the state. These lake fish are genetically, but not visibly, different from our native fluvial Arctic Grayling. Grayling are gullible to the angler's lures and also seem to be easily out-competed by other salmonid species. This probably explains much of their demise from their native range. They are spring spawners and broadcast their eggs over a gravel bottom in moving streams. Grayling can overpopulate, producing severely stunted populations in some mountain lakes. Grayling are truly a unique Montana species. The iridescent hues of a spawning grayling's dorsal fin are brilliant. Exceptional individuals can weigh up to 3 pounds and reach 20 inches in length. They are generalists, eating a variety of aquatic invertebrates (Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks).
Fly fishers who seek to get far from the maddening crowd should consider the Clark’s Fork, as it offers ample fish, scenic beauty and alluring solitude. The river makes its grand entrance ... moreinto Wyoming from Montana through a rift in the jagged, glaciated Absaroka Mountains. Surrounded by soaring, snow-capped peaks, the river is bounded by the Beartooth Mountains to the northeast and the rugged Sawtooth Mountains to the southeast. Running for over 60 miles through the state, its upper waters are full of Yellowstone cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout while grayling and brown trout can be found below the famous Canyon section as the river makes its way back to Montana.
Designated as Wyoming’s first Wild and Scenic River, it flows through verdant, conifer forests, a stunning, 20 mile-long Canyon area, and open farm and ranch lands. The river descends from 8,500 feet at its headwaters near Cooke City to less than 3,000 at its northeastern crossing at the state line. The spectacular canyon portion of the river is as popular with hikers, kayakers and river rafters as it is with fishermen. Adventurers around the globe come here to experience its Class IV to Class VI rapids.
Technically the river is open year-round for fishing although the Colter and Beartooth passes are usually blocked by snow until late May. Public access can be gained from the highways that parallel most of the upper river through the Shoshone National Forest and anglers can, with a few exceptions, stop and fish at their leisure. Much of the lower river runs through private land although the Wyoming Game and Fish manage 4 public access points making it possible to enjoy fishing in these waters. Spring runoff can continue through June, sometimes even into mid-July, and then tends to remain steady from late summer and well into September.
Given its association with transport, commerce and business development, it’s easy to forget that there remain parts of the Missouri set aside for fishing, boating and enjoying nature’s ... morebounty. From source to mouth, it is the longest river in North America, over 2, 341 miles. The river’s watershed consists of over a million square miles and includes parts of 10 American states and 2 Canadian provinces. When combined with the lower Mississippi, it is the 4th longest river in the world. Whew! That’s a lot to take in. But, if you’re a fly fisher in Montana, the only section of the Missouri you really need to know about is a tiny, 40 mile, stretch downstream of Holter Dam, near the towns of Wolf Creek, Craig and Cascade and not far from the city of Helena. This is the “Blue Ribbon” trout section of the Missouri.
Water released from Holter Dam keep this section the river at a fairly consistent level, helping to maintain cool temperatures year round. Some guides describe the river here as a gigantic spring creek surrounded by weed beds with long riffles, great banks and undercuts that provide ideal habitat for the river’s substantial trout population. By substantial, we’re talking 3,500 to 5,500 fish per mile on a yearly basis – and many of these exceed 16 inches! The first ten miles of the river from Holter Dam to Craig tend to have the largest number of hatches resulting in the highest concentration of fish.
In this “gigantic spring” part of the river, rainbow trout outnumber browns by a ratio of 6:1. In addition, stable populations of burbot and stonecats live below the dam. As a bonus, the reservoir is surrounded by the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area as well as three other designated nature preserves and wilderness set-asides. Look up and there’s a good chance you’ll spot a bald eagle, various types of falcon, red-tail hawks, osprey and golden eagles – you may even get a chance to see them snatch a fish from the water. Shore side it’s not unusual to sight bighorn sheep, elk, and mountain goats. This may be an area small in size but its large in its grandeur and many offerings.
Ruby is the perfect name for this river, for it is a largely hidden, sparkling gem. Its crystal clear waters begin in the pristine Beaverhead National Forest in southwest Madison County, ... morebetween the Snowcrest Mountains and the Gravelly range. While it starts as a rather thin trickle, it picks up more than a dozen mountain, freestone creeks, and gains velocity as it flows for 40 miles past Alder and into the Ruby Reservoir. Past Alder, the river runs north between the beautiful Tobacco Root Mountains to the northeast and the Ruby Range to the southwest. Nestled in the quaint Ruby Valley, the river is conveniently located a mere thirty minutes from Ennis and a lovely one-hour drive from Bozeman. Like many other rivers in this region, the Ruby is small at only 76 miles in length, but it is full of surprisingly large fish.
Leaving Alder, the Ruby exits the reservoir as a tailwater and supports abundant midge, caddis, and Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatches. For a short time the river passes through a scenic, arid canyon before abruptly transitioning into a meandering open agricultural valley. At this point the Ruby runs over vast swaths of private land, sometimes making access difficult. The 40 mile descent from Alder to Twin Bridges also crosses over high-end ranch properties, where again, access can be challenging although public access points do exist and can be easily located.
The river is open year round to fishing and conditions are good through all seasons. Springtime on the Ruby brings hatches of baetis and early season caddis. When the water warms in summer, the river will explode with Yellow Sallies and Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), along with hoppers and other terrestrials. Late summer and early fall is considered by many to be the best time to fish, as clouds settle in the high mountain valley providing fast paced action for the streamer enthusiast. Running a nymph rig subsurface, or using a dry/dropper combo is the best technique on the Ruby throughout the year.
Fish will jump for hoppers during the late summer months, while streamer-fishing can very satisfying throughout the summer and early fall. A predominantly brown trout fishery, the Ruby is full of trophies that often reach 18 – 20 inches. The greatest numbers of rainbow trout are found in the first few miles of the river just below the dam. If you seek a unique opportunity, the upper portions of the Ruby rumored to hold rare cutthroat trout and arctic grayling.
The Jefferson River is an important part of a system of rivers that combine to form the majestic Missouri. Starting at the confluence of the Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers near Twin ... moreBridges, Montana, it winds 77 miles in a northeasterly fashion to Three Forks. Here, it meets with the Madison and Gallatin rivers that together converge into the Missouri River at the Missouri Headwaters State Park. Like so many other rivers in Montana, the Jefferson, named by Clark in honor of the U.S. President, runs deep with history. In fact, the Jefferson River is a segment of the larger Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, administered by our National Park Service.
When thinking about the Jefferson, a Class 1 river for recreational enjoyment, most observers view the river in three distinct sections. Characterized by slow, meandering flows, the upper third works its way through a broad, arid valley. Along this braided, 44 mile long floodplain, you will encounter working farms, dense cottonwood stands, flowered meadows and a variety of wildlife until you reach the town of Cardwell. Throughout the next 15 miles, its waters flow through a narrow, steep canyon where the water can be deep, slow and contained. As a result, the stretch from Cardwell to the Sappington Bridge has comparatively fewer trees, swamps, meadows and wildlife.
At Sappington Bridge the river once again becomes a circuitous, rambling river, rich in swamp life, colorful fields, large cottonwood groves and productive agricultural land. The presence of significant agriculture has resulted in competition for water use. During dry years, the river was tapped generously for irrigation, dropping water levels to the point where fish populations were adversely affected. Recent improvement in riparian management has tended to alleviate these issues. Primarily known as a brown trout river, rainbows, mountain whitefish, burbot and northern pike can also be found here. Less well known and less discovered, the Jefferson offers the opportunity to catch large fish in a scenic, un-crowded environment.
The Beaverhead is a nearly 70 mile long tributary of the Jefferson River. Its original course has changed due to the construction of the Clark Canyon Dam, as have its headwaters, once ... moreformed by the confluence of the Red Rock River and Horse Prairie Creek. These rivers, along with the first 6 miles of the Beaverhead, are now flooded as a result of the reservoir project. Today, the Beaverhead flows through a wide valley where it meets the Big Hole River and forms the Jefferson River. The river is well known for its clear, blue-green color, narrow, winding turns, willow-lined, undercut banks and thriving insect life that attracts fish.
The origin of its colorful name can be traced back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, when their indigenous guide, Sacajawea, recognized a large rock formation in the middle of the river known to her as the Beaver’s Head. According to Lewis, this indicated to her that they were close to the summer retreat of her Indian nation. On August 15, 1805 the party reached her tribe, where one of her remaining brothers, Cameahwait, Chief of the Shoshone, provided crude maps, food and horses, making it possible to continue the Expedition through the mountains. On their return trip Lewis gave the river, once full of beavers, the name it now holds.
Fortunately, floating the Beaverhead in today’s world is much easier, more fun and amply rewarding. It is widely considered one of Montana's premier Brown trout fishing rivers, producing more large trout, particularly Brown trout, than any other river in the state. Due to its abundance of large trout, fly fishing the stretch near Dillon, from Clark Canyon Dam to Barrett’s Dam and through to Twin Bridges, tends to be very popular and get can crowded, even although the fish can also be hard to catch. While large fish can be caught with dry flies, it is primarily a nymph fishing river along with a swiftly moving current, so expect to be constantly mending your line.
The Big Hole River starts in the Beaverhead Mountains south of Jackson, Montana and flows on for about 156 miles. Beginning as a slight stream, it picks up muscle as it joins with ... morethe North Fork, and draws more volume as it passes through the Wise River basin. At the Continental Divide it changes its northeasterly direction and heads southeast until it joins the Beaverhead and forms the Jefferson River close to the town of Twin Bridges, Montana. It hosts one of the last known habitat for the native fluvial artic grayling but is best known to fly fishers for its trout.
Like so many Montana rivers, the Big Hole is as full of history as it is of water. When Lewis and Clark stumbled upon it, the river was providing a buffer zone between rival Indian tribes vying for land as they sagely anticipated the westward push of European miners, furriers and settlers. Fifty years later, a significant number of the Nez Percé, a tribe that had initially befriended the Expedition, refused to accept life on a reservation and were nearly wiped out by U.S. troops in the Battle of the Big Hole. Today’s battles consist of quarrels between ranchers who desire water for irrigation and recreational users who wish to see the water preserved.
Fishing the river can be basically divided into three sections. From the headwaters at Skinner Lake to Fish Trap, the river meanders slowly through high meadowlands. This is where the few remaining artic grayling can be found, although browns and rainbows are in abundance here. In the second section, Fish Trap to Melrose, you will find boulders and pocket water rushing through a narrow canyon; here rainbows outnumber the browns with an estimated 3000 fish per mile. The final section, Melrose to Twin Bridges, is lined with cottonwood bottoms, braided channels and long, slow pools. In contrast to the second link, browns outnumber rainbows 2 to 1 with approximately 3000 fish per mile.
If fly wranglers were gossips, the “Blue Ribbon” Madison River would likely be their primary object of attention. Arguably it’s the most talked over, written up and frequented river ... morein the entire state of Montana – and that’s saying something. What’s more, no one has anything bad to say about it and that’s for a good reason. There’s nothing bad to say. Its scenic journey begins in Yellowstone National Park at the convergence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers and continues for 19 miles through parkland. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and sorry to disappoint, but it’s catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters the Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.
Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hegman releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.
Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintain relatively low water levels and provide wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.