Billings Montana Fly Fishing (A Local’s Guide)

The ultimate guide to world-class fly fishing in Billings, Montana. Explore pristine waters and abundant trout for an angler's paradise.

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Billings fly fishing isn’t generally the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a Montana fishing excursion. But, as a Billings native and fly fisher of over 30 years, I can tell you that this destination (thankfully) doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Regarding Montana, more nationally and internationally known destinations like Missoula and Bozeman are held in higher esteem. However, fishing in Billings and the surrounding area will bring you countless opportunities for a wide gamut of species and, in many cases, fewer crowds.

With under-the-radar places and some more well-known waters in the Billings area, you’ll be able to check off bucket-list rivers, hit somewhat undiscovered waters, and go after a huge variety of species on the same trip!

Fly Fishing In The USA

Where is Billings?

Billings is the largest city in Montana. Looking at a map, Billings lies just east of the middle of the state and, regarding north/south orientation, lies in the southern part of Montana near the Wyoming border.

This location gives an angler access to a vast array of landscapes and the water contained within.

A beautiful photo of Billings Montana

From the low plains and big, slow rivers to the highest peaks in the state (just southwest of Billings), you’ll be able to find almost any type of fishing you desire.

When it comes to outdoor recreation of any kind, including fishing in Billings, this area just doesn’t get the love it deserves.

From the iconic sandstone cliffs (called the Rimrocks) formed by the prehistoric Western Interior Seaway to the mighty Yellowstone River, from the majestic Beartooth Wilderness to the Pryor Mountains, Billings lacks not for outdoor opportunities.

Billings Fishing: Why Go?

Billings is extremely accessible by air or by car. Once you’re here, it’s a “choose your adventure” type of place! Some destinations seem to be a one-size-fits-all but, in Billings, you can choose to fish the storied Bighorn or Yellowstone, chase catfish and bass, or hike for days in the wilderness.

A giant sea bass in the kelp.

Fishing Billings is a treat for any angler, novice or experienced, fly or spin. Opportunities abound for all categories.

Types Of Fishing in Billings

Fishing in the Billings area presents any angler with a myriad of choices. No matter if you’re fly fishing or spin fishing, Billings gives you a huge number of cold and warm water species to target!

Fly Fishing Billings

Most who come to Billings to fly fish are set on heading to the blue ribbon waters of the Bighorn southeast of town. Others are headed west of town to the Absoroka-Bearthooth Wilderness.

Fewer crowds fish the waters right near town including the Yellowstone River and area lakes and ponds. Aside from the Bighorn, Billings fly fishing is mostly under the radar and less crowded than more well-known areas of the country.

Spin Fishing Billings

Spin fishermen/women find huge opportunities in Billings fishing. While they can access all the same trout and bass water as fly fishermen/women, many folks are drawn to the rarer opportunities of catching massive paddlefish and sturgeon that migrate up the Yellowstone River.

Billings Fish Species

Billings is situated on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountain Front. As stated above, this location gives you plenty of access to many different fishing situations and a vast array of species to target:

Rainbow Trout

Rainbows are one of the most planted/stocked fish in the country. Since they can survive in a wide range of water temps and situations, you’ll find opportunities for rainbow trout in almost all waters around town.

A rainbow Trout seen through the surface of very clear water

Your best bet for big ‘bows is the Bighorn River or the Yellowstone River.

For the Bighorn, as a tailwater, seasonal flies like zebra midge, trico mayflies, soft-hackle sow bugs, and quill nymphs will get fish.

On the Yellowstone, bigger bugs like Pat’s Rubberleg nymph and larger brown Psycho May nymphs work well. If you set off into mountain lakes/creeks, a rubberleg stimulator dry will almost always work.

Brown Trout

For brown trout, the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers are still your best bets. Use the same flies as rainbow trout (see above) but also try some streamers like a Lil’ Kim or a Mini-Loop-Sculpin, especially in the spring, fall, or in low light situations.

Lower Rock Creek and the Stillwater River (both southwest of Billings) are also good choices. Try a Chubby Chernobyl, an elk hair caddis at sunset, and/or various colors of Copper John nymphs.

Brook Trout

Brookies in the Billings area are going to be relegated to the higher, colder waters west of town.

fly fishing brook trout

My favorite spot for brookies is to head southwest of Billings to Red Lodge and the Beartooth Wilderness. Any hike to any creek and any lake will generally yield you brook trout.

Black and purple Chubby Chernobyls and purple Crystal Stimulators are go-to patterns.

Tiger Trout

Tiger trout are fairly the uncommon cross of a brown and a brook trout. The best place to find Tigers in the area is lower Rock Creek (downstream of Red Lodge). Any of the above-mentioned brown trout flies will get the job done.

Cutthroat Trout

The Yellowstone strain of cutthroat is the native trout species around Billings. Unfortunately, its range has been overtaken by more aggressive rainbow and brown trout and, in some areas, lake trout.

You can still find great cutthroat fishing in the Stillwater River and in the mountain streams and lakes of the Absoroka-Bearthooth Wilderness. The Yellowstone River has cutthroats too but you’ll have to venture west of Billings a ways to find them.

Mountain Whitefish

Mountain Whitefish get a bad rap from fly fisherfolks all over the country. However, as a member of the salmonid family (just like trout, salmon, char, and grayling), the presence of whitefish in numbers indicates a healthy stream.

All the area rivers have whitefish and you’ll likely find them while nymphing (and sometimes dry fly fishing) for trout. Whitefish are also very edible and often taste better than trout. With a cod-like flesh, a bit of butter, lemon, salt, and pepper is all that’s needed.


Goldeyes are a shad-like silvery fish native to Canada and the northern US. They have large, circular golden eyes and silvery scales. While not always sought after, Goldeyes take dry flies aggressively!

You’ll find them in Bighorn River feeding on a summer hatch in the slack water. I have also caught a goldeye every two casts or so on a flashy spinner or spoon lure on the Yellowstone River casting into somewhat rapid, choppy water.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass find homes on many of the area’s ponds and lakes. Most of the ponds, lakes, and oxbows are fed by the Yellowstone River.

Largemouth Bass Eat crayfish

Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine are two such lakes. Joel’s Pond in West Billings, Broadview Pond, and Anita Reservoir are also good choices. Typical bass poppers and flies will work well but I find a simple small or medium black, olive, or brown wooly bugger is perfect.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are abundant in some of the same places as the largemouth around Billings. While typically a river fish, you’ll find smallmouth in Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine too.

Any of the oxbows and slower runs of the Yellowstone River around town will also hold “smallies.” The Musselshell River north of Billings is one of my favorite for smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass flies work well for smallies as well.


The Billings area has some fantastic Walleye opportunities. The two best are Yellowtail Reservoir (the headwaters of Montana’s Bighorn River) and Cooney Reservoir just southwest of Billings.

Sink lines are usually needed in the reservoirs. The Bighorn River has had increasing walleye populations as well. Sometimes stripping trout streamers will produce walleye here.

Swinging flies is also a great way to go. Wooly buggers and clouser minnows are dynamite. Walleye are, in my opinion, the best-tasting fish in the area!


While not known for great pike fishing, the conversation around Billings and pike is changing. There are some number of pike in the Yellowstone River especially from Billings downstream.

Your best bet, however, is probably Cooney Reservoir. If you’re feeling like taking a drive, Tongue River Reservoir southeast of Billings is worth it!

Use medium to large streamers like the Deceiver in a perch pattern or an Ehlor’s Gator Done in chartreuse, black, or white.


Fly fishing for crappie isn’t the most popular thing but it can be a hoot! They are a favorite among fish-cookers and grillers too.

Cooney Reservoir, Lake Elmo, and Tongue River Reservoir are chock-full of these feisty fish. Use various soft-hackle wet flies or rubberleg nymphs below a bobber with a twitch here and there.

Small streamers like wooly buggers and small Clousers are great too. You can also slow-strip nymphs (without an indicator) using jig prince nymphs, soft hackles, and rubberleg nymphs.


Carp on the fly has gained a massive following and Billings has some really great carp fishing. While fishing Billings, pretty much all of the local ponds and lakes have carp.

carp fishing bottom of river underwater

Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine are easy go-tos. If you have a boat, Yellowtail Reservoir or the Yellowtail Afterbay are loaded with dry-fly crushing carp.

Search any shallow, warm, grassy, or brush-filled area for feeding carp. Cicada imitations and various Chubby Chernobyls are great dries. Try slow-stripping callibaetis nymphs and soft-hackle wet flies too!

Bluegill/Perch/Pumpkinseed, etc

Almost all of the ponds and reservoirs around Billings proper have loads of panfish. In Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine especially, adults and kids can have a blast catching dozens and dozens of these fun-sized fish. Pretty much any dry fly or nymph twitched under a strike indicator will get the job done.

Billings Fly Fishing: Access Points

Fishing in Billings has a lot of different access points. Here are some of the best access points to fish in the Billings area. All of the following are easy to find by using a maps app and can be driven in any car. 4 wheel drive is only a plus and recommended in the winter.

Holmgren FAS – Yellowstone River

Holmgren Fishing Access Site (FAS) is a newer state-run site on the Yellowstone upstream from Billings. It includes plenty of shore-fishing opportunities and a boat ramp for floating.

Twin Bridges to Itch-Kep-Pe Park (in Columbus, MT) is a great but long float. Holmgren is in between the two making a Twin-to-Holmgren or Holmgren-to-Itch-Kep-Pe much more manageable.

Fireman’s Point FAS – Stillwater River

The Stillwater River is just west of Billings and hits the Yellowstone at Columbus, MT.

A photo of Fireman's Point Fishing Access Site.

Fireman’s Point is a FAS site that you can drive to, park, and fish upstream or you can fish downstream all the way to the confluence with the Yellowstone River.

Water Birch FAS – Rock Creek

Water Birch FAS – Rock Creek is a small, easily wadeable river. Located southwest of Billings, the Water Birch is just downstream from the town of Red Lodge. The road is paved to the FAS where it turns to dirt but is easily driveable with any vehicle.

3 Mile FAS – Bighorn River

The Bighorn River is southeast of Billings. 3 Mile FAS is just downstream of the town of Fort Smith, a sleepy fishing town with fly shops and a small market.

3 Mile is the second FAS down from the dam. Here, the river braids into 3 sections giving a walk-in-angler lots of places to fish. Float fishers (no motors allowed) can take out or put in at 3 Mile FAS.

Rock Creek Road or Lake Fork Road – Beartooth Wilderness

Rock Creek Road and Lake Fork Road are great for accessing the Beartooth Wilderness. They are located just beyond Red Lodge.

Lake Fork Road is easily accessible by most vehicles all the way to the trailhead parking lot. From there, you will hike up to many alpine lakes and streams.

Rock Creek Road is a dirt road and can be rough. A 4×4 is recommended. There are many places to stop and fish along the road or you can drive to Glacier Lake Trailhead and hike in from there. Summer is your best bet here. Winter is not recommended at all!

Best Spots For Fishing The Billings Area

Billings has a wide variety of geography and waters to fish. The variation is great and can give any fisherperson a lot to do. From cold-water trout and whitefish to warm-water bass and crappie, Billings has everything covered!

Fishing the Yellowstone River

When one thinks about fishing the Yellowstone River, Billings isn’t exactly top of mind.

A beautiful Pine Creek on the Yellowstone River.

While Yellowstone Park and the Livingston stretches are the most known and sought-after in the trout game, Billings trout fishing has plenty to offer.

The Reed Point, Columbus, and Laurel stretches have plenty of trout to chase. From Laurel to Billings to Huntley, there are fewer trout and more bass, pike, and catfish. Downstream of Huntley holds higher numbers of sturgeon and paddlefish.

Fishing the Stillwater River

From Columbus where the Stillwater hits the Yellowstone, up to Nye and into the Absoroka-Beartooth Wilderness, there’s no shortage of fish and access. Trout abound in all stretches. The Stillwater may be the best fly fishing in Billings without having to drive for more than an hour.

Above Nye, hiking is the only way. From Nye to Absorkee, you’ll find walk-in and some float access. From Absorkee to Columbus and the Yellowstone River, the river is broader and easier to float. You’ll need to know about some rapids though. Kayar

Fishing the Bighorn River

The blue-ribbon section of the Bighorn is from the dam at Ft. Smith to Bighorn FAS 13 miles downstream. The trout fishing is still good from Bighorn past the town of St. Xavier.

fly fishing Beautiful Brown Trout

Walk-in access is limited to FAS sites as the river is large and has a lot of private land surrounding its banks. Aside from 3 Mile FAS, floating definitely gives you the best access to the river. The Bighorn is probably the most productive trout water in the area.

Fishing Rock Creek

Rock Creek is small and not floatable. There are plenty of access points to fish, however.

The alpine section above Red Lodge is very picturesque. Below Red Lodge to the mouth, Rock Creek flows through a valley bottom full of cottonwood trees, farmland, and cattle pastures.

State FAS sites are best but public roads over the creek are legal access points too. Just stay below the well-defined high water mark to move up and down in the stream through private land. Make sure you’re not trespassing!

Fishing the Beartooth Wilderness

The Beartooth Wilderness is as rugged and has the most picturesque fishing near Billings…maybe even the country.

A photo of Beartooth Wilderness

Located just southwest of Billings above the town of Red Lodge, almost any hiking trail will take you alongside a creek or to alpine lakes.

All are filled with hungry brook trout and cutthroat trout. Some rainbows can be found in the lower reaches too.

Attractor dry flies are really all you’ll need. Have a nymph or two just in case though. Always carry bear spray and make noise as you hike. Watch for moose in the willows too as they can be aggressive. Be prepared for all 4 seasons even in the middle of summer!

Fishing Cooney Reservoir

Cooney Reservoir is southwest of Billings near the town of Boyd. It’s a medium-sized reservoir with plenty of public access to fish from shore and to launch a boat. Of course, a boat will give more access to fishing but plenty of fish are caught from the shoreline too.

The road is paved to the reservoir with some lots being gravel. Any vehicle can make the trek. Fishing is good all year here and it’s a popular destination for ice fishing too.

Regarding lake fishing, Cooney often has the best fishing in Billings. All four seasons have strong catch rates and offer many different fishing disciplines a chance to shine.

Fishing Lake Elmo

Growing up in the Billings fly fishing scene meant honing your skills at Lake Elmo.

A far view of lake elmo

Lake Elmo is an urban reservoir in the Billings Heights. It’s filled with diverted water off the Yellowstone River into the irrigation ditches that fill the reservoir.

It’s a popular haunt for swimmers and recreational boaters but there are plenty of places to get away from crowds to fish. The backside with its many cattails, the “tube” (inlet area), or rocky shore and pier at the Fish Wildlife and Parks building all provide a variety of places to hit.

Non-motorized boats are allowed too. There is an incredible array of fish to catch here…from panfish to bass, from carp to catfish, from suckers to rainbow and cutthroat trout. Drive right up in your car or take a short walk to a more secluded spot.

Fishing Lake Josephine

Lake Josephine is an oxbow lake off of the Yellowstone River at Riverfront Park. It’s a popular destination for recreationists, hikers, and BBQ get-togethers. You’ll find easy, grass shores with picnic tables and trails to walk to get into more natural surroundings.

Fishing panfish from shore is easy but targeting bass, pike, or carp from a pontoon or small paddle boat against a thick tree or cattail shoreline is the best strategy. There are two distinct sections to the lake, the back section (farthest from the parking lot) is the best.

Lake Josephine may be the best Billings fly fishing still-water (lake or pond) destination, at least in the immediate area.

Fishing Yellowtail Reservoir

Yellowtail Reservoir is a stunning place to fish. Located southeast of Billings above Ft. Smith and the Bighorn River, Yellowtail follows steep, rugged canyonland and has miles and miles of craggy shoreline.

While there are places you can fish from shore, they are limited greatly. A motorized boat is really the only way to fish here. The Afterbay (reservoir just below Yellowtail) is more bank-fishing-friendly. The roads are maintained and easy to navigate so any vehicle will do.

Floating & Paddling the Billings Area

Floating and paddling around Billings are fantastic ways to see and fish more water. Each waterway has its quirks so you’ll want to be informed.

The Bighorn is most friendly to drift boats. Rafts work fine but winds can be stiff and a driftboat gives you a more stable platform. Below Bighorn Access, motors are allowed but you’ll need a jet vs. a prop to navigate shallow riffles.

The Yellowstone is drift boat, raft, and jetboat friendly. Kayaks, one/two/three-person pontoons, and paddleboards are often used as well. This river gets very high and dangerous with spring runoff, however.

The Stillwater River is best to float with a raft or pontoon. The many boulders and rapids (depending on flows) make other boats unusable. This river also gets dangerously high and fast in the spring.

Cooney and Tongue River Reservoirs are easily accessed by kayak, rowboat, or paddleboard. Most folks will use motorboats, however, since there is a lot of water to cover. When fishing these places, you’ll most likely see waterskiers, jet skis, and inner tubers as well.

All the other lakes and ponds are non-motorized vessels only (aside from Lake Elmo for one weekend in the spring when folks can test their motorboats after storing for the winter). Rowboats, pontoons, and paddleboards are great for accessing fishing spots on these waters.

Billings Water Levels

Most of the rivers around Billings are freestone rivers. This means there are no dams to hold water back.

Therefore, most of them will become dangerously high in the springtime…sometime from the middle of May to the middle of June or later. The water becomes chocolate milk and the danger level is too great. Best to leave them alone and stick to the lakes or ponds.

The exception is the Bighorn River. The Bighorn is a tailwater and is fishable and floatable all year long. It is not a hydroelectric dam, however, so flows don’t fluctuate daily.

Its main objective is water conservation/irrigation. Therefore you’ll find lower water from fall to early spring and higher water from late spring through summer.

Lakes and ponds will be fresh and at peak levels in the spring. This is trout time. As the weather warms and water is used/dissipates, the levels tend to drop, and moss/algae starts to grow. This is great time for targeting warm-water species like bass and carp.

Best Flies For Fishing Billings

The best flies for Billings fly fishing is a lengthy list with all the varied places to fish, waterways to explore, and species to target. There can be some overlap for species for sure but, unless you know exactly where you want to go and what you want to target, it’s best to bring a wide variety in your fly box(es).

My attempt at a list of the best Billings flies is as follows:

Pat’s Rubber Legs

Since most of the rivers around Billings are freestone rivers, stoneflies are an important part of the fish’s diet. From the Yellowstone to the Stillwater, from Rock Creek to the many ponds and lakes, Pat’s Rubberlegs is a must.

Fish it as a dropper under a big, foam dry fly, under an indicatory, or even twitched/stripped behind a streamer. Trout love this pattern and bass and panfish will eat it in the ponds and lakes too.

Chubby Chernobyl

For the same reasons listed above, the Chubby Chernobyl is a must. Use it to imitate the adult version of a stonefly, use smaller versions to imitate big caddis, and it works twitched as a hopper imitation too.

Bring a variety of sizes and colors for this one. Since it’s a foam body dry fly, it’ll float well in rough water and you can fish heavy nymphs (and even small streamers!) below it. You can catch anything on this fly from trout to carp and crappie to bluegill.

Soft-Hackle Prince Nymph

The Soft-Hackle-Prince Nymph is a go-to in many sizes as well. Larger sizes are great for bigger stoneflies. Medium sizes are great for small stoneflies and big caddis emergers. Small sizes work as small caddis and mayfly emergers.

I recommend a jig version fished as a dropper below a dry fly. Of course, you can nymph it below a strike indicator too. But an overlooked and effective method is to strip/twitch this nymph to imitate swimming/emerging stoneflies, caddis, or mayflies.

Soft-hackle Sow Bug

The soft-hackle sow is a staple on tailwaters including the Bighorn. There are TONS of sow bugs and freshwater shrimp in this system and fish love this high-protein meal. Pack various sizes in tan, pink, gray, orange, and olive.

Not only can you fish them on the bighorn under an indicator, but you can use larger sizes on the freestone rivers just like you would use the Prince Nymph above. The soft hackle can imitate a whole host of emerging insects, especially caddis.

Quill Nymph

This will be mostly a Bighorn fly but can be used on other trout streams.

A handful amount of quill nymph on a white background

The quill nymph is a simple, no-frills nymph that imitates hatching midge or small blue-winged olive emergers. The Bighorn favors black colored nymphs especially fall through spring.

Small sizes (18-22) are preferable and, I often say, if I had only two bugs to fish the Bighorn with, give me a soft-hackle sow and a quill nymph.

Wooly Bugger

For streamer fishing in the Billings area, it’s hard to beat a good-old wooly bugger. You can target almost any of the above-mentioned species with this one streamer.

Fish it stripped on float line, sinking line, or dangle it under a (larger) balloon strike indicator. You can swing it across the current or use a tight-line-high-stick method (and maybe some added split shot) to bounce it off the rocky bottom.

Wooly buggers are great imitations for small forage fish and minnows, and for crayfish which are plentiful in the area.

Find The Best Flies For Any Fishing Scenario:

More About The Best Flies To Use

Billings Hatches

The Billings area has a vast variety of hatches. The hatches vary slightly depending on the water body.

Freestone rivers like the Yellowstone and Stillwater see midge and blue-winged olives (BWO) in the colder months, caddis, PMDs, and golden stoneflies in the warmer months, and terrestrials like hoppers and cicadas in the hot summer. Use San Juan Worms in the high water times. Crayfish can be important to fish’s diet too.

The Bighorn tends to have smaller-sized bugs but follows a similar pattern with midges/BWOs in the cooler weather, PMDs, caddis, tricos, and yellow sallies in the warm months, and mahogany duns and hoppers in the hot summer weather. Sowbugs and shrimp are nearly ever-present. San Juan Worms can be deadly in the high water flows.

The lakes and ponds have plenty of caddis and callibaetis hatches. Leeches and crayfish are important to the fish as well, especially larger and more aggressive fish. Hoppers, ants, and beetles are important during the heat of summer. Damselflies and damsel nymphs are great sources of food in the hot weather too.

Billings Fishing Season

The Billings fishing season lasts all year. From the heat of summer to the dead of winter, you’ll find dedicated sportsmen and women out in pursuit of fish in the area.


Billings gets bitter cold in the winter and can get plenty of snow. January and February can see highs well below zero but only for short stretches. It is not recommended to be out fishing then!

However, when above 0, fishing can actually be quite fun. Most of the time you’ll be ice fishing on Cooney Reservoir or Lake Elmo but the Bighorn stays open (some to no ice) all winter. If you have the right equipment and the temps are above 20ish degrees, you’ll see few people on the river and catch plenty of trout!

April sees a bit of warming vs January and February. The Lakes and freestone rivers can be frozen or slow still but the Bighorn can see awesome midge and BWO hatches.


May starts to feel like summer and, with that, dangerous high flows come. If you can get out before the rivers rise, you’ll find hungry fish. When the rivers are high and muddy, lakes and ponds are a great option as bass and panfish start to heat up. Alpine fishing is still pretty iffy but lower elevation areas may be accessible.

May and June on the Bighorn are really great as flows are controlled by the dam. Fish are hungry and bugs are becoming plentiful.

Early-season boating or shore fishing on Cooney or Yellowtail Reservoirs can be fun too.


This is the height of the fishing season in Billings. You’ll find the most people on the water now but, since the freestone rivers are no longer dangerous, folks can spread out onto pretty much any of the waterways.

July through September has the greatest variety of hatches and adds terrestrials like hoppers and cicadas into the mix as well.

This is prime season for anything alpine. September is still fairly warm in this area but, the later in the month, the more chance for there to be cool, rainy weather (and even snow) in the high altitudes.


October can still be tee-shirt weather. Crowds diminish but the shorter, cooler nights and changing colors make this time of year a spectacular time to fish the Billings area.

Brown trout are getting ready to spawn and can be found aggressively chasing streamers. Other warm-water species can still be aggressive as well as long as the snows haven’t come yet.

By Halloween, there may be some snow on the ground or it may still be only sweatshirt weather. November and December will see some snowfall but the temps are still generally higher than January and February. Fishing a 30-40 degree day in the sun or light snow, be it the Bighorn, Yellowstone, or Stillwater Rivers, in

November or December is hard to beat!

Billings Fishing Report

Fly fishing Billings, MT is generally solid. As of late, the fishing has been pretty solid. With the area’s waterbodies in “hot summer mode,” you’ll want to know where you want to go and what you want to target before heading out.

All species, aside from sturgeon and paddlefish, are in full swing right now. It’s a great time of year to get out and it should stay this way through September.

This is prime time for the Beartooth Wilderness as the weather is warm and days are long enough for day hikes or one-to-many nights of camping.

Freestone Rivers are getting lower but we’ve had a great winter and decent supplemental rains. Hoppers, cicadas and caddis are out in force. Look for deeper riffles for trout to hold in cooler water. Shallow fast water can hold fish too, especially brown trout. They blend in well and find good oxygen and food in there.

The Bighorn is fishing well. Moss is growing and can be a problem but there are lots of hungry fish to be found. Mahogany duns, caddis, and hoppers abound. Sometimes hot days can slow the hatches. If this happens, go to a scud, sow bug, or even a worm.

Lakes and ponds: The water is warming and moss is growing up here too. Fish shallower structure in the shade for bass, pike, and panfish. The deep water is where you’ll find trout and walleye.

Billings Fishing Guides

The Billings area has many guides to choose from. Most guide services are familiar with the area and can guide multiple waterways.

Bighorn Angler

The Bighorn Angler in Ft. Smith is one of the older fly shops and guide services on the Bighorn River. They do trips on the Bighorn, Yellowstone, and local ponds and lakes. Trout are their mainstay but carp and other warm water species are also on the list.

  • Address: Bighorn Angler 73 1st St. E., Forth Smith, MT 59035
  • Website:
  • Phone Number: (866) 979 – 3231

Stillwater Anglers

Stillwater Anglers is located just west of Billings in Columbus. They specialize in the Stillwater River and the Yellowstone River west of Billings. Here you’ll be chasing mostly trout on beautiful freestone rivers.

  • Address: PO Box 969, Columbus, MT 59019
  • Phone Number: (406) 322-4977

Lone Tree Outfitters

Lone Tree Outfitters is based immediately west of Billings in Laurel, Montana. Lone Tree specializes in the Yellowstone River, Bighorn River, and also the Stillwater and Boulder Rivers. Regarding Billings fishing, this is a great resource.

Lone Tree expeditions are booked through East Rosebud Fly and Tackle Shop via the link below:

Billings Fly Shops

Billings isn’t your typical small town with 5 fly shops like some bucket list destinations. Billings and the surrounding area has had its share of fly shops come and go. The following are the current go-to shops.

East Rosebud Fly and Tackle

East Rosebud is probably the current go-to for “hardcore” fly fishers. They pride themselves on being a rock n’ roll style, good time shop with a big selection.

They are in the know for a lot of the area and have shops in Red Lodge and Columbus too. Don’t forget to pick up an Iron Maiden-themed shop tee and a couple of stickers. Throw up the horns as you walk in the door!

For the best updated Billings fishing report, look to East Rosebud’s website.

Scheels Sporting Goods

Scheels is a Midwest-based sporting goods chain with a massive flagship store in Billings. Not only can you get a new rod, flies, and waders, but you can ride a Ferris wheel, get lunch, coffee, and freshly roasted nuts, shop for any sport you can think of, and play arcade games. You can easily spend hours in this store.

  • Address: 1121 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Billings, MT 59102, United States
  • Website:
  • Phone Number: (406) 656-9220

Bighorn Angler

Bighorn Angler is located in Ft. Smith right on the Bighorn River. There’s not much to the town other than two fly shops, some houses and trailers, and a spartan convenience store. Bighorn Angler has all the gear you need for a successful Bighorn River trip.

  • Address: Bighorn Angler 73 1st St. E., Forth Smith, MT 59035
  • Website:
  • Phone Number: (866) 979 – 3231


If you’re looking for something not so ordinary but want to make sure you’re going to be smack dab in the middle of dozens of fishing opportunities, look to Billings on your next trip.

Driving there is easy and the airport has some of the most reasonable flights in the state.

Basing your trip in Billings gives you access to many varied waterways, from large lakes and reservoirs to broad and mighty rivers, from farmland ponds to alpine creeks and glacial lakes.

The varied topography of the region makes the variation in waterways noticeable and exciting. This variation in the landscape and waterways means there is a vast array of different species to target.

Fly fishing Billings, MT should be a priority for anyone who wants something just a little different, (mostly) under the radar, often with fewer crowds, and great variety!

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Born and raised in Billings, MT, Nic was blessed to be brought up in an outdoor-minded family. Fishing and hunting were a part of his familial culture. Blame it on my Aquarius birth or some divine design but, from as early as he can remember, he had to be near or in the water. Guiding since the early 2000s, Nic has thousands of hours of fly fishing and guiding experience and has helped hundreds of people get into the sport of fly fishing, or better their skills as anglers.

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