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Choosing a destination for your next fly fishing adventure isn’t always easy. There are so many wonderful places to fish across the world that choosing just one can be a stressful experience. Bozeman, Montana, could be the destination for your next five fly fishing adventures, however.
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Choosing Bozeman as a home base will allow you to fish hundreds of miles of world-class water. I head to Bozeman for fly fishing when I’m looking for a chance to float a powerful river and also finesse my way through tight mountain streams, sometimes in the same day.
It’s true, whatever you’re looking for, Bozeman has something for you. Besides being a world-class fly fishing destination, it’s also a fun town and a great place to experience authentic Montana, especially in local hangouts like the Rocking R Bar.
Don’t miss our full guide to Fly Fishing in Montana.
Fly Fishing Bozeman: Why Go?
I made my first visit to Bozeman five years ago and make an effort to return on a yearly basis. The wonderful accommodations, breathtaking scenery and top-notch fishing make it difficult to avoid. I’ve been back four times and have fished new water every single time.
This town has something for everybody. If you need a break from the water, there’s an ample amount of restaurants and sightseeing you can do. You can bring your family, sneak away for a day trip, and land some trophy trout. Bozeman gives you the chance at any sort of outdoor activity you could ever want.
Species for Bozeman, Montana Fly Fishing
The waters surrounding Bozeman give anglers the chance to catch fish they couldn’t catch anywhere else in the world. The trout populations are extremely healthy, and the different fish you can target make it even more exciting.
Brown trout are some of the most popular fish you’ll find near Bozeman. The Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone and Jefferson rivers all hold these fish. I’ve caught lots of brown trout upwards of 23 inches in these waters.
Brown trout are some of the heartiest trout on the planet. They can survive in some difficult places, so keep that in mind as you target them. The dry fly hatches in western Montana are to die for. As a result, go after these fish with stonefly, caddis and a variety of mayfly patterns.
Rainbow trout are the other most common species of trout you’ll find in western Montana. They aren’t as prevalent as the brown trout, but you won’t have any trouble finding these fish in all of the major rivers and streams around Bozeman.
These fish aren’t as hearty as brown trout, so be sure you’re fishing in healthy water with plenty of oxygen and food. The most hatches happen in summer. Salmonflies, hoppers, ants and Elk Hair Caddis flies are a must when you’re targeting these fish.
They’ll also eat a variety of streamers.
Perhaps the most prized fish near Bozeman is the cutthroat. The western strain of the cutthroat is beautiful. The bright colors and impressive fight these fish provide keep me coming back year after year. I’ve struggle to find larger cutthroat anywhere else in the country!
You can land these in the Yellowstone, Madison and Gallatin rivers. They’re a bit pickier than brown or rainbow trout, so focus on making accurate presentations and choosing the proper fly.
Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tail Nymphs as well as salmonfly patterns will give you great success.
Mountain whitefish wander the waters near Bozeman. These are an extremely common fish and depending on what you’re targeting, you may not be too happy that you landed one! However, they put up a great fight and can grow upwards of 25 inches.
Fish any clean body of water near Bozeman and you’ll find a mountain whitefish. If you’re targeting them specifically, use deep diving midge nymphs as well as streamers. Crayfish, minnow and leech patterns will all be successful with these fish.
Best Spots for Fly Fishing Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman has hundreds of spots you can fish within 50 miles of the city. You can visit the local fly shops to gain up-to-date information on where to fish, but the areas listed below have proven to be successful for years.
Pine Creek on the Yellowstone River
Pine Creek is a great place to access the Yellowstone if you’re trying to fish it on foot. Many anglers choose to tackle the Yellowstone in a drift boat, but if this isn’t possible, go ahead and try near the Pine Creek access point. You can easily access it outside of town.
When fishing the Yellowstone, be sure you have your 6-weight handy. This river is big and powerful and so are the fish. Focus on fishing the seams and the foam lines. This is where the food will be.
If you’re fishing dries, do your best to wade out and cast towards shore. The fish will sit along the banks looking for larger flies to fall into the water. For streamers and nymphs, you can fish from shore if you’d like.
Woolly Buggers and minnows are the best streamers you can use. Make sure they’re reaching the lower portions of the water column. On warm days, the monsters hang near the bottom. Cast upstream, let it drift in front of you, and as soon as it starts swinging, strip! Fish will often hit on the swing or first strip.
Beartrap Canyon on the Madison
This is my favorite spot to fish on the Madison River. While it’s about an hour outside of Bozeman, it holds some of the best views in all of the area, as well as great fish. You’ll find pools, pocket water and riffles. It’s a great area to fish and test all of your skills.
Be aware that you’ll have to hike into the canyon. It’s not too challenging of a hike and the access is plentiful. Even if you come across other anglers, you’ll have ample areas to fish and won’t find yourself too close to anyone.
Bring your 5-weight and your fair share of nymphs and dry flies. The pocket water is where I’ve had the most success. Cast a Prince Nymph or Pheasant Tail along the sides of the pockets and let them get sucked into it. Fish will likely hit here!
You have to pick and choose your spots, but pulling one fish out of each pocket is extremely entertaining. You’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something by the end of the day. The harder you’re willing to work, the more seclusion you’ll find.
Squaw Creek off of the Gallatin
Squaw Creek is around 30 minutes outside of Bozeman. This is where I’ve caught dozens of cutthroat trout. If this is what you’re after, I’d definitely recommend the creek. It’s filled with great riffles and pools. Finesse fishing is required, but it’s not too tight!
You can get away with a 4-weight along Squaw Creek. Bring your fair share of salmon flies and Beadhead Nymphs. Parachute Adams flies will also provide you with a great opportunity to land fish.
Since this is a tributary off of the Gallatin, you’ll have the chance to fish bigger water if you’d like. Divide your time between the creek and the Gallatin and see what you can find. You can easily make a day trip out of fishing both Squaw Creek and the Gallatin.
Before you go, work on your river loading and finesse casts. You don’t want to ruin pools or riffles with poor casts. Since the stream is clear, the fish can pick out a poorly presented fly in a heartbeat.
Best Flies for Bozeman, Montana
There are a specific few flies that are guaranteed to work for fly fishing in Bozeman, Montana. They’re known for the impressive dry fly hatches along with fish willing to hit some larger streamers.
The Mega Prince Nymph is money near Bozeman. Fish it in sizes 4 to 6. It’ll fall in the water column and anger some of those larger fish who don’t want to deal with anything infiltrating their area.
Tie this on with 3x leader and 4x tippet. You may need a split shot depending on the size of water you’re fishing, but be sure you bring along some of these!
Black Crystal Bugger
The Black Crystal Bugger in size 6-8 will work great. During runoff season, go ahead and tie on this fly. It’s dark enough that the fish will pick it out in the murkier water. Use 1 or 2x leader with it.
The Sex Dungeon in size 2-4 is a staple in fly fishing, and it’ll land you fish in Bozeman. If you’re a fan of streamer fishing, make sure the Sex Dungeon is included in your arsenal.
Griffiths Gnat is a must for anyone fishing near Bozeman. The gnats get worse and worse as the season continues. Have this available in sizes 16-20. Fish it in the morning or the evenings and you’ll find yourself with a heap of fish.
It’s also imperative that you have an ample supply of Salmonflies. These flies are awesome to fish and the trout love them. Starting around Mother’s Day and continuing through the summer, Salmonflies are a must!
Bozeman, Montana Fishing Season
It’s best to go fly fishing in Bozeman Montana right at the end of runoff (late June) through September. These are the most productive months of the year. The earlier you can fish, the more uneducated the fish will be!
Bozeman Fly Shops
Bozeman has nearly 10 fly shops you can visit on your trip. They all offer great products and advice. We also have a guide to all of the best Bozeman Fly Shops, so don’t miss it.
Bozeman Family Fly Shop
This is the perfect spot for someone new to fly angling! They offer information, classes and gear for anglers of all ages and levels. If you don’t want to be intimidated, this is an excellent spot for you to check out.
The River’s Edge Fly Shop
The customer service at The River’s Edge is great. You’ll have all of your questions answered and won’t be pressured to buy gear. All in all, you’ll have a great experience. They offer guided trips too, if you’re interested.
The Montana Angler is a great spot to go if you want a guided trip on one of the surrounding rivers. They have a wonderful selection of guides and can provide you with all of the information you need to be successful.
Bozeman, Montana is one of the few places in the world where you’ll always find prolific fly anglers. The best in the world spend quite a bit of time here. The first experience landing fish on these waters is something you’ll never forget.
I’ll never forget mine. I caught a whole lot of trout, and that first trip five years ago led to at least five more. Now, for me, heading out for some fly fishing in Bozeman, Montana is a yearly adventure.
Do yourself a favor and visit. You’ll at least have the opportunity to say you’ve fished these waters. It’ll be something for the memory book!
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