Cliche is not always best. There are numerous extremely well-known fly fishing towns in Montana. These towns and local waters fill up early in the summer with anglers who plan on spending the better part of the summer chasing trophy fish.

Missoula, Montana is one of those lesser known towns that does not receive nearly the amount of visitors that you might find in Bozeman. Take advantage of these areas. The fly fishing in Missoula, Montana is world class and a perfect fit for the die hard.

You can find every type of fishing you would want in Missoula. Plus, when you see the size of fish, you’ll wonder why you never visited before.

Don’t miss our full guide to Fly Fishing in Montana.

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Fly Fishing Missoula: Why Go?

Every time I visit Missoula I find a new section of water to fish and run into some of the most friendly anglers in the world. The fly shops are appreciative of the business and willing to give out wonderful tips and tricks.

An angler fly fishing in the river of Missoula

Plus, the beautiful scenery and nice amount of seclusion is wonderful. Missoula is a beautiful western town that’s going to blow your mind in a variety of ways. Don’t even think about skipping it on your next trip out west!

Species For Missoula Fly Fishing

The species of fish you find in the rivers surrounding Missoula are similar to the ones you find in the majority of other Montana rivers. You’ll appreciate their size as well as plentiful numbers. It’s not easy to find areas to fish with such large fish counts!

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are one of the more popular populations of fish that you’ll find near Missoula. Each of the four surrounding rivers hold these fish. They thrive in colder waters filled with insects. Thankfully, you don’t have to drive too far out of town to find some of these fish.

You can find these between 12-18 inches in the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Rock Creek and Blackfoot Rivers. Bring your 4 or 5-weight when targeting these fish. Also, make sure you target them with PMD’s, Caddis flies as well as Pheasant Tail Nymphs.

Fly Fishing in Oregon for Redband Rainbows

The rainbow trout population across the nation is dropping. As a result, you need to be extremely careful when you handle these fish. Make sure to wet your hands before you handle them and keep them in the water as long as you possibly can.

Brown Trout

Brown Trout are another common species that you’ll find in the rivers surrounding Missoula. These are more hearty than rainbow trout. You’ll be surprised at how large these fish grow and where they can survive.

It’s still important to remember that these fish need to be cared for in the most careful way possible. Bring along your 4 to 6-weight rods when targeting these fish. They can grow upwards of 25 inches in the waters surrounding Missoula.

Westsloap Cutthroat

The upper portion of the Bitterroot River is home to a nice population of Westsloap Cutthroat. These fish are not easy to find! When you do hook into one, you’ll know. They fight harder than almost every other type of trout species. It’s an honor landing one of these.

These cutthroat also happen to be obsessed with dry flies! They spend the majority of their time looking at the surface for something to eat. Make sure you indulge these fish in their cravings!

Wild westslope cutthroat trout caught in Montana.

These fish are also in danger. Please do your part in caring for them. Use barbless hooks, keep them in the water and wet your hands before handling them. We can’t lose any more of these beautiful fish.

Bull Trout

The final fish you must target near Missoula is the Bull Trout. These fish are aptly named. They’re large and mean. If you are fortunate enough to hook into one of these, you’re going to be quite pleased with the result!

Best Spots For Fly Fishing Missoula

You have four world class rivers to fish just a few minutes outside of Missoula. Make sure you block off five or six days when you make your visit. You have to leave time to spend a day on each of these bodies of water! You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River is one of the premier dry fly fisheries in Montana. You can start throwing dries around March and all the way through October. It’s easy to find gravel bars, deep pools and a nice amount of seams throughout this river.

You can float and wade this river. It’s very angler friendly. If you’re new to the sport and want to cut your teeth, make sure you do it on the Bitterroot. The Upper Bitterroot north of Hamilton is home to the population of the Westslope Cutthroat.

Fly fishing Bitterroot River

Make sure you visit the upper portion of the river when you fish the Bitterroot. Again, these cutthroat trout are always looking up! They want to eat your drive. Bring those Caddis and Mayfly patterns and wait for the evening hatch.

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot also holds a nice amount of the Westslope Cutthroat. It also has a nice population of Bull Trout. This is a great river. It’s clear, has all of the “fishy” looking areas and holds some impressively large fish.

If you choose to fish the Blackfoot, make sure you spend your time in the Box Canyon. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of water that you’ll find in the western United States. This portion of the river is best done via drift boat.

This canyon is also filled with impressive brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout. Anglers who love to fish with streamers need to make sure to fish the Blackfoot.

Bring the salmon flies, stone flies and Green Drakes!

Clark Fork

The Clark Fork has been through quite a bit in the past 200 years. It was the home of one of the largest floods in Montana history and has seen quite a bit of sediment and toxic materials enter its waters.

However, after a few hundred million dollars in relief efforts, the Clark Fork is beginning to regain its form. The Clark Fork is home to 160 miles of wild trout water. You’re going to have your skills tested when you fish on the Clark Fork.

fly fishing Clark Fork

The casting lanes aren’t easy and the fish can be a bit picky. However, it’s your duty as a fly angler to take advantage of this river. It was almost lost at one point so we need to experience all the efforts that have been made to restore it to its former glory.

Spend time downstream of Missoula and make sure you’re equipped with Mayflies, terrestrials and Caddis flies.

Best Flies For Missoula

There are dozens of flies that are going to catch you fish in Missoula. The biggest thing to remember is that your flies need to be presented accurately. The fish aren’t going to eat if you’re not making it appealing!

Golden Stone Flies

Any angler that fishes in Montana wants to experience a Stonefly hatch. All of the rivers surrounding Missoula have these hatches. The Golden Stone Flies are the fly pattern to keep in your box. As soon as you start seeing the “sheds” of these flies, start throwing them.

Spend the majority of your time drifting them along the cut banks. If you fish an area with vegetation along the bank, this is even better!

Hopper

Once August hits, get ready for the terrestrial bite. The Hopper flies are going to lead to some of the best strikes of the year! There’s something amazing about seeing a 20 inch fish slurp your fly from the top of the water.

Make sure you throw these with 3x leader and 4x tippet. You don’t need your fish getting spooked because of a poor setup.

Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis are going to need to have a home in your fly box. These flies drive the trout crazy on all of the rivers around Missoula. It’s important to use these flies with floating lines. If your line starts pulling the fly underneath, you won’t be happy with your results.

Also, make sure you cover these flies in floatant. You want them sitting high on the surface so the trout can easily identify it and think it’s a fully grown adult. Cast this fly near any rise that you see and wait.

Skwalas

Skwala flies are great flies to use earlier in the season. These are going to be most successful from April to June. If you’re itching to get out on the water before the true runoff season begins, make sure you have these in size 10-16. You’ll be pleased with the result.

Blue Winged Olives

Blue Winged Olives should also have a home in your box. They’re a bit smaller and difficult to operate, but when you see them hatching in the evenings, you must use them! You’ll find them hatching late and early in the season.
 

Missoula Fishing Season

Missoula is best fished from late-June through September. Make sure you’re either fishing before the runoff begins or wait until late-June when it starts to subside. The summer months in Missoula are beautiful. You can stand in the cool water even if the temperatures are hot.

Missoula Fishing Report

The water around Missoula seems to be fishing well all year round. I last fished the Blackfoot late in July and had plenty of success. The fish were hiding deep in the pools. I threw streamers throughout the day and had a heck of a time during the Caddis hatch in the evening.

Conclusion

Missoula, Montana is a staple in the fly fishing community.  It takes a little more effort to reach, but you’ll be pleased with your result. You’re not too far from Idaho and some other phenomenal water.

You have over 350 miles of water to fish within a few hours of Missoula. You won’t be skunked and you’ll leave with a lifetime of memories on your next visit to Missoula!