Fly Fishing At Its Finest

by Mike DuFresne

The fly fishing in the Billings area of south central Montana is some of the best in the state. It’s so good that the Bighorn River is rated as one of the best trout fisheries in the world. Here is some information on our favorite local waters.

Bighorn River

This is the world renowned fishery that anglers are most familiar with. The portion of the river most commonly fished is a 13 mile section below the Yellowtail Dam on the Crow Indian Reservation near the small government community of Fort Smith (Yellowtail). This is approximately 90 miles southeast of Billings and 45 miles south of Hardin.

Because of the year round stable flows of cold clear water, this river sustains an incredibly large population of aquatic insects, which in turn can support a population of catchable trout that numbers over 6,000 per mile. There is a mixture of rainbow and brown trout in the river with brown trout being the most abundant. An average fish is over 14 inches with four-year-old trout averaging 20 inches. The primary food sources are freshwater shrimp, aquatic sowbugs, midges, and incredible mayfly and caddis fly hatches.

Whether you like to fish dry flies, nymphs or streamers, this is a great river for all. With so many fish, this is also a great river to learn how to fly fish as your opportunities of catching fish are more than double any other river in Montana. A guide is always recommended for your first outing on this river to ensure the best fishing experience.

The Stillwater River

This classic freestone river is located approximately 45 miles west of Billings and flows into the Yellowstone River just outside of Columbus. This river is much more typical when picturing a Montana trout stream. A free-flowing river that is the farthest thing from still, the Stillwater has fast water riffles, deep pools, large meanders, slippery boulders and incredible scenery. The best fishing is from April through September for brown and rainbow trout that readily take flies from the surface. An average fish on this river will be around ten inches with a large fish being fifteen inches or more. For a quick getaway from Billings, this is your best bet. There are at least ten public access points along over 30 miles of river. Primarily fished with a large dry fly with a bead head dropper, the fishing can be fast and furious. Streamers work well for those die-hards looking for the big one. A guided float trip in a raft is the recommended method of fishing, however, with the large amount of access, this is one that’s fun to fish on your own.

The Lower Yellowstone River

The portion of the Yellowstone below Livingston holds a large population trout that are most easily caught from a drift boat. This wild and scenic river is home to rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout along with whitetail and mule deer, bald eagles, and many other furred and feathered creatures. Because of the size of the river and limited access points, the Yellowstone is best fished with a guide and a drift boat. April and May and then July to October is prime time to fish. June is usually high water month from the melting mountain snow and for much of the month is virtually unfishable. Large dry flies with droppers, streamers and late summer grasshoppers provide some incredible fishing. This is the river for you if you want to be away from the crowds and want the experience of Montana and the longest free-flowing river in the country.

Monster Lake

If you want to catch a real Monster, this one is for you. With the average fish weighing over 4 pounds, this private lake is your best shot at fish weighing in the double digits. Just a two-hour drive from Billings, Monster Lake is approximately 10 miles southeast of Cody, Wyoming. The lake is one of the richest in food in our region supporting large numbers of very big rainbow, brown, brook and even a few cutthroat trout. This 150-acre lake is limited to twelve fly fishers a day and all fish must be released. Either fished with a guide or on your own, you can count on some trophy photos to take back home.