Montana Public Waters
I have fished & will fish any rivers in Montana. My primary guiding area is 6. Then 3 & 7, as I'd love to guide Missouri & Bighorn Rivers -Two of the world-famous tailwater fisheries.
- Yellowstone River: Perhaps the most diverse and fabled river in the West, "'Stone" offers every kind of fishing tactics and situation. 'Stone sometimes can be complicated and unpredictable as it's a truly a "Free River". "If you can learn to read the waters of the Yellowstone River and consistently take trout, you can travel the world and consistently be a successful fly angler." (Don Williams, 1976). I do both walk/wade and float trips along this mighty river, from Gardiner to east of Big Timber.
- Madison River: From the head of "50-mile Riffle" to Lower Madison around Bozeman, I do both walk/wade and float trips. Fishing Madison is like a "shooting game". Everything goes fast and you have to be focusing (not to mention be awake!). From "match-the-hatch" situations, heavy nymph rigs, to stripping streamers, I can offer every kind of tactics & knowledge that you can take home!
- Gallatin River: I personally would like to emphasize and offer walk/wade trips just around Montana/Yellowstone Park boundary = Mile Marker 31. That's probably the most beautiful stretch. As I'm outfitted by outfitters who have both Yellowstone Park & National Forest Service Guide Permissions, I can guide both. Montana section between MM31 & confluence of Taylor Fork can be crowded for right reasons, but if that's the case, we will walk along the Park section. Gallatin is known to be one of the coldest streams but once it's ready, summer fishing is tremendous!
- Boulder River: One of major tributaries to Yellowstone River, merging at the town of Big Timber (about 30 miles east of Livingston). This river itself is a great fishery. Some stretches are hard to reach as bordered by private ranches. Natural Bridge is worth a detour for a little sightseeing.
- Missouri River: The "Mighty MO" is indeed the largest water-system in Montana. This tail-water fishery offers diverse fishing opportunities. Just like Bighorn River (below), constant fishing with nymphs, streamers, and dry-flies is expected. However, perhaps The Missouri would be known for its incredible insect hatches and large trout that are selectively feeding as if they are in spring creeks. Well, here's your "Spring Creek Specialist". Float trip only. Multi-day trip can be arranged.
- Bighorn River: One of the most famous tail-water fisheries in Montana, if not all over the West. We can expect consistent fishing either with nymphs, streamers, or dry-flies with match-the-hatch situations. This is the float trip only. Since it's a long haul from Livingston, I'd like to suggest to plan a multi-day trip. Town of Fort Smith provides some excellent lodges where you can rest comfortably after long days of fishing. Besides fishing, Little Bighorn Battle Field (aka Custer's Last Stand) is worth a detour.
Yellowstone National Park
- Madison River: From the opening day to closure, Madison shows us all kinds of faces. Season starts with PMD & caddis hatches -long story short- ends with fall baetis hatch and swinging large soft-hackles. "Only 20% of those fishing this stretch catch fish" (Charles Brooks 1974). If you want to join "20%", come on over!
- Firehole River: Fishing Firehole is probably the uniquest experience one can ever have. Surrounded by geysers and wildlife, atmosphere is nothing different from when the 19th century mountain-men and Native Americans were roaming the area. Then this "rich insect factory" will really push anglers to the edge of "match-the-hatch" fishing!! I learned how to turn "challenge & complication" into "smile"!!
- Gibbon River: Gibbon offers mix of opportunities; from fall-runner fishing below the fall, sections suitable for beginners, to meadow sections with match-the-hatch. Gibbon drainage is one of a few Grayling habitats in Lower 48 too. Walking along banks of Gibbon will make you feel you might have time-tripped to 19th century!
- Yellowstone River: Home of native Yellowstone Cutthroat and synonymous to Wilderness, 'Stone in the Park shows different flavors from Lower River in Montana. Upper section is truly a "Giant Spring Creek" and fishing along Grand or Black Canyon offers greater wilderness tours one can ever experience!! Come & see pure strain of Native Cutty!!
- Lamar River: Lamar is one of the biggest tributaries to Yellowstone River. So it does host healthy population of native Cutty! It can be too crowded during summer months as it runs along the road. However, a good guide (like myself) knows how to navigate crowds and conducts actual fishing (not visiting). Summer terrestrial fishing is the main attraction but Lamar does offer some serious match-the-hatch situations!
- Slough Creek: Hiking or horseback riding up to famous three meadows is a great experience for anybody. However, Lower Meadow below campground is a totally different story. If you want to challenge super technical and ultimate match-the-hatch situations, Lower Meadow is the place to be. I can't be responsible if you go home crying (unless you hire me!). "Super Techy" means knowing hatches, fly selection, presentation, casting (over 60 feet if needed), and not to mention drag-free. Lower Meadow is probably the TOUGHEST SPRING CREEK in the WORLD. It hosts Native Cutty, Rainbow, and hybrid Cutbow. Cutbow is so feisty!! If you want ultimate challenge, I'm your huckleberry!!
- Soda Butte Creek: Soda Butte is a nice little roadside stream. It's another home of native Yellowstone Cutty. Most of visiting anglers spend barely a few hours here and walk over to hike up to upper section of Lamar.........That works for me and my clients.
- Gardner River: Gardner provides diverse characters and fishing situations to any levels of anglers. It's such a lovely and enjoyable river. River can be accessible from numerous spots along town of Gardiner, MT to around Mammoth Hot Springs within Yellowstone Park. You may catch lots of small trout (brown, rainbow, brook, cutty, and even whitie) but be aware you may encounter some huge surprises any time!!, especially in the fall, when large browns come up to spawn from Yellowstone River.
These waters are within private ranches owned by ranching families. We have to pay daily rod-fees. I'd say we are buying a true "Montana Package" for a day. Of course fishing is great! But also give your best regards to these family ranches and world famous waters. They are true working ranches with plenty of history and thriving for generations from Western Frontier era. Besides healthy trout, I love to watch their "critters" (cows, calves, deer, and any other wildlife!). Since three spring creeks maintain their own websites, please visit them for more information.
- Armstrong Spring Creek (www.armstrongspringcreek.com): O'Hair Ranch is really a working ranch, not "dude" ones you see in vacation ads (but they do offer vacation cabins, check it!). Every time I visit, I first observe their cows & calves (great condition!!) and then say hi to horses, dogs, deer, and peacocks before I get dressed into my wader. You can visit where spring comes out, which eventually runs into Depuy's property. 1.5-mile creek is filled with lots of wild trout. Every tactics, spot, and season is enjoyable.
- DePuy Spring Creek (www.depuyspringcreek.com): The best feature and significant difference of Depuy from other two creeks is nothing but the length. 3-mile creek features tremendous diversity and lots of characters. In other words, it provides all kinds of fly-fishing situations and challenges!! Truly a classroom of fly-fishing for any level of anglers. You can spend countless days (for different spot, tactics, and season) once you are hooked........
- Nelson's Spring Creek (www.nelsonsspringcreek.com): Nelson's is the shortest of the three, 0.5-mile. In that sense, it's easy to walk around from top to bottom, but fishing can be diverse in that short run. During match-the-hatch situations, casting dry-flies to trout rising at flat sections or ones cruising along shallows will require the best out of your best for your skills, knowledge, and fly selections. But also never forget that nymphs and streamers will do great jobs as well....
- Story Lakes: Story Ranch locates in Emigrant, MT, about 20 miles south from Livingston. Ranch sits on a few miles of dirt road up to the mountain, which provides scenic driving. Then both Upper & Lower lake are located in another few miles of dirt roads away!! It's a different taste from visiting spring creeks but it's the same Montana wilderness and traditional working ranch. Upper lake holds some huge rainbows. Lower lake is smaller than Upper, instead holds some huge Brookies.
- Burns Lake: Burns Ranch locates just north of Big Timber, MT. This is another real working cattle ranch. Spring-fed lake is in the middle of cattle pasture. Lake hosts some humongous rainbows, brookies, cutthroats, and browns!! There are abundant aquatic insects and terrestrials so dry-fly fishing for "cruiser" and "gulpers" is really challenging and very rewarding when you make it right!!
- Sitz Angus Ranch: Sitz Angus Ranch is another real working ranch around here, located between Norris and Harrison (both are typical of one-church-one-postoffice-one-bar towns in Montana). In their magnificent pastures, there are 4 ponds as parts of ranch ecosystem. Those ponds are very fertile and nutritious. Hence, stocked trout will grow into trophy sizes rapidly. Then again, they are not just easy-to-catch pushovers. If you work and get lucky, it will be the memorable one for your trip!!
Mountain Streams & Backpacking
This is the list of what I'd love to do myself and what I suggest for consideration to others who share same interests. Both in Montana (now I'm talking about entire state) and Yellowstone National Park (YNP), there are numerous small mountain streams for a day-hike and backpacking/camping destinations for multi-days. If you are interested in all combo of fly-fishing/hiking/camping/backpacking into mountains (small streams & alpine lakes), there are countless destinations which are way beyond my writing here. Get appropriate maps and books! This is not really my guiding list but just my own easy-to-do list from Livingston.
- Mill Creek: It runs from Absarokas till it joins Yellowstone River around town of Pray, MT (15 miles south of Livingston). When we float "Birds" (Gray Owl to Mallards Rest), we stop by the confluence for lunch and some wade-fishing up to the bridge of East River Rd. Above the bridge, creek is inaccessible due to private properties but there are a few spots to park and fish. Public campground is located in the way up. Most of fish are small but compensate your experience by the number. You may encounter a surprise every now and then!
- West Boulder River: A beautiful mountain stream that catches up with Main Boulder. Unfortunately most of juicy looking runs from the road are within private properties. Good thing is the very upper end is in National Forest Service area so there is an official parking lot and trails. Such a gorgeous destination for hiking and backpacking!
- Slough Creek (YNP): If you are staying in lodges in Gardiner, Cooke City, or Livingston, MT (not camping), yet still want to do some hiking & fishing in a single day, first two meadows can be still doable. Upper Meadows are filled with only Native Cutty......
- Cascade & Grebe Lakes (YNP): If you are after reclusive Grayling in Lower 48, These two lakes within YNP are great bets!! Trails to each lakes are long but very enjoyable. But also a "Be Bear Aware" country........