Most beginner anglers usually start by casting for the first time in a river. Just the range of fish types is sufficient to attract you. Plus, considering that costly gear is not vital and fishing is possible on the river for most of the year, you have a successful combination. If you are new to fishing, this beginner fly fishing guide to Montana Rivers will help you through the basics.

Beginner Fly Fishing in Montana Rivers

If you are a beginner fly fishing in Montana rivers, you will discover that it differs from traditional casting and spinning techniques. Mastering it requires some practice. Yet, it becomes a lifetime commitment once you develop a passion for fly fishing. Many fishermen associate fly fishing with Trout but using this technique, you can also catch various species, such as Bass, Salmon, Carp, and Pike.

It's essential to have the right gear, like fly rods and specialized lines, as well as tippets and fly patterns. You will use flies instead of lures and bait as they can mimic insects, bait fish, and even small rodents and amphibians.

Montana Rivers for Beginner Fly Fishing

Even as a beginner fly fishing in Montana rivers, you’ll have access to some of the top fly fishing rivers in the world. Montana is truly the ultimate destination for a fly fishing adventure, with its renowned tailwaters showcasing trophy fish and high fish per mile counts, along with numerous freestone rivers teeming with wild trout.

Each river in Big Sky Country provides opportunities for anglers to experience a memorable fly fishing adventure, and these top five Montana rivers are perfect for beginner fly fishing.

Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River holds a special significance among Montana rivers. Stretching from Yellowstone National Park to just over the state border, it remains the longest undammed river in the United States, flowing freely and untamed. 

You’ll find large Indigenous Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations in the river above Livingston and wild rainbow and brown trout throughout the stretch. It’s an excellent beginner fly fishing opportunity and represents excellent freestone fishing. 

Large hatches of stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies, along with the yearly hopper bite, create excellent dry fly fishing in Montana. You can use dry flies successfully every day from July to October.

Every year, you can find some of the biggest brown trout caught in Montana in the Yellowstone River, coming from the numerous deep holes along each curve. 

Missouri River

Undoubtedly, one of the finest tailwater Montana rivers is the mighty Missouri River. There are more than 5,000 trout in each mile, with wild trout typically measuring 17-19 inches. As a beginner fly fishing in this river, you’ll witness must-see, consistent hatches that will awe you. 

The Missouri River is known for being a consistent fishing spot throughout the year, a rarity in Montana. However, the best times for beginner fly fishing in this Montana river are April, May, June, late September, and October. 

You can rely on abundant hatches of mayflies and caddisflies to attract Missouri River trout, which frequently feed on dry flies in groups of over 20 fish at once. Nowhere else in Montana can an angler catch two trout over 20 inches with two dry flies on one cast! 

The Missouri River is known for its versatility and dynamic fishing opportunities, with excellent nymphing and streamer fishing year-round. A day spent here is essential for any beginner fly fishing trip in Montana.

Madison River

The Madison River is probably one of the most famous, publicized, and respected Montana rivers. Beginner fly fishing here is a necessary experience if you’re looking to explore Montana rivers. 

Achieving success on the Madison River requires dedicating time to understanding its nuances and flow patterns. Its rapid, lively waters are home to abundant wild brown and rainbow trout populations. Still, the distinct nature of the fifty-mile riffle can make it challenging for inexperienced anglers. 

However, you’ll be glad to discover that the effort is worth it, as you’ll find excellent fly fishing opportunities for some of the largest trout in Montana. You can find trophy-sized rainbow trout and brown trout around every corner, and they frequently take dry flies all year round.

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River is more than just a background for a book and movie. The Blackfoot River is perhaps the ultimate freestone trout stream. It’s beloved by fly fishers in Montana for its crystal-clear waters, native Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and excellent insect hatches. 

Just the landscape itself makes it worth the journey to spend a day fly fishing on the Blackfoot River. Excellent fishing is frequently a pleasant extra benefit. Great beginner fly fishing opportunities are available throughout the Blackfoot River, from its upper reaches to where it meets the Clark Fork River.

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River provides a distinctive beginner fly fishing opportunity in Montana rivers. The wading is excellent, and the fish are substantially growing and large enough to float effortlessly. 

While fly fishing in Montana rivers may seem uncomplicated, some refer to the Bitterroot River as the "Betternot" due to the challenge of catching trout that keep their mouths shut.

It might be the most challenging river, and catching a few fish on some days is a significant achievement. However, that is where its appeal lies. 

Fishing in the Bitterroot River is not always easy. However, it only enhances the unique sensation experienced when you are there at the right moment and location.

Where to Fish?

The next step is figuring out where to fish once you reach your preferred river. Various types of fish have their specific feeding preferences, though there are shared feeding habits you can adhere to.

Typically, it's best to begin exploring near underwater plants and formations. Plants offer protection from predators and lure bait fish and insects, which are vital for the fish. 

As a beginner fly fishing in Montana rivers, you can fish near areas with weed lines, hollow trees, stumps, and low-hanging branches over the water. Large rocks, stones, and heaps of rocks can also draw in small fish, which lure in predators that consume them.

Fishing in the backwaters and tailwaters is best when you're on a rapid river. Fish often struggle to eat when the water is turbulent, resulting in low chances of them detecting your bait. Try your luck by throwing into peaceful waters to catch something valuable.

Changes in current and depth can indicate that fish are feeding in the area. Spot areas of swirling or slowing water and drop-offs in the river bed are indicators to begin fishing. Small fish gather near shifts in currents, and the larger fish that eat them are typically close by.

What Species Can You Catch in Rivers?

The type of fish you can catch while fishing in  Montana rivers depends on your location and the water temperature. Numerous game fish are available to target, and many are perfect for eating, resulting in a double-win situation.

Trout and Salmon favor cold, low-oxygen water temperatures and are commonly available even to a beginner fly fishing in rivers. But remember that they put up a strong and clever fight, are not easily deceived into taking the bait, and are incredibly tasty. It’s why dedicated fishermen see river fishing for Trout, particularly during their spring migration, as a spiritual experience.

You can find Walleye, perhaps the most sought-after cool-water sport fish, in temperatures as high as 70ºF. Northern Pike and Muskellunge are not far behind, but they have the potential to grow much larger. Meanwhile, Yellow Perch are abundant but typically do not exceed a few pounds.

The main focus of warm water species angling should be Bass, specifically Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Striped Bass. Of course, many other options are available, but these two are the most well-liked. Sunfish, Carp, Bluegill, Crappie, and Catfish are also more lively in temperatures of 70–80ºF and are enjoyable to catch.

What Do You Need?

After choosing a river and a specific location, you must prepare the necessary gear for fly fishing a river. Here are some of the essential equipment you need:

Fly Fishing Rod

The initial priority of a beginner fly fishing Montana rivers should be investing in the right rod. It involves knowing how to select the appropriate weight. When choosing a fly rod, you need to consider a few factors. What weight is most suitable for you? What kind of fish are you looking to catch? What type of fly fishing style are you practicing?

While some opt for cues such as watching the flies they use, the force of the wind in their fishing spot, and the size of the catch they want to catch, others have different approaches. Most fishermen choose 3-6 weight rods for trout fishing in rivers and 7-10 weight rods for steelhead or sea-run trout fishing.

Additionally, the rod’s size is a factor you must consider. Some anglers fishing in small streams and rivers could use a 5ft rod, while those fishing in open water like lakes or the sea need a rod between 9ft and 10ft.

Fly Fishing Reel

Even though selecting the right rod is essential, the reel you choose for fly fishing in a river is equally crucial for your success. You’ll use the reel when pulling the fish towards you, as they act as line holders. Considering their purpose, you need fly fishing reels that are both strong and flexible.

You can select your fishing reel based on the weight of your line, with thinner reels suitable for lighter lines and larger reels for heavier lines. However, it is essential to consider balance when selecting a fishing rod, so try it out before buying. Sometimes, the manufacturer's specifications are accurate, while they could be improved at other times.

You should also consider the reel's material. To save money in fly fishing, consider a molded composite reel, which offers good value, although some anglers prefer the stylish machined aluminum reel despite the higher cost.

Another vital factor to consider is the drag generated by your fishing reel. Naturally, drag relies on how the fish interacts with the drag system. Anglers seeking to catch larger fish are likely to choose disk drag reels. Because they are heavier and sturdier, they are more likely to be more effective when you hook a big fish. Meanwhile, those who prefer smaller prey typically choose spring and pawl systems.

Fly Fishing Line

Besides your rod and reel, choosing the right fly fishing line is crucial. You must carefully select the line type and leader choice because they connect the fly to the fly line. The options available may be overwhelming, but you can customize your fishing line to suit the specific requirements of your journey, especially if you’re a beginner fly fishing in Montana rivers.

For instance, when selecting your line, you must consider the water type, the fish species you'll be targeting, and the weight of your rod. The size of the line usually matches your fly rod. If you use a five-weight rod for fishing, pair it with a matching five-weight reel and line.

Leaders and Tippets

After selecting your line, you must choose the appropriate leader, which connects the line to the fly. The main factor to consider is the size of the fish you plan to catch, with larger fish requiring heavier leaders.

The TBMC Experience

At The Bitterroot Mile Club, you can access an exclusive fishing location with some of the liveliest trout populations in Montana. Here, both new and experienced fishermen have memorable fly-fishing adventures.

What makes it special, especially for a beginner fly fishing in Montana rivers? Unlike other busy locations, TBMC provides peaceful fishing areas for solo anglers and those with their family or buddies. 

It’s perfect for those seeking a break from hectic urban living. Furthermore, our knowledgeable guides are always available to assist you during your adventure or improve your skills by offering advice on bait and optimal fishing times that could significantly impact your catch.

Book your next fly fishing trip with Bitterroot Mile Club for a remarkable adventure!