Waters: where we fish

Rivers & Streams


A major freestone river, the Yellowstone has three distinct reaches in our area:

  1. the upper section near Gardiner featuring many native Cutthroat trout in boulder-filled drops with slow tailouts,
  2. the meandering Paradise Valley section holding Cutt's, Rainbows, and Browns shaded by cottonwood banks,
  3. it's prairie incarnation east of Livingston in a stretch known for gravelbars, deep banks, and slab-side Browns.

A big, long river, the 'Stone has plenty of floats to choose from; it's my main choice for variety angling.


My personal favorite, this relatively steep drainage runs from its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park down Gallatin canyon past Big Sky, then braids through the "Valley of the Flowers" (Gallatin valley) in dense cottonwood, birch, and dogwood tree stands that bracket huge gravelbars, finally relaxing in wide bends just before it joins the Jefferson and Madison to create the Missouri. Home to feisty Rainbows, some heavy Browns, and even the occasional Brookie. Great "prospecting" water - you know, the kind that hides a trout just where a trout should be.


World-famous as the "fifty-mile riffle", the upper Madison above the town of Ennis holds some of the most interesting riffle-pool combinations available. Best approached by floating, the top of the "upper" is Rainbow country, while a little further downstream at Varney Bridge, it braids into multiple channels, each with its own hidden corners and deep runs holding some surprisingly big Brown trout. Downstream from Ennis and below Beartrap Canyon, the "lower" Madison winds between exposed cliffs and rounded hills as it heads to the Missouri. This slower, shallower stretch is fantastic early - and late-season water where Browns and Rainbows reside.


The one and only, a classic known for its June Salmonfly hatch. The Big Hole runs in a gentle curve from south to north to east through a deep canyon and wide haying meadows on its way to join the Beaverhead to build the Jefferson. Typical of rivers west of the Continental Divide, the Big Hole's water is tea-colored from the forest tannins, and the fish thrive in good water years. Browns and Rainbows cruise through its rocky runs and hide in its deep pools. Foamlines, eddys, sweepers, and gravelbars offer multiple opportunities for the ready angler. Two-day stay highly recommended.


The tailwater section below Clark Canyon Dam is among the most productive waters west of the divide. The constant cool-water temperature regime is an ecological niche that grows big fish and sports great hatches. Lower down, the twists and braids will keep you on your best casting behavior as we watch for sippers clustered at the top of a drop or under the edge of a grassy bank. In the 70's and 80's, trout in the "beav" used to go for big, ugly bugs; now, it's all small stuff: nymphs, scuds, sowbugs, emergers, and relatively tiny dryflies. Popular all year, this river isn't the most scenic, but you'll have your eyes on the water watching for big noses most of the time.


Just below Yellowtail Dam, this is a river that looks like a spring creek. The cooler water-temperature regime promotes thick mayfly and caddis hatches, correspondingly high nymph counts, and healthy fish. The absolutely clear water and high catch-rate make this a prime spot for anglers nationwide. Soft hills and aged cottonwoods line the banks of this premier river. Good nymphing and excellent "head-hunting" make for long days and happy clients. Two-day minimum stay.


Another classic, HGS enjoys the tailwater section below Holter Dam and on down to Pelican Point. Slow, deep, and gentle, the "Mo" harbors some of the best Rainbow fishing around with pods of noses bullying the frequent hatches. Steep, spectacular cliffs and rolling hills mark its progress north, and the dryfly fishing can't be matched anywhere - well, maybe except for its brother tailwater, the Bighorn. Two-day minimum stay.

Spring Creeks


This is one of the original Montana spring creeks. Sliding through a heritage cattle ranch, this beauty is extremely popular with the dryfly crowd. Clockwork hatches inspire Rainbows and Browns alike to sip, slurp, and slash. Nymphing fills in the downtime between the classic mayfly emergences - Baetis, Pale Morning Duns, Sulphurs. Reservations required, so think ahead.


Pronounced "De PEW", this three-mile creek is just downstream from Armstrong's - in fact, it's the same water running through different property. The owners have put some thought and maintenance into their stretch, creating one of the best angling situations in Paradise Valley. Riffles, glides, drops, ponds, deep runs, twisting corners: They're all here, home to some of the smartest trout I've met. Bring your light rod, try some new flies, and have a ball. Again, reservations and early planning a must.


The original Montana spring creek, this one is a classic. Relatively short, but packed with trout and hatches, Nelson's has seen it's ups and downs, but currently, it's re-emerging as one to try. Right alongside the creek is the Nelson fish hatchery where trout are grown for restaurants - a sight worth seeing on it's own, if you can break away from the risers snuggled up against the weed-mats or tucked under the logs. Take your time: patience has it's rewards around here.


An old-timer made new again. Ranch-owner Tom Milesnick has won numerous awards for the work he's done rehabilitating Thompson and Benhart creeks on his ranch and the results are all in your favor. Much deeper than the other creeks, this one winds for several trout-hiding miles 'til it blends with the East Gallatin. Not open all year, you must make reservations long in advance to sample the tricky delights of Milesnick's. Don't be shy; Be ready.

River flow data for Friday, December 15, 2017

Names link to info Flows link to charts

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Trout rising for a mayfly