Montana Guided Fly Fishing Trips: What You Need to Know – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Montana Guided Fly Fishing Trips: What You Need to Know

What to expect on a Fins and Feathers guided fly fishing trip in Montana.

Visions of 20-inch trout attacking your dry fly are keeping you up at night. Tomorrow you'll be fishing with Fins and Feathers Fly Shop and Guide Service. You've seen videos of Montana fly fishing but you're not sure what it will really be like.

Whether you're brand new to the sport or have been fishing for years, here's some information on what to expect during a day on the water with Fins and Feathers.

Meeting your Guide

Your day will actually start the night before, with a call from one of our fly fishing guides. Your guide will want to confirm a meeting time and place. Usually it's at our location between 8 and 9 a.m., but things can change based on the time of year or your travel plans. He or she will also ask if you have any allergies or food preferences. Guides provide a deli lunch, usually consisting of a sandwich, pasta salad, chips and a cookie. The guide will also bring a cooler with a variety of soft drinks. You can tell your guide about your experience, expectations, any time restraints and if there is a particular river you would like to fish. Remember, your guide's goal is for you to have a good time. The more information you provide, the better chance the guide will have at meeting your expectations, even if that simply means, you'd like to go on the prettiest float.

The Plan

You might create a tentative plan, but the conversation will likely end with your guide saying something like, "Sounds good. I'll check the weather and river flows in the morning to make sure nothing changes." Overnight rainstorms can dirty rivers, and strong winds can make for a less enjoyable day on the water.

Conditions, along with your expectations, determine where we'll fish. We have literally hundreds of river miles at our disposal. Every evening, our guides talk with each other, and other guides, so they have a pretty good handle on what stretches of which river are fishing the best and are least crowded. We fish the Madison, Yellowstone, Gallatin and Jefferson rivers. Each river has their own charm, but depending on the time of year, certain sections of each fish better than others.

Time of the year plays a huge role in determining when and where you will be fishing. In-depth descriptions for our best fly fishing seasons can be found below.

Spring Fly Fishing

Early Summer Fly Fishing

Late Summer Fly Fishing

Fall Fly Fishing

Bozeman Area Rivers

Lower Madison

The Lower Madison is the closest stretch of river we guide, about a 20-minute drive from our shop. It fishes best April thru June and September to November. In the heat of the summer the water rises to unhealthy levels for trout, and the river is packed with recreational floaters. The Lower Madison offers excellent nymphing and great match-the-hatch dry-fly fishing. It's a unique tailwater that is hard to read with an untrained eye. Your guide will teach you how to identify "buckets," where most of the river's trout live.

Upper Madison

We fish the Upper Madison from Earthquake Lake to Ennis Lake. While technically a tailwater, the Upper fishes more like a freestone. Pre-runoff -- April until mid- to late May -- we will likely be nymphing and streamer fishing with the possibility of a mayfly hatch. When the river clears and drops after runoff -- typically around June 20 -- the Upper comes alive with insect activity. The world famous stonefly hatch kicks off a summer of dry fly fishing that ends when the grasshoppers die off in late September or early October. Most of the summer we will be fishing dry flies or a dry-dropper rig. In the fall we will switch back to our pre-runoff techniques.

Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River has the longest runoff in the area. The rivers gets big and dirty when the snow melts in late April or early May. It is dangerous to float the Yellowstone at high flows, so we avoid it until runoff subsides, usually around the first week of July. Technique wise, we fish it similar to how we fish the Upper Madison, but the rivers' characteristics are opposite. The Yellowstone is the longest undamned river in the lower 48 and fishes like a traditional freestone stream with riffle, runs, pools and riprap banks. We fish more than 100 miles of the Yellowstone, which offers, arguably, the best views of the surrounding mountains.

Gallatin River

The Gallatin River is another world-famous blue-ribbon trout stream that flows from Yellowstone National Park, past our fly shop and through the Gallatin Valley until it meets the Madison and Jefferson to form the Missouri River. We avoid the crowded Gallatin Canyon stretch on guide trips and focus on a section of the valley where we can take the drift boat and get away from the crowds. The Gallatin has great hatches, good streamer fishing and reliable nymphing.

Jefferson River

The Jefferson River is the sleeper on this list. It sees the least amount of crowds, but also has the lowest trout population. Fishing can be very tough on the Jefferson, so we don't recommend it for beginners or people's first trip out here. However, on the right day it can give up some seriously large trout.

We also offer spring float trips on the Missouri River in May. This is typically deep-water nymphing to larger than average fish. But, under the right conditions, the match-the-hatch dry fly fishing can be stellar.

Before Hitting the River

So now it's the morning of your guide trip. You'll want to bring a rain jacket and appropriate layers, even August mornings may require a light jacket. Polarized sunglasses are a must. They'll help you see the depth change that your guide is trying to point out, but more importantly, they'll offer protection from the hooks that will be flying through the air all day. We recommend water-friendly shoes or sandals, but your guide can position the boat to keep your feet dry throughout the day, if you choose to wear socks and gym shoes. In the spring and fall we will likely outfit you with boots and waders.

Your guide will have the cooler packed and be ready to go when you meet in the morning. You'll fill out paperwork -- sign a release form and show your guide your fishing license -- and once again go over the plan for the day. Then it's off to the river.

It takes about 20- to 90-minutes to get to the river, depending on which section you'll be fishing. Upon arrival at the boat ramp, your guide will get the boat set up and rig rods. Your guide will provide fly rods, flies and all the terminal tackle you'll need for the day. If you'd like to fish your own rod, feel free to bring it.

Finally Fishing

If you've never fished before, you'll get a quick fly-fishing 101 lesson in the parking lot. This includes a casting demonstration and techniques on how to fight fish. You'll get a ton of information thrown at you quickly, which can be overwhelming. Ask questions if you don't understand something, and remember you'll have all day to hone your skills. All our guides are excellent instructors and enjoy the teaching aspect of the job. They'll be coaching you throughout the day.

Once you're feeling confident, the guide will drop the boat in the water and load you up. Our drift boats fit two guests and a guide. One guest will be in the front of the boat and the other in the stern. The guide will sit in the middle and row you all over the river. On our full-day floats, we cover 7-15 miles of river. We do shorter floats in the spring and fall, so we can anchor and work some of the best water where the fish are concentrated. In the summer, the fish are more spread out, so we will cover more water.

Your guide will be changing your flies and showing you different techniques to best match what the fish are eating. Around noon, we'll break for lunch. We'll either walk up the bank to a picnic table or enjoy our sandwiches in the boat.

If you're on a multi-boat trip, this is when you get to brag about the number of fish you caught in the morning. On group floats, our guides will take your party to the same stretch of river. Most of the time you'll be within eyesight of the other boats, and you'll eat lunch together. You're allowed to play musical chairs, so you can fish with different people as the day progresses.

After lunch, we'll get back to fishing. Oftentimes, the fishing is better in the afternoon, plus you've had all morning to practice. Our full day trips normally consist of six to seven hours on the water. You'll be amazed by how quickly time goes by and how tired you are at the end of the day. You'll be back in town in time for your dinner reservation at one of Bozeman's excellent eateries. Use your guide as a resource for restaurant recommendations or any other must see or do activities in the area.

Wrapping Up

At the takeout ramp, your guide will load the boat back onto the trailer and break everything down. This is a great chance to reminisce about the day, exchange photos with your guide, crack a beer and take a final photo.

Trophy trout aren't caught everyday, hence their name, but your guide will do everything possible to try to help you achieve that goal. More importantly, you'll see some beautiful country, learn something new and have a hoot of a time.

Learn more about guided fly fishing trips with Fins & Feathers