5 Flies for the Gallatin River Canyon – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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5 Flies for the Gallatin River Canyon

The Gallatin River offers well over 75 miles of quality, wild trout fly fishing right out our Bozeman fly shop door. Tips and advice on how to find success and solitude on the Gallatin River are some of the most frequent questions we hear from the folks coming through our shop every day of the year. As with all the fishing around Bozeman, Gallatin River fly fishing changes with the weather, hatches, pressure, and time of year.

The lower Gallatin Canyon is just one of the many places that we send folks to this time of year. This is the stretch of the Gallatin River between the Lava Lake Trailhead and Moose Creek Flats. This is classic freestone river water with tumbling pools, pocket water, swirling eddies, and gentle taillouts. Public access is readily available at roadside pullouts, trailhead parking areas, and Gallatin National Forest campgrounds along the Gallatin River. This is one of the most easily accessed parts of the Gallatin River and it is home to a great population of Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Mountain Whitefish, and the occasional Cutthroat Trout.

Gallatin River Canyon Brown Trout

We encourage anglers to find “their own water” when heading out to the Gallatin River these days, but do our best to get you going in the right direction to a stretch of the river that is fishing well. Essentially, we can’t tell you to go fish by this rock or that mile-marker or behind one logjam or another, but we can sure get you going in the right direction with the right flies and insight from our recent trips to the river.

The Gallatin Canyon is steep and narrow, keeping much of the Gallatin River in shadows throughout the day. The cooler water of fall also gets the fall mayfly hatches going once again which means that a rising fish can almost always be found on a mild day in October or November. Expect to see Blue Winged Olives hatching 11:00 am – 3:00 pm on cloudy days with longer hatch periods in ideal conditions (clouds, 40-55 degree ambient, little wind). My go to dry fly for these conditions are a BWO Comparadun or Purple Haze, both in size 16 with 18’s.

Nymphing will be the more typical and productive fly fishing technique for fall fishing the Gallatin River in the lower canyon this time of year. Brown Trout are starting to spawn, but most of this is done in or near the small tributaries that feed the Gallatin River between Yellowstone National Park and the lower canyon. Egg patterns like the Y2K can be highly effective throughout the Gallatin River right now. A Purple Holo Prince in a size 14 followed by a Black Micro-Mayfly size 18 is a great combo for fishing the deep, hydraulic pools you encounter below narrow pinches in the river’s width. Always add weight to your 9’ 4X leader to make sure that your nymphs are near the bottom this time of year. We generally recommend using a strike indicator and placing it 5-7’ above your first fly for this type of nymph-fishing.

Streamer fishing is a great way to cover some water and look for a larger fish at the same time. This stretch of the river is not known for holding large trout, but fish up to 18” are found on occasion. There are hundreds of choices here, but we find that a White Zonker in a size 6 can be very effective right now, and it is a fly that you can strip, drift, or even swing and expect to get some interest from an aggressive fish or two.

White Zonker is a Bozeman fly fishing guide favorite for the Gallatin River

The lower Gallatin Canyon offers some of the easiest access to productive trout waters found anywhere in Montana. Expect to see some other anglers along with a few kayakers and rafters on the warmer Autumn days. We encourage anglers to avoid areas where another angler is already fishing. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is just drive a little more until you find an empty pullout or piece of river next to some public access point. Also, if someone is upstream from your favorite spot, split the difference and head downstream for a change. There is plenty of water along the Gallatin River with great holding water throughout its course.

Fins & Feathers of Bozeman is open year-round and we tend to get active reports from anglers on a daily basis when it come to the Gallatin River. Learn more about the Gallatin River and our Montana fly fishing guide trips on this famous river here. Stop by the Bozeman fly shop the next time you are in the area or heading out for the latest Gallatin River fishing reports from our staff, guides, and friends regarding the current Gallatin River fishing conditions.