Fly Fishing the East Gallatin River
The East Gallatin River forms just to the east of downtown Bozeman and runs its course in a northery direction to its confluence with the West Gallatin River near Manhattan, Montana. This is a relatively placid, small stream that flows through the Gallatin Valley with limited public access. The East Gallatin is highly regarded throughout Montana fly fishing lore because of its quality fishing and close proximity to Bozeman.
The upper portions of the East Gallatin River are considered to be upstream of the airport near Belgrade. The river is typically less than 20’ wide in this stretch and experiences seasonal fluctuations with runoff and irriagation demands. Access is found through various county bridges along with a FWP fishing access site or two near its headwaters. The river is too small for any type of floating here and offers some great wade-fishing opportunities for the mobile angler around Bozeman.
Although the East Gallatin River can offer solid fly fishing for anglers in Bozeman throughout the year, fall and winter offers some exceptional angling. Brown Trout get aggressive and show up in solid numbers by early October which can make for awesome streamer fishing. Typical streamers for this stretch of the East Gallatin River are smaller than the standard patterns that most of our Bozeman fly fishing guides typically fish this time of year. Classic patterns like the JJ Special or Light Spruce help roundout more modern selections which should include Sculpzillas, Skiddish Smolts, and various articulated sculpin patterns. A floating line with or without a sinking leader is sufficient to cover the water in theses stretches of the East Gallatin River.
One of our Bozeman fly shop staff and guide favorite’s events on the East Gallatin is mid-winter dry fly fishing. The Midge hatches can be surprisingly heavy on a mild, couldy winter day on the upper portions of the East Gallatin River. It’s rare to find rising fish throughout the day during the winter months, but there will be lots of fish looking up for an hour or two when condtions are ideal. Standard Midge dry fly patterns like the Griffiths Gnat work well most of the time during a prolific hatch. We always stock several variations and sizes of Midge dry fly patterns in our Bozeman fly shop though as Midge feeders can be notoriously picky at times.
As with most of the rivers and streams with prolific insect activity throughout Montana, nymph fishing is always productive on the East Gallatin River. The upper river stretches have become heavily “silted-in” the last 10 years and the insect populations have changed as well. Midges, Craneflies, and various mayflies are the predominant aquatic insects. As a result, typical pattern selections include Pheasant Tail variations, Zebra Midge, San Juan Worms, and general attractor nymphs in the 12-16 size range. Match the hatch with your nymph rig by matching the nymphs to the natural nymphs of the hatching insects when you experience sparse hatches.
Access on the East Gallatin is often the most difficult part of fishing this little “urban gem.” As always, make sure that you know and understand the Montana Stream Access Law prior to heading out. This is a small stream, so be sure to give other anglers their space and leave a few holes alone if someone else is behind you. A quick conversation with a fellow angler can save a lot of frustration and maight even be a great way to learn a thing or two.
Fly fishing a river like East Gallatin River is a a rare treat for most anglers and we encourage folks to explore the river on their own. Fins & Feathers of Bozeman’s fly fishing guide service and fly shop is always happy to pass along some local intel about our local rivers and streams, but we might be a little tight-lipped when it gets down to specifics of who, what, and when! We’re happy to point you in the right direction and give you some pointers as to what to expect though! Part of the fun in this Montana fly fishing adventure is all about figuring out some things on your own or with a friend and the East Gallatin River is a great place to give it a try.