The Gallatin River is one of the more scenic, blue-ribbon trout waters found in the Bozeman area. The river changes in character from a small mountain stream near its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to a medium-sized, classic western river once it flows into the Gallatin Valley. The middle portion of the river flows through the Gallatin Canyon and is characterized by pocket water and swift currents. Once it leaves the canyon stretch, the river slows its pace with much of the trout water being found in a classic riffle, pool, and run water types. The Gallatin River is noted for having very clean, cold water throughout its course and served as the setting in which much of "A River Runs Through It" was filmed.
With over 75 miles of quality trout water to be found on the Gallatin River, there’s hardly a need to drive too far from Bozeman to experience some great Montana fly fishing. The upper and middle portions of the river are easily accessed at dozens of roadside turnouts along HWY 191. These stretches are very popular with local and visiting anglers alike, so it can be quite busy and we avoid guiding these areas. Commercial and recreational whitewater rafting and kayaking are also very popular throughout much of the upper and middle stretches of the river. It is illegal to fish the Gallatin from a boat or raft from its headwaters to its confluence with the East Gallatin River, near Manhattan, MT.
Where We Guide on the Gallatin River
With so many great places to offer guided fly fishing trips around Bozeman, we often overlook the Gallatin when planning our trips as it can be crowded and is difficult to wade. Our fly fishing guides focus on the stretches of river from the mouth of the Gallatin Canyon all the way down to where it joins the Jefferson and Madison to form the Missouri River.
We offer guided fly fishing trips on the Gallatin River throughout the Gallatin Valley, wading primarily between the mouth of the Gallatin Canyon and Manhattan. The lower Gallatin River is one of our favorite places to get “off the beaten path” and one that we float throughout the year. We will occasionally float the middle portions of the river between Gallatin Gateway and Belgrade, but we only use the boats for transportation between runs as it is illegal to fish from the boat in these stretches.
Wading can be challenging on the Gallatin River, regardless of the time of year and river flows, so we only recommend this for folks that are in good shape and can handle walking a mile or two a day. If a half-day guided fly fishing trip is your preference, the Gallatin River works well as we can quickly access the river from our Bozeman fly shop (it’s about a minute away) and stick close to the truck for a few hours rather than covering a lot of water.
When to Fly Fish the Gallatin River
The Gallatin River is a year-round fishery in the Bozeman area and can be a great choice anytime, with the exception being in May and early June during the spring runoff. There are no dams on the Gallatin, so it is very susceptible to changing water levels and clarity as the winter snow melts and even following heavy rains during the summer. The Gallatin River often gets overlooked by locals in July and August as they focus their attention on the Yellowstone and Madison. We enjoy guiding fly fishing trips on the Gallatin River any time of the year and usually recommend fishing it for at least one day on multi-day guided fly fishing trips in the Bozeman area.
Highlights of Fly Fishing the Gallatin River
Winter fishing in the Gallatin Valley is always a good choice when the weather allows for a day on the water. Low flows make for easier wading than other times of the year and the cold water temperatures keep the trout concentrated around the deeper holding water. The dry fly fishing isn’t very reliable this time of year, but nymphing with small mayfly and stonefly imitations is consistent. Solitude, beautiful scenery, and wild trout on the fly always make a guided day on the Gallatin a great experience in January and February, when the weather is appropriate.
As the water levels recede toward the end of the spring runoff - usually in late June - the lower Gallatin fishes at its best. High water, with a foot or two of visibility, is what the fly fishing guides look for this time of year on the lower river. Nymphing with big stonefly nymphs or working the banks with streamers can find some of the largest trout of the year on this piece of water. An experienced angler can be particularly effective here this time of year as the ability to accurately put a fly in between trees, bushes, and brush piles make all the difference.
Our Montana fly fishing guides spend a lot of time on the Gallatin River and know its various intricacies like nobody else in the area. Our clients have come to hold the Gallatin River in the highest of regards when compared to other rivers in the region for both numbers and size of the wild Rainbows and Brown Trout. There are many “secrets” to success on the Gallatin that center on being in the right place, at the right time, with the right fly. These come only with experience and understanding of how the water conditions affect where the trout hold and feed during different times of the year. It is always a “Highlight.”
The Trout of the Gallatin River
Rainbows and Browns are the primary fish that we’ll find on our Gallatin River guided fly fishing trips. We’ve found the occasional Brook and Cutthroat Trout over the years, and even a Graying or two in years past. As a wild trout fishery, the size ranges dramatically with the average size of fish being in the 12-14 inch range. There are days when it seems like every fish under 10” is eating, and the next thing we know there are two feet of Brown Trout screaming down the river with flies in tow! Although the lower river has a reputation for having some large Brown Trout, we tend to catch more large Rainbows here than anywhere else around Bozeman with a few fish in the 22-25” range coming to the net every year.
Gallatin River Guided Fly Fishing Trips
We offer both full and half-day guided Gallatin River fly fishing trips all year long. Wade fishing is an option all year and highly recommended for winter and early season trips (Jan – April). Float trips are available when water conditions are appropriate, which is usually between July and October. We provide everything you need with the exception of a Montana fishing license, which is available at our fly shop or online. Our guided fly fishing trips typically meet at the fly shop in the morning, discuss the options for the day and then head out the guide’s vehicle. The typical drive time to the Gallatin River is 5-20 minutes each way and makes for a great option if you are on a tight schedule. Call our Bozeman fly shop at 877-790-5303 or e-mail us to learn more about guided fly fishing trips in Bozeman.