Small Stream Fly Fishing in Montana

Montana Local Small Stream Fly Fishing

Though Montana is known for some of most famous fly fishing rivers in the world, the state is home to a wealth of often-overlooked small-stream fishing. The Kootenai River basin and surrounding Kootenai National Forest has miles of pristine small streams, many of which rarely get fished more than once or twice a season. Those adventurous anglers who would like to explore the raw beauty of our fishery should consider a day on our local small streams. These streams are nearly all wade-able, freestone tributaries brimming with wild and native Rainbow trout, Westslope Cutthroat trout, and Brook Trout. We like to fish these waters with 2-4 wt. rods and dry flies. An average fish in these waters is a chubby 8 to 10 inches, and they are among the most beautiful and lively representations of trout in the lower 48. 


 June through October


 Rainbow trout, Westslope Cutthroat trout, Brook Trout


8-10 inches


 8' two to four weight slow to medium action fly rod

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The Kootenai River Basin and surrounding watershed encompasses hundreds of miles of pristine small streams that are designed for adventurous anglers, light line rods, and dry flies. These are primarily freestone tributaries full of wild and native trout, and though the representative fish average 8-10″ we are occasionally surprised by an 16-incher.

Walk-wading is the name of the game on our small waters, and we generally cover a 1/2 mile in the morning and a 1/2 mile in the afternoon. Trout are found in pocket water, riffles, and picturesque small pools; in these likely holding spots a high-riding attractor pattern like a Royal Wulff, Humpy, or small foam dry works very well.

The landscape through which our small streams flow is worth the trip on its own. Standing in one of these streams, an angler will feel a million miles from anywhere. We’ve been told by guests that while fishing the shadows and stairstep pools of our small stream it’s easy to conjure up visions of Hobbits and Gandalf striding through the timber, staff in hand. These are mystical and mysterious waters indeed, ones that spill straight from the heart of Kootenai River country. They serve as the circulatory system of our mountains, pumping cold, clear water through the deep forests.

While we do float some of the small streams early in the season, walk/wading is the standard. With miles of essentially untouched water and a wild trout behind every rock, these streams are best fished on foot. Attractor patterns are the go-to, and dry-fly fishing is exceptionally effective. Occasionally we’ll attach a dropper if the sun is high and the fish are skittery, but by all accounts, you could fish a size 14 Royal Wulff all day and catch plenty. These fish are almost too innocent, which is only part of why we cherish them: in-hand they are jewels, bedazzled with bright red gill plates and peppered in black spots from head to tail. For sheer beauty they are beyond compare.

Our local small streams are not meant to be fished in a hurry. Fishing these waters should be thoughtful and meditative, less about the pursuit of big fish and more about the simple joy of wild trout in wild places. If, like us, you have a fondness for vast country, soft, pinpoint casts, and wild creatures, spend a day on the small streams with our crew. The memories of doing so will linger for a very long time.



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