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Fishing the Gallatin Canyon

Gallatin Canyon offers some of the most scenic water and generous public access of any stretch of river in Montana.  Add to this the fact that trout in the Gallatin usually hold were you would expect them and usually eat the flies that you would expect them to eat, and the Gallatin becomes one of the best options for the do it yourself angler in the area. 

Most of the water in the Canyon is pocket water with lots of obvious fish holding water.  In the summer months fish will rise behind and in front of rocks, along banks were the current slows, and in the riffles to eat big bushy dry flies like Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, trudes, and elk hair caddis.  Classic hatches like Salmon flies, Goldenstones, and Green Drakes can bring visibly feeding fish to the surface.  Also keep and eye out for PMD’s, excellent evening caddis, and the spruce moth “hatch” that everyone has been talking about the last few seasons.  Nymphs can also work well in the summer and are especially important in spring, winter, and fall.  It’s also often the best way to fish the Gallatin’s many deep dark pools.  Standard western nymphs like Girdle Bugs, Prince Nymphs, Lighting Bugs, and pheasant tails can take fish any time of year.  In addition to nymphs, Gallatin anglers can have good dry fly fishing in the non-summer months when fish rise to baetis and midges.  While standard patterns usually work well on the Gallatin, every year either we or are customers find a new pattern that seems to work especially well so don’t be afraid to experiment with different dries and nymphs and stop by the shop to see what the new hot fly is.

Highway 191 runs through the canyon and numerous pull offs provide ample access.  Several campgrounds are also found along the highway and in addition to camping they can provide excellent fishing access.  Even when the river appears too crowded you can almost always find a run or riffle that’s open.  There is no need to crowd on the river so be sure to give other anglers plenty of space.  It’s always a good idea to cover water on the Gallatin to separate your self from the parking area.  The farther away from access, the less pressure the fish see.  The same goes for crossing the river.  The far bank will almost always fish better than the roadside bank assuming similar structure.  However you should be very careful any time you cross or wade the river.  The Gallatin’s bottom can be very uneven with round, very slippery rocks and very difficult to wade.  Every year we hear complaints from visiting anglers on how difficult the Gallatin can be to wade.  Inexperienced waders would do well to wade very conservatively and consider using a wading staff.  This is not as limiting as it sounds.  Much of the best water on the Gallatin is right along the bank and anglers can do a great deal of fishing with very little wading.  The banks are especially productive in early summer right after run off before angling pressure has pushed many fish off the bank.  This is also when some of the larger fish on the Gallatin are taken on dries.

With beautiful water, easy access, and agreeable trout the Gallatin is one of the most classic freestone rivers in the west.  While nearby legendary rivers like the Yellowstone and Madison draw more attention and a chance at larger fish, Gallatin Canyon is a great place to spend an afternoon casting to spunky rainbows in crystal clear water.  Stop by the shop to see what’s going on.  We get daily reports on Gallatin Canyon most of the season.