The Gallatin River was the backdrop to the movie “A River Runs Through it. This river was chosen for its sublime scenery, although the subject of the McLean book was another river. All four seasons of the Gallatin River offer gorgeous scenery and fine fly-fishing.
The icy waters of the Gallatin River begin high in the mountains of Northwest Yellowstone. There are fish in these upper roadless waters, but they are small. The good fishing doesn't start until the river meets Hwy 191. There, the water meets large meadows, and meanders lazily through some excellent holding water. Most fish are small rainbows and browns, but the occasional lunker trout often surprises anglers. The river receives quite a bit of fishing pressure during the summer months, but the fishing remains good. Grasshoppers, ants and beetles are often the most productive flies in this stretch.
Below the confluence of the Taylor Fork, the river is much larger. Meandering Meadow water with pea-gravel gives way to a classic cobble bottomed freestone stream. This high gradient fast water attracts both fishermen and white water enthusiasts. Hwy 191 parallels the river, making any pullout easy public access. In the stretch between Big Sky and the mouth of the canyon, the rafters can make fishing frustrating. The fishing can be good with indicator nymphing techniques or attractor dry flies. There are some very large brown trout and rainbows in this section, but don't expect to catch one every trip. Instead, expect fast action fishing for rainbows in the 12 to 16 inch range.
When the river reaches the Gallatin Valley the gradient rapidly decreases. Fishing is terrific for large fish (50% browns and 50% rainbows). Streamers, nymphs and hopper patterns are the main action. Access is found via bridges and state owned access sites. The shoreline is private property, so stay below the normal high water mark. Downstream from the town of Belgrade, the river is severely dewatered in the summer. Low water and warm temperatures make this stretch best in the spring and the fall.
Throughout this wild river, you will find some of the most beautiful trout water and scenery anywhere. The fish, while not always giants, are wild, healthy and full of color. There is no such thing as a bad day on the Gallatin River.
- Rick Weisend