The topography and geology of Southwest Montana has created a wide range of fisheries ranging form tiny alpine lakes to the vast western rivers like the Missouri and Yellowstone. In addition to nature's handiwork, man made reservoirs of all sizes dot the landscape and are used for everything from irrigation storage to hydroelectric generation. The end result is that southwest Montana is full of choices for trout fishers of all skill levels. Essentially there are two primary types of fisheries, stillwaters and streams; within these two categories there is variety in size, origin, and productivity.
The region is best known for its moving water fisheries like the rivers, streams, and spring creeks. The rivers and streams are generally either considered to be "freestones"or "tailwaters" and spring creeks are unique to themselves. Freestones are rivers that are not regulated by the presence of a dam and will fluctuate seasonally in size and volume. Locally, these fisheries include the Gallatin, Yellowstone, and scores of smaller mountain streams. Tailwaters are fisheries or bodies of waters that lie below a man-made dam which may be used for irrigation storage or the generation of hydro-electric power. These will generally have less diversity in their entomological profile, but the insect life that is present will be extremely prolific. Regional examples of tailwaters include portions of the Madison, Beaverhead , Missouri , and Big Horn rivers, among others. Finally, smaller streams are generally spring fed to some degree and then also accentuated by runoff and snowmelt in higher elevations. In rare cases, there are small to medium sized creeks that are purely spring fed, resulting in fisheries that are very rich in insect life while maintaining stable year-round temperatures and water volume. Paradise Valley, south of Livingston, is well known for its amazing spring creek fisheries on the Depuy's, Armstrong, and Nelson properties.
Local still-water fisheries can be found in all descriptions and sizes within an hours' drive of Bozeman. With the exception of a few mountain lakes, almost all of these fisheries are the results of dam created impoundments. These fisheries are generally managed with hatchery raised fished and are often regulated from a put and take perspective. There are several private ponds that are managed for trophy trout in the 5-10lb class in the area. Anglers looking for some variety in their trips may want to consider a day on one of the regional reservoirs such as Harrison, Ennis, or Hebgen Lake for a day "off the beaten path.” Smaller ponds and reservoirs are also available on private waters for an additional trespass fee ranging from $75-$200 per angler. Stillwater trips sometimes are the best choice during the early stages of runoff in the spring and are typically fished from a driftboat. In general, we rarely recommend a stillwater destination simply because of world-class rivers and streams in our area, but our guides are always happy to take trips to any of these waters upon request.