Guided Fly Fishing Trips
While I tie and design a huge number of flies and do some writing about fly fishing, my guided fly fishing trips are the core of my business and always will be. I have been running guided trips in Yellowstone Park and Montana since 2001 and hope to continue taking people fly fishing until I keel over.
I offer three types of fly fishing trips in Montana and Yellowstone Park: walk/wade trips, float trips, and power boat trips. I am one of only a handful of Montana fly fishing guides with the necessary USCG licensing to offer the latter, which really opens some doors for my clients.
Please click the links to learn more about a specific type of trip or read on to learn about top guided fly fishing trips in Montana and Yellowstone Park at different times of the year. Rates are discussed on the appropriate trip pages.
Early Season Guided Trips: March through May
The early season is probably the last "undiscovered" time to fish Yellowstone Country. The weather can still be questionable and the fishing is admittedly inconsistent in most areas, but this is a great time to come if you're looking for big fish, and often big fish without crowds.
My favorite trips to run during the early season are power boat guided fly fishing trips on the Missouri River. This time of year offers the most consistent fishing of the season on this stretch of river, with lots of big rainbow trout in the offing for those willing to make the trip. Missouri River fishing at this time mostly involves nymphing, but skilled anglers may be able to fish dries or streamers, as well.
There are two great secondary options in March and April: walk & wade guided trips on the Paradise Valley spring creeks and float trips on the Yellowstone River. Walk trips on the creeks are great at this time because the rod (access) fees are lower during this period than during the summer peak season, the fish aren't as spooky as they will be later in the year, crowds are low, and there are more and larger trout present since the rainbow trout are in the creeks on their spawning runs. The Yellowstone River is particularly good if you're interested in fishing slowly, using the boat as transportation and getting out to fish the best spots thoroughly on foot. While some dry fly action is possible, the main draw at this time is fishing large nymphs and streamers, targeting fish waking up after a long, cold winter.
Secondary options change in early May. While there's often spectacular dry fly fishing on the Yellowstone for a few days sometime early in the month when the Mother's Day Caddisflies hatch, soon after or even during this hatch the river blows out with the spring runoff. It's out of play until late June or early July. The spring creeks also aren't as good in May as they are earlier, since the spring midge and BWO hatches fade out. Instead of these waters, my personal focus shifts to lakes. Private ranch lakes offer excellent fishing and nonexistant crowds at this time, and they aren't impacted by runoff. Since the Madison River stays clear much later into the spring than the Yellowstone, and sometimes sections of it don't get muddy at all, it is also a reasonable option for trips with some of my contract outfitters.
Below: Walter with a huge early season rainbow/cutthroat hybrid from the Yellowstone River.
Above: spring rainbow from the Missouri River.
Below: large spring brook trout from an area private lake.
Early Peak Season Guided Trips: June and Early July
Private lakes offer great opportunities in early June, and can produce brook trout like this one at this time.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of high season in Yellowstone Country. The weather gets much nicer at this time and Yellowstone Park opens to fishing, dramatically expanding fishing options, particularly for those interested in walk-wade fishing. That said, the early part of the peak season suffers from the spring melt, putting many waters out of play. There are three major components to my business in the early part of the peak season: power boat trips on the Missouri River, walk & wade fly fishing trips in Yellowstone National Park, and drift boat trips on private lakes.
Of these, power boat trips on the "MO" are my favorite June trips. Overall numbers of fish begin tro drop off from their spring heights, but the number of other anglers also drops off, leading to more-peaceful times on the water. The dry fly fishing here also heats up in June, particularly later in the month, leading to excellent opportunties to get 18-22" fish on dry flies. I get as excited about that as my clients do.
I actually run far more Yellowstone Park fishing trips at this time than any other trips. This is a great time of year for the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon Rivers, while hike-in lakes offer switch-up options and smaller crowds. In dry years, portions of the Yellowstone and Gardner Rivers are even better options than the other rivers I just mentioned. They offer larger fish and much smaller crowds than the others, when they are fishable early in the season, though the dry fly fishing isn't as good. Unfortunately, they're only fishable early in the peak season about every other year.
The private lakes continue to fish excellent in June, particularly when the wind is calm. When it is, excellent chironomid and Callibaetis mayfly hatches offer sight-fishing opportunities for large trout. Moreover, these lakes are excellent choices in June for novices who would like a shot at larger trout without the pressure of crowds or technically-demanding fishing.
Below: angler on the Gibbon River in June.
Middle of Peak Season Guided Trips: July and August
July sees the primo summer waters in Yellowstone Country come into play, and many of the waters that are great earlier in the season start to falter. This is the most-crowded time of year, but it's also the most consistent. If you've never been fly fishing in Montana or fly fishing in Yellowstone Park, I suggest July or August provided you can handle some crowding on roadside waters on guided fishing trips in Yellowstone Park, don't mind seeing some or a lot of other boats on guided Yellowstone River float trips or fishing trips on other Montana rivers, or are physically-fit enough to hike a bit.
Below: July brown from a Yellowstone River float.
While certain waters are out of play at this time, particularly the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon Rivers within Yellowstone Park, otherwise there's a wealth of options, both for visiting anglers and for guides. This is the time of year when it'd be possible to run fifteen or twenty trips in a row without doing the same thing twice. By all means, please book this many!
My favorite guide trips during July and August are unquestionably Yellowstone River float trips. The Yellowstone typically drops into floatable shape between June 20 and July 10, with July 4 about average. From this time through fall, the Yellowstone offers excellent dry fly fishing, some good shots at large browns (mostly with streamers), and lots of different stretches to float, each offering different experiences to angler and guide alike. I float anywhere between Gardiner, Montana and Columbus, Montana, a stretch of river over 100 miles in length, though I have a few specific floats I love. Generally speaking, upper portions of the Yellowstone near Gardiner hold larger numbers of fish, more cutthroat trout, and offer better dry fly fishing, but they don't turn out many large fish. The further north and east we float, the fewer fish we can expect, but the potential for huge browns keeps going up. When you book, we'll discuss your goals and plan accordingly.
Below: The Yellowstone River's Black Canyon offers great fishing in midsummer.
My second-favorite options during this time are is walk & wade trips inside Yellowstone Park. In July and August I focus as much as possible on hike-in trips in the northern part of the park. My primary targets are the Yellowstone River in its Grand and Black Canyons when I have experienced clients and small creeks in the upper Gardner system when I have rookies and kids. The Yellowstone in its canyons offers exceptional dry fly fishing during this period and also fishes well with streamers, while the upper Gardner is great with dry/dropper combinations. I also guide to a degree on the fabled meadow waters in the northeast corner of Yellowstone Park: the Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek, and Slough Creek, but I generally avoid these waters when my clients are up for some hiking, because they get very crowded.
During this period, about 90% of my trips are Yellowstone River floats or YNP walk/wades. Other options mostly come into play when I have clients who have fished with me during the summer before but want to do something very different. Possible options include power boat trips on the Missouri or lower Yellowstone, trips to the Paradise Valley spring creeks, and walk trips further afield, whether in other areas of Yellowstone Park or on tiny creeks outside the park boundaries.
July and August is the busiest time of year for most waters in Yellowstone Country. I typically guide six or seven days a week at this time, and many weeks are booked solid for months at a time. Whether you choose to fish with me or another outfitter, it's best to book your July-August trips as soon as you can, especially when you have a tight schedule.
Below: Float trip brown that scarfed a PURPLE grasshopper.
Late Peak Season Guided Trips: September
Labor Day used to mark the end of the peak fly fishing season in Yellowstone Country, but no longer. More and more anglers are coming in September, taking advantage of somewhat lower crowds of "average" tourists (especially fewer screaming kids) and the cooler weather of early fall that brings good mayfly hatches and the resurgence of rivers and lakes that grew too warm to fish well during the heat of July and August. More waters can fish well in September than any other month, and it's also just a beautiful time of year to be here.
Above: September brown trout.
My favorite guided trips to run in September continue to be Yellowstone River float trips and Yellowstone Park fly fishing trips, but tactics change a great deal. On float trips, the fishing is usually more delicate and technical in September than earlier. Instead of large attractor dries and hoppers, you should expect to fish small, delicate dry flies during hatches. If you'd rather match hatches than just attack structure, blind-casting, September is when you want to come. Hope for a cool, drizzly day that will bring out lots of rising trout. On walk-wades, the Yellowstone River canyons remain excellent options, but my focus begins shifting to the Gardner River, which sees excellent fall runs of brown trout beginning in September and continuing through the end of the season. Walk trips on the Gardner usually begin early in the morning and offer great opportunities for fat browns averaging 14-18 inches and occasionally getting much larger.
Secondary options include walk & wade trips to other parts of Yellowstone Park, private lake trips if the weather has been cool, and power boat trips on the Missouri. Almost every body of water in Yellowstone Park can be expected to fish well at some point in September, with the specific waters that fish well varying from day to day depending on the weather. Private lakes can offer excellent fishing in September, particularly after the middle of the month or after cold rains. The key is starting the water temperature down from summer highs. This triggers hatches and aggressive feeding by the trout. Power boat trips in September are frankly rather challenging due to low, clear water and spooky fish, but this is the only time of year when you can expect to see few (if any) other anglers fishing "Land of the Giants."
Below: September float trip cutthroat.
Late Season Guided Trips: October and November
The first winter storm in the mountains usually occurs around September 20, but deep cold is possible even at lower elevations beginning in October. This clears out the casual tourists and fair-weather anglers, leaving only the hardcore to enjoy the best brown trout fishing of the season.
Typical fall-run brown trout.
My focus in the fall is unquestionably on pursuing fall-run browns, whether on foot on the Gardner and other rivers in Yellowstone Park and the Paradise Valley spring creeks or via boat on the Yellowstone River outside the park or the Missouri River. Overall my favorite place to take clients at this time is the Gardner, since it also offers good fishing at this time for smaller resident fish that eat dry flies in addition to the nymph-eating browns. The Yellowstone River outside the park is also a favorite, particularly early in the month, when the midday dry fly fishing produces good numbers of trout and early morning streamer fishing can turn out some monsters. The Missouri River power boat fishing is better in late October, after the river's weeds die back and this river's brown trout run begins in earnest.
Secondary options during the late seasons center around private fisheries: ranch lakes and the Paradise Valley spring creeks. As water temperatures in the lakes rapidly cool in October, the fish go on a rampage for large streamers, leeches, and other flies suggesting high-calorie foods, as the trout ready for winter. While fall never produces good dry fly fishing on the lakes, this is the best period to fish them if you're looking for both numbers and size of trout, as long as you're willing to fish subsurface. Moreover, the lakes are seldom busy at this time, so reservations are easy to get. The spring creeks become a stellar option after the middle of October, when low winter rates go into effect. The creeks enjoy good runs of browns at this time, and while "runner hunting" itself is better elsewhere, the resident trout in the creeks love gorging on eggs dropped by the runners. There are also consistent midge and Blue-winged Olive mayfly hatches on the creeks during this period.
Options begin to shut down beginning on the first Monday in November, the day after the YNP fishing season closes. The Yellowstone River remains a decent bet as long as it doesn't start to ice-up, but my guiding at this time shifts almost exclusively to the Paradise Valley spring creeks, with occasional power boat trips with true die-hards to the Missouri.
Below: ATYPICAL fall-run brown trout.