Montana Fly Fishing
Fishing the Musselshell River

Musselshell River

The Musselshell River : Fishing

Musselshell River : Fishing Overview

Bushy Banks on the Musselshell River around Selkirk FAS
Photo Use Guidelines

While the Musselshell River is not slated to become the next destination fishery for anglers on a Montana fly fishing trip anytime soon, large brown trout can be taken from the river in its far upper stretches. Additionally, the Musselshell River can provide fine fishing for warm water species such as smallmouth bass near the rivers outlet at Fork Peck Lake.

Trout fishing is basically limited on the Musselshell River to the stretch between its' origin, near Martinsdale, downstream to the Highway 191 Bridge at Harlowtown. Below Harlowtown, the water gets to warm to support productive trout habitat although some brown trout can still be found. Along this stretch, the Musselshell has numerous undercut banks, very bushy riverbanks, small riffles and a few deep pools. The river is also narrow and generally quite shallow. Brown trout in this section average around 12 inches, but many are taken that exceed five pounds. A handful of rainbow trout and brook trout are also found in the Musselshell. Whitefish are also quite abundant.

The best time to fish the Musselshell River on this stretch is between April-June and again in the fall. During the summer, irrigation takes a heavy toll on the river. High water temperatures and low flows combine to frequently put a lid on productive fishing during July and August, and sometimes into September.

The best time to hit the water will be early in the morning and again towards evening. Fishing for the brown trout is not very different than fishing other brown trout waters. Use streamers and nymphs, floating them along undercut banks, downed timber and into the deep pools.

The Musselshell River flows through primarily an agricultural area, with hayfields frequently near its banks. While the river during the summer frequently shuts down due to warm water and low flows, the arrival of cooler weather or higher water can allow for some productive summer fishing. For anglers who happen to be on the river at this time, the Musselshell River can provide fine top water action using hopper imitations. Just float the hoppers along the undercut banks and anywhere else that provide cover for the trout.

The Musselshell River receives light fishing pressure in comparison to other Montana rivers. However, in some respects, the Musselshell River resembles a spring creek, with its narrow width, twisty nature, shallow water and its bushy banks. As a result, fishing needs to be done with some care. Approach the river carefully. When wading in the river, which generally must be done, walk slowly and carefully. Other Montana rivers allow anglers to get away with noisy wading due to the fast current and whitewater. The slow current of the Musselshell, complete lack of any whitewater, along with the generally spooky nature of brown trout to begin with, combine to create a more demanding environment for wading.

Low water on the Musselshell River near Ryegate, Montana
Photo Use Guidelines

As access in this upper stretch is thin at best, most of the fishing pressure that does occur happens around the Selkirk Fishing Access Site, the Two Dot Road Access Site or at the Highway 191 Bridge Access. As always, an angler in search of the larger brown trout will want to walk up or downstream away from these sites. By leaving the access sites behind, and because float fishing is rarely done, an angler is likely to find stretches of the Musselshell River that are rarely fished.

Below Harlowtown, the river begins to warm up, turning into a warm water fishery. For the rest of its length, large catfish and smallmouth bass are common. The best smallmouth bass fishing is found on the far lower portion of the Musselshell - the middle section of the Mussellshell has been hit hard by irrigation demands and several years of drought. For those who seek a new angling experience in solitude, there are many worse ways to spend ones time than fishing for the smallmouth in the eastern half of the Musselshell River. The fish can be frequently large, with three pound bass common. Moreover, fishing pressure is next to zero along the lower half of the Musselshell River.

For those of haven't fished for smallmouth bass before, consider trying it. Smallmouth put up a heck of a fight on a fly rod. While they generally don't display acrobatics like rainbow trout do, they can pull line off a reel just as quickly as the strongest trout can.

Crayfish are one of the smallmouths' bass favorite food and are commonly found along the lower Musselshell River, particularly near the outlet to Fort Peck Lake. Crayfish fly imitations tend to be heavy, awkward, rather ungainly looking things, but work very well. Fish the crayfish along the shore, focusing on undercut banks and other areas that provide cover for the bass. Similar to brown trout, smallmouth bass seek cover wherever they can find it. Let the crayfish drop to the bottom of the river, pulling it back towards you in erratic motions.

Next Page : Floating the Musselshell River

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