Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Gallatin River

Bitterroot River

Fly Fishing the Gallatin River

Gallatin River : Big Sky to Spanish Creek Bridge

Gallatin River in the canyon near Big Sky
Photo Use Guidelines

This stretch of Gallatin River roars through a steep canyon, with heavily forested hillsides and large rock outcroppings. The river has extensive whitewater in this section and can often be quite narrow as it threads its way down the canyon. This section of the Gallatin River is popular among whitewater enthusiasts, particularly those in hard shell kayaks and whitewater canoes.

Wading on this stretch of the river can prove to be difficult. The current is fast and slippery rocks await the unsuspecting fisherman. A good pair of wading shoes is required on this stretch, and a wading staff may also not be a bad idea.

Since the water moves so quickly through this canyon stretch, fishing is also more difficult. Constant line mending is needed to prevent dragging the fly. The wooded banks and the narrow width of the river can combine to make casting difficult at times.

Fishing this stretch of the Gallatin is essentially the same as between Taylor Creek and Big Sky. Standard dry flies and attractor patterns work well, in addition to the Spruce Moth come late summer. However, since the river moves so quickly, fishing this section involves fishing the pocket water, tossing the flies into the calmer pockets of the river.

Gallatin River : Spanish Creek Bridge to Three Forks

Gallatin River in the lower portion of the canyon
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This section of the river has significantly slower currents than found upstream. It also has broad runs, some undercut banks and occasional pools. The valley the river flows through also is agricultural in nature, becoming more arid as the river progresses downstream. The largest trout on the Gallatin River will be found in this stretch.

The Gallatin River on this stretch can be severely dewatered in places, particularly between Shedds Bridge Access Site and Gallatin Forks Access Site (where the East Fork Gallatin River empties into the Gallatin River). As a result, the best fishing on this stretch will be found above Shedds Bridge and below Gallatin Bridge. The slower flows, low water and warm temperatures wreak havoc on the trout in between these two access sites, although fish can still be found.

Float fishing is not permitted on the Gallatin River in this section except for the short stretch of river from Gallatin Forks Access Site to Three Forks. As the current is significantly slower and not nearly as rocky, wade anglers will have a easier time fishing along this section than in the canyon stretch just upstream. Since the Gallatin flows primarily through private property, access will be gained at the frequent bridge crossings. As always, the best fishing will be found a short walk up or downstream from these sites.

Lower Gallatin River at Axtell Bridge
Photo Use Guidelines

Standard dry fly patterns, along with hopper imitations beginning in July, work very well along this stretch of river. In the stretches that are not severely de-watered, solid caddis hatches occur, providing solid fishing on flies such as the Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams. Hoppers should be fished right along the bank.

Additionally, for the angler wanting to try their luck with the larger brown trout that are found along this stretch, large streamers can also be used, working them along the undercut banks and through the occasional deep hole.

The lower twelve miles of the river, between Gallatin Forks Access Site and Three Forks, has virtually no access. Happily, it's the once stretch of the Gallatin River that may be floated. The current is slow, so plan any float trip accordingly.

Next Page : Floating the Gallatin River



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