Fishing the Judith River

The Judith River isn’t exactly a prime destination river in Montana. Indeed, few anglers from either in-state or out-state probably even know it exists. The lack of knowledge about the Judith River isn’t surprising, considering its location and lack of visibility.

The Judith River begins its life in the Little Belt Mountains, a small mountain range located to the southwest of Lewistown, Montana. The river flows for 125 miles to the confluence with the Missouri River. In the upper stretches, the Judith River flows through some wide, scenic agricultural valleys that are flanked by the scenic Little Belt Mountains. Following this, the Judith flows through the broad and arid plains on its way to the Missouri River.

Fishing the Judith River

The Judith River

The Judith River forms at the confluence of the South Fork Judith River and the North Fork Judith River, near the small town of Sapphire Village. I’m not familiar with the North Fork, but the South Fork, well, don’t plan on going there for a fly fishing trip. The reason for this is because during low snow years ordrought conditions, portions of the South Fork Judith River simply run dry – which isn’t exactly helpful to the fishing conditions. While some brook trout undoubtedly manage to hang on in the deeper pockets, a fisherman in search of them is likely to have to travel far and wide to find them. Additionally, the South Fork Judith River is incredibly narrow – hardly more than a yard wide in many spots.

However, once the South and North Forks join, the Judith River begins to have enough water to support fishing, although heavy irrigation use during the summer draws down the water levels.

The Judith River has a surprisingly diverse fish population, with a mix of brook trout, rainbow trout and brown trout found on the upper end of the river while warm water species such as catfish are found on the lower part of the river.

Unfortunately, access on the Judith River isn’t the greatest. The best access spots on the upper part of the river (upstream from the town of Utica) are the few spots where the dusty Judith River Road parallels the river. Other access spots will be found on the middle stretch of the river at the frequent bridge crossings that exist. The Lower Judith River, due to remoteness, has little in the way of access.

For the angler in search of trout on the Upper Judith, fishing will require some active stalking. In particular, anglers will want to search out the holes that are found in the river, especially during the warmer months. There are some sizable fish in the Judith River, but there numbers of fish are not that high. And much of the river will have no fish at all due to low water levels.

Judith River Leaving the Mountains

Approach and presentation are important when fishing the Judith River. In some ways, fly fishing on the Judith River is like fishing on a spring creek. Long, wimpy tippets, careful approach and solid presentation are all needed if you want to have a decent chance of tagging some of the larger trout that can be found in the river. As for fly patterns, the standard assortment of dry flies and nymphs all can work – and not work – depending on the season. So come prepared to experiment. Also be sure to bring a nice selection of hoppers beginning in July, the Judith flows through superb hopper country.

Overall, the Judith River can make for an interesting diversion away from the more popular and well-known rivers. However, the relative lack of access, combined with erratic fishing, is not going to make the Judith River a prime destination spot anytime soon. By and large, the Judith River today is primarily used by locals who fish for the warm water species that inhabit the river. Few people put in the effort to fly fishing the Judith River for trout.