Spring Fishing in Montana

March 30, 2017

Where to Fish for the Most Success

The spring rains are upon us!  And that means the snow is melting and the fish are hungry.  But what it also means is that as the snow melts and the rivers start to fill up, they get dirty and the fish can’t see what you’re throwing in for them.  We need to find the right place to fish, where the fish can see what you’re throwing after them.

If you’re anxious to get out there, here are a few spots where you can go that haven’t suffered from the murky runoff waters yet.


Bighorn River

Hailed as one of the best trout fishing rivers in the country, the Bighorn River has great fishing all year round.  Because of the controlled release of water from the reservoir, the water in the river stays a nice constant temperature all year long.

Along with the benefit of being a nice warm temperature in the winter, we get the benefit that when the spring rains come, the river continues to flow at a steady pace (at least upstream near the Afterbay Dam).  No cloudy water to fish and pull nice big brown trout out of the water.

Fishing on the bighorn river

Riverfront Park

We had a pretty cold winter.  Normally this doesn’t affect the fish too much because they just move a little deeper into the water to avoid the ice that forms above them.  But what happens in the shallow ponds when the ice gets down to the bottom?  We end up with quite a bit of winter kill.

Lake Josephine at Riverfront Park isn’t very deep. During a science class back in the day we paddled all over the place taking depths, and the deepest spot we could locate was about 6-7 feet deep.  This means the outer limits of the lake will freeze completely solid.  Not good for the fish living in there.

But that shallow water also means that there isn’t water flowing into the lake.  And the thing won’t cloud up when runoff starts.  You’re not going to be pulling any giant trout out of the lake, but it’s a great place to fish with kids.


Mountain Streams

Generally speaking the higher up you go, the clearer the water.  As things run off downstream, and rivers like the Stillwater and the Yellowstone turn so cloudy you couldn’t see more than a couple of inches, the streams up high are still flowing clear.

In a few weeks we won’t be able to fish most areas down low.  So head up to West or East Rosebud Creeks.  Or fish the adjoining mountain lakes.  As long as the ice has melted off (and anything under 6,000 feet or so should be open), you’ll find a bunch of hungry fish waiting for your fly, worm, or lure.

Fishing West Rosebud Creek

Yellowstone River

For a few more weeks the Yellowstone should be good fishing.  But that depends on what you’re going after.  I recently tried my luck near Huntley, and got skunked.  Not literally, there were no skunks around.  But we didn’t catch any fish.

Of course, we weren’t fishing for the bottom feeders, like catfish.  These guys hunt mostly by feel along the bottom, so a little cloudiness to the water isn’t going to do much to dissuade them.  Grab a bucket of minnows, and see if you can catch a 10+ pound cat.

The Fishing only gets Better

As the weather warms, we are going to see a ton of runoff.  But don’t worry, when the water clouds up that means one thing: it’s going to get clear again.  As the summer approaches, and on into the fall the fishing will only get better and better.  Until it’s winter, and then you can drill a hole through the ice and keep on fishing!

Where’s your favorite fishing spot?

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by scott
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here; or contact him through his website if you need some adventure tips.

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