Fishing Tips for Fishing in the Montana Backcountry

Usually, the cold, snowy winters gradually change into hot summers throughout the spring in Montana. This makes for world-class river fishing in the spring and summer months with the snow melt keeping the temperatures at an ideal temperature for the trophy trout commonly caught throughout the state. 

However, some years Montana decides to skip the usual mild spring and jump straight from a cold winter to a hot summer, causing warmer river temperatures and strict fishing restrictions for the more popular spots. When your favorite river spot becomes too crowded, or there are restrictions implemented because of the temperatures, a good solution is to take to the more isolated lakes and streams of the Montana backcountry.

Below are some tips and suggestions of lakes to visit, the best backcountry lake fishing techniques, and an overall guide to alternative fishing in Montana.

Fishing Techniques

Most alpine lakes are fed by smaller streams of snow melt and are stocked with vibrantly colored cutthroat and brook trout. Each lake is obviously different, however the technique used to go about fishing in the many Montana alpine lakes is the same.

Cutthroat trout travel together in pods usually circling shelves and drop offs. The best place to cast in these lakes is anywhere that allows you to drop your line along a drop off or shelf while also giving you a good vantage point to spot cruising pods of fish. The most ideal spot would be at the mouth of the feeder stream as trout usually sit and try to catch food streaming into the lake.

In terms of flies to cast, any dry fly in ant, beetle, or small grasshopper pattern will serve you well. Other popular options are Elk Hair Caddis, Purple Haze, and Parachute Adams flies. If the fish are being particularly picky, small leeches, nymphs, or bead head princes are good wet fly options as well.

Lake Suggestions 

Living in Montana, you are lucky to have any number of alpine lakes close by to use for any of your recreational desires. When it comes to fishing lakes location suggestions, it really depends on how far you are willing to hike in and how much time you have at your disposal.

If you’re looking for a quick afternoon trip to the lake, Hyalite Reservoir is a perfect option. Though it’s a well known spot and sees its fair share of traffic, it’s large enough to offer enough space for anyone trying to drop a few lines. 

The stream below the reservoir is also a great spot, and offers smaller brook and rainbow trout as well as cutthroat. The river above the reservoir, which isn’t open at all times during the season so it’s important to check before you leave, offers much larger cutthroat as well as occasional grayling. With these three locations so close together, you are sure to have a fun, successful afternoon of fishing.

If you’re looking for more of a destination, and don’t mind a bit of work in order to get to it, Mystic Lake just south of Bozeman is a perfect option. If you start from the New World Gulch Trailhead, the hike is about 5.5 miles out and back. You can also start from the Bozeman Creek Trailhead, however this is a longer 10 mile hike. 

If you check far in advance, you could also be lucky enough to reserve the Forest Service cabin on the shore of the lake and have a peaceful, world-class weekend fishing experience.

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