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Exploring Off-the-Radar Trout Fisheries in Montana


The recent crowding on the Madison River has sparked conversations about the management of popular fishing destinations in Montana. With increased user satisfaction and considerations for the river and trout population, it’s important to look beyond the famous rivers and explore less-known trout fisheries in the state. Fly fishing in these off-the-radar locations can offer solitude, unique experiences, and the chance to catch large or native trout. In this article, we will delve into five central Montana rivers that deserve more attention from anglers seeking an alternative to overcrowded waters.

Fly Fishing the Musselshell River

The Musselshell River, located in the Missouri River drainage, might not be on the radar of out-of-staters, but it offers a fantastic fishing experience. Although the river’s trout habitat becomes marginal as you move downstream from Martindale, there are still opportunities to catch browns, rainbows, and whitefish. The tailwater sections on the river forks provide good fishing for browns, while hopper season can be productive during good water years. Streams in this area offer solitude and a different kind of angling experience compared to more popular destinations.

Fly Fishing Big Spring Creek

Big Spring Creek, near Lewistown, is a well-known small-stream trouting spot with excellent fishing opportunities. This coldwater creek starts as a large natural spring and flows into the Judith River. While there might be a bit more angling pressure in the upstream section, especially near downtown Lewistown, the overall fishing quality remains high. Browns and rainbows up to 16 inches can be found in the creek, and it offers varied hatches throughout the seasons. Big Spring Creek is accessible through multiple fishing access sites, providing anglers with plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Fly Fishing the Judith River

The Judith River, originating in the Little Belt Mountains, offers some of the best trout fishing opportunities in the area. The upper portions of the Judith system are home to the native westslope cutthroat trout, making it a unique and appealing destination. Montana Trout Unlimited has worked on habitat restoration along the middle fork of the Judith, contributing to its preservation. While the lower part of the river is managed for agriculture and not ideal for fishing, the lush cottonwood lowland section provides excellent fishing for a variety of species, including northern pike, walleyes, and rainbow trout. The presence of big fort peck reservoir winter-spawning rainbow trout adds excitement to the lower Judith River fishing experience.

Fly Fishing Belt Creek

Belt Creek, known for its breathtaking canyon scenery, is a hidden gem among Montana’s trout streams. While the entire creek is trout water, the section above Sluice Boxes State Park is where native westslope cutthroat trout can be found. The creek starts near Neihart and runs through the Sluice Boxes State Park, offering anglers a rustic trail alongside its course

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