OTHER AREA STREAMS
North Central Montana has a lot more to offer the angler than just the Missouri River. While you won’t find any “secret river”, teeming with huge trout and no anglers, you will find a variety of different lakes and streams that can provide great fishing at certain times of year. Unfortunately, dewatering due to irrigation makes many of our local streams unfishable during the middle and late summer months. During spring, early summer and late fall, however, they can fish very well with little or no competition from other anglers. From the tight canyons on the Smith, Dearborn and Belt Creek, to the famous windswept lakes of the front range, to the badlands of the lower Missouri and Marias rivers, North Central Montana does hold some hidden gems for those willing to explore.
The Sun River doesn’t offer the best fishing in the area, but it does offer plenty of solitude with the chance at some real big Browns and Rainbows. Lack of access combined with very low summer flows make it difficult to fish long stretches of the Sun. Erratic and unpredictable flows from Gibson Dam also affect the fishing.
The Sun can be floated during certain times, but Gibson Dam flows are not predictable and can make planning a float trip tough. Irrigation withdrawls and returns can make different sections of the river fish entirely different at the same time. The beautiful canyon stretches below the dam (just upstream of Augusta) are long floats and require 2 days unless there are sufficient flows. There is some access below the lower (Diversion) dam that anglers can use as an access point to hike down into the canyon. Beautiful bedrock ledge pools are found throughout this section.
Wade fishing can be good both below the dam and downriver towards Great Falls. I find the best fishing occurs during springtime on the lower sections. There are access points at Simms, Ft. Shaw and Sun River. Fish numbers are not high on the Sun, but for those willing to hike you may run into some real pigs that never see a fly.
Famous for its dramatic limestone canyon, the Smith River begins near White Sulphur Springs, and flows north to its confluence with the Missouri just south of Great Falls at Ulm, Mt. The Smith holds good populations of both Brown and Rainbow trout, and good fishing can be had before and after runoff.
Many anglers choose to float the “canyon” section of the Smith, a trip that requires at least 4 or 5 days. The state of Montana regulates float traffic on the river, and you must apply for a special permit to float this section, or use the services of an outfitter who holds a Smith permit. Float season on the Smith generally runs from early May to early July, after which the river is often too low to float.
Fishing remains good after float season, however, if you can gain access to the river, most of which is private. There is also some public access above and below the canyon that can provide good fishing. If you’re interested in fishing the Smith on foot, or don’t want to do a 5 day float, I highly reccommend Gary Anderson’s Heaven on Earth Ranch . The lodge is located right in the heart of the canyon, and includes a 9 hole golf course!
This beautiful stream has one of the smallest windows of opportunity in Montana, but it’s worth trying to hit. As the major spawning tributary of the Missouri, the Dearborn hosts large runs of both rainbows and browns in the spring and fall.
Loaded with smaller fish, the Dearborn also holds large Browns that reside in the many deep cliff pools. These fish don’t often come up for a dry fly, but action can be great using streamers.
The Dearborn float is a long one, taking an entire day, but it’s well worth it. The scenery alone is worth the float. Unfortunatly, you need to hit it after high water, but before it gets too low to float. Montana FWP wisely closed it during the winter season a few years ago (to protect spawning rainbows), so you also have to wait until opening day in mid-May.
Belt Creek is the “locals” stream in the Great Falls area. It begins in the Little Belt Mountains south of Great Falls, and flows north where it meets the Missouri.
The best section of Belt Creek is known as the “Sluice Boxes”. The stream flows through a canyon that rivals the Smith, and hold good numbers of Browns, Rainbows and the occasional Cutthroat. A good path leads along an old railroad grade through the canyon, and the further you get from either end, the better the fishing.
Fishing is usually good with attractor nymphs and dries, and the Sluice Box section also has a decent Salmonfly hatch. This is not a place for anglers who are not physically fit..be prepared to do some hiking. It’s worth it.
The tailwater section of the Marias is located 90 miles north of Great Falls, near the town of Chester. When you first drive down the hill to the base of the dam, you’ll start to drool over what looks like a fabulous tailwater fishery. Crystal clear water flows around islands and against cutbanks, over beautiful riffles and broad dry fly flats…
Unfortunately, the Marias holds very few trout. The ones that are there, however, are hard fighting and can be real big. Both Browns and Rainbows inhabit the river, as well as whitefish, pike, carp and sauger. Use streamers and concentrate on the big boys that inhabit the Marias. The lack of other anglers and badland scenery can make up for the lack of fish.
Although the Marias is a great wade fishing river, floating is a better way to cover the prime areas. If you’re wade fishing, concentrate your efforts at the access area below Tiber Dam. If you want to float, you can launch a raft, canoe or drift boat at the campground and float down to either Pugsley or Moffat bridges. Using a canoe to go from spot to spot is the best way to fish the Marias. There are long stretches of slow water that are unproductive, and not many runs you can’t fish from foot.
BIG SPRING CREEK
Big Spring Creek (the stream everyone has heard of but no one has fished), is located 100 miles east of Great Falls at Lewistown, Mt. If you love small streams and spring creeks, you’ll love Big Spring Creek. Great hatches occur almost all year, from BWO’s and PMD’s to caddis to hoppers. Loaded with Rainbows and Browns, this creek is fishable year ’round and has tons of public access.
The rainbows in Big Spring Creek are not huge, but they are challenging. The Browns are fewer, and also run bigger, some much bigger. Rainbows are found throughout the system, and the Browns tend to be more common below town.
If you want to check out something different in some beautiful country (and a great town), definitely try this one. It’s also a great place to fish and bird hunt in the fall.
FRONT RANGE LAKES
The Front Range of the Rockies from Great Falls north to the Canadian border is famous for its public and private trophy lake fishing. If you’re into the float tube scene, you could spend years learning all the waters in the vast area.
Most of the lakes contain Rainbow Trout and/or Northern Pike. Browns are found in some of the private lakes, and the occasional Brookie is caught.
While the public lakes along the front provide good fishing for nice sized fish (especially Nilan Res.), the Blackfeet Reservation is most recognized as the trophy fish producing area.
To fish the Reservation, you will need a special tribal permit that can be obtained in Great Falls or on the Reservation. Maps of the Reservation lakes (and streams) are available, and a good guide book is also available. Give us a call if you would like to order a copy.
For private lake access, I highly reccommend the H Lazy 6 Ranch run by Hank Bauma (contact us for more information or for bookings). This large ranch is located right at the foothills of the Rockies, west of Choteau. They provide great accommodations, food and several private trophy lakes. A guide is not neccessary at the H Lazy 6, but if you like, we’ll be more than happy to guide you there. Combining a couple of days here with a couple of days on the Missouri would make a great trip.
MISSOURI RIVER – GREAT FALLS
Contrary to popular belief, fishing on the Missouri does not end at Cascade. While the river supports few trout from Cascade to Great Falls, five dams on the river at Great Falls do provide some fishing opportunities.
Black Eagle is the first and most accessable dam. It is located right in Great Falls on the downstream end of town. Access is excellent at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and at Giant Springs State Park.
The water in the section is suprisingly fast, much faster than anything in the Craig area. You’ll find both Rainbows and Browns in this section. The best techniques are stripping and dead drifting buggers and streamers. Carp fishing is also popular with locals in this section.
The fifth dam, Morony, is about a 20 minute drive downstream of Great Falls. Another section that runs very swift, streamers are also the method of choice. Along with Rainbows and Browns, you’ll catch Sauger, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Freshwater Drum, Northern Pike, Goldeye and Carp.
The Missouri below Great Falls is no destination spot, but if you’re in town on business and only have a few minutes, it’s always worth a try. These sections also fish pretty well during the winter months.