The West Gallatin is a blue ribbon river that originates in Yellowstone National Park. In its upper reaches it flows through the spectacular Gallatin Canyon where the fishing scenes from the movie “A River Runs Through It” were filmed. After exiting the canyon it enters the Gallatin Valley and becomes a meadow river lined with cottonwoods. Above all the Gallatin is WTO’s home river and in our back yard and our guides knows this river inside and out.
The Gallatin River is about twelve miles long from its origin at the confluence of the West and East Gallatin rivers to Three Forks, Montana, where it joins the Jefferson and Madison rivers to form the Missouri River.
This makes the Gallatin is a very picturesque river with crystal clear water and lots and lots of trout. Our river is not known for its trophy trout like some of the other larger rivers in the area, but the beauty of this river and its small intimate nature make this a favorite of many of our guests. Because of the very high trout density, this river often produces fast action and high catch rates.
The Gallatin is a designated wade fishing river only with the exception of the lower river. Our guides sometimes use small rafts or drift boats in the spring. During high water on the upper river around Big Sky, in order to float from hot spot to hot spot where you would get out and wade fish with your guide.This trip is a ton of fun with lots of action and a great way to learn the river.
The Lower Gallatin River does have some large trout that make their way up from the Missouri river. Float fishing from a drift boat is allowed on the last 12 miles and this section of the river is a great option in the fall.
Total Length: 97 miles
Species Present: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Mountain Whitefish
Upper Madison River
The Madison River originates in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Gibbon and the Firehole rivers. From Madison Junction the river flows in a northerly direction for 140 miles to Three Forks, Montana, where it joins the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers at the confluence of the Missouri River. From its origination point ( Madison Junction) in Yellowstone Park, the Madison flows North into the majestic Madison valley, its journey interrupted by two man-made lakes. The first is Hebgen lake, located one and one-half miles from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Hebgen Lake is over 16 miles long and has over 50 miles of shoreline and most importantly is full of trout.
Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake
Just 1.5 miles below Hebgen Dam, a concrete core earth fill structure that was completed in 1914, the Madison River feeds Earth Quake Lake, a naturally formed lake created by an massive earth slide during the largest earthquake in Montana /Magnitude 7.3 in 1959. Fifty miles downstream from Quake lake the Madison River is interrupted again to form Ennis Lake. Ennis Lake was formed by the erection of the Ennis Dam on the Madison River. The lake is quite shallow and can get very warm during the height of summer – resulting in some fish kill and limiting populations. Despite that, Ennis Lake has some large rainbow and brown trout that can be found in the lakes deeper holes. Unfortunately, locating these holes on the moderate sized lake can be a challenge without a depth finder.
After Ennis Dam
The Madison flows through Bear Trap Canyon before entering the lower Madison River valley for its final 18 miles to the Missouri River. The Madison is one of Montana’s premier wild trout rivers. Due to its national reputation, heavy fishing pressure, good access, high scenic value, and excellent wild trout populations, it has been classified as a “Blue Ribbon” trout stream. The Madison’s characteristic riffle-run-pocket water nature makes it a joy to float fish. Watching your ‘hopper pattern bounce along the braided currents and then disappear into the sipping mouth of a burly brown trout is what this sport is all about. Add that to the aesthetic beauty of the peaks of the Madison Range and the western hospitality of Ennis.
Total Length: 132 miles
Species Present: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Mountain Whitefish
The Yellowstone River is a tributary of the Missouri River, approximately 692 miles (1,114 km) long, in the western United States. Considered the principal tributary of the upper Missouri, the river and its tributaries drain a wide area. Stretching from the Rocky Mountains in the vicinity of the Yellowstone National Park across the mountains and high plains of southern Montana and northern Wyoming. It is the longest un dammed river in the lower 48 states
Origin of the Yellowstone
The river rises in northwestern Wyoming in the Absaroka Range at the Continental Divide in southwestern Park County. This river starts where the North Fork and the South Fork Yellowstone River converge. From there the North Fork, the larger of the two forks, flows from Younts Peak. The South Fork flows from the southern slopes of Thorofare Mountain. The Yellowstone River flows northward through Yellowstone National Park, feeding and draining Yellowstone Lake. Then dropping over the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls at the head of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone within the confines of the park.
Yellowstone Lake down to Yellowstone Falls
Inside Yellowstone National Park is some of the most pristine flat water fishing for pure Yellowstone cutthroats you’ll experience anywhere. A portion of this stretch (through Hayden Valley) is closed all year, but the rest is easily accessible. No floating is allowed on any rivers in Yellowstone Park. This section opens for fishing on July 15th. PMDs, Green Drakes, Gray Drakes, Caddis and even Salmon flies are found at that time. The Park can be crowded at popular fishing access points like Buffalo Ford, but if you want to hike, there are many good spots where you can get away from the crowds.
The Yellowstone Canyon and Black Canyon
This canyon section is only accessible only by hiking. As a result this is some outstanding fishing during the Salmon fly hatch in early to mid-July. Good access points are at Canyon Village, Tower, and Gardiner with a couple of other trail head access points in between. If you are in good shape and like to combine some hiking and fishing, this is the trip for you.
Gardner to Highway 89 Bridge
After leaving the park, the Yellowstone River becomes a part of Montana. Below Gardiner the river fishes well all the way to Livingston. Below Corwin Springs the river enters Yankee Jim Canyon. Our guides do not float this stretch. Yankee Jim Canyon is the Yellowstone’s best white water, with several major rapids. Steep canyon walls make it a difficult stretch to fish. As a result most anglers choose to wade fish this area. The most popular and productive stretch is from Point of Rocks to Livingston which is a little over forty miles of water. This section of river provides some of the most spectacular scenery on the Yellowstone.
Some of the best fishing
Along with some of the best fishing there is a pleasant mix of big pools, great banks to fish and lots of big browns and rainbows. You will find one good pool after another. With more holding water for trout than the upriver sections. Absolutely beautiful scenery with the Absaroka Mountains to the east, and the Gallatin Mountains to the west. So it is easy to understand why we call this place the Paradise Valley. Therefore you can find a pleasant mix of browns, rainbows and our native cutthroats and mountain whitefish are abundant. In other words the Yellowstone river will provide plenty of action and fun. Although we use drift boats to float the river, we often stop to wade fish the better runs.
Highway 89 Bridge to Columbus
Highway 89 bridge starts about five miles to the east (down stream) of Livingston. From here on down through Big Timber the river is similar to the water around Livingston, just a little more spread out. There are some very large rainbows and browns to be caught in this stretch. Fishing and floating pressure is much less and our guides love these lower stretches. Later in the summer when the hoppers are out in full force. With wind gusting across these hayfields it blows a lot of hoppers in the river. So this creates some exciting action from big rainbow and brown trout.
Total Length: 692 miles
Species Present: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Arctic Grayling, Mountain Whitefish
America’s longest river gets its start in Montana near the town of Three Forks. The Missouri River is well known for its outstanding hatches and hard fighting trout. The Missouri River begins at the junction of the Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson, this junction is rightfully named Three Forks. From this junction the river flows for approximately twenty miles before reaching Toston Dam. This stretch of the Missouri runs slow and warm during the summer months. It is not very popular with trout fishermen although there are some fish to be found.
Below Toston Dam
The Missouri river flows for approximately twelve miles before reaching Canyon Ferry Lake. Because gently sloping hills and meadows surround the river this stretch of water is more desirable for trout fishermen. Trout fishing here is for reservoir run fish which are quality browns and rainbows. These fish can be found throughout this stretch at certain times of the year. Rainbows migrate up river in the spring while the browns migrate up in the fall. Rainbows will also follow the browns in the fall to eat their eggs. Some resident trout are also found throughout this twelve mile piece of water.
Hauser Dam to Holter Dam
From Hauser Dam to Holter Lake the Missouri is once again known for its migrating trout. At the right time of year, you have the chance of catching a “lunker”. Commonly referred to by the locals as( land of Giants) or LOG.
Below Holter Dam
Below Holter Dam the river takes on its characteristics as a large “spring creek”. In other words this is a classic tail-water fishery all the way to Cascade. So this section spans thirty four miles and the water is a ideal temperature for trout. As a result trout flourish in these waters and the abundant population of insects makes it a great dry fly fishery. These fish will easily strip you into your backing especially on the light tippets needed to fool them.
A good portion the land the Missouri slides by has substantially the same appearance as when it was explored by the Lewis and Clark expedition over two centuries ago.
Total Length: 726 miles
Species Present: Black Crappie, Brown Trout, Burbot, Channel Catfish, Mountain Whitefish. Northern Pike, Paddlefish, Rainbow Trout, Sauger, Shovelnose Sturgeon, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Yellow Perch