Freestone Fun

fly fishing gallatin river

A mini-vacation along the Gallatin. 

The first fish I ever caught was on the Gallatin, a 10-inch rainbow that I accidentally hooked while letting out some line; I think I was more surprised than the fish. I haven’t caught much on the Gallatin since, partly because other interests occupy my time, and partly because I never make a plan. Usually, I throw my stuff in the car and head out, resorting to whatever pull-out is empty and whatever fly is close at hand. But I want to know the river, fish its hidden holes with a purpose, and learn the behavior of its inhabitants. It’s right there for the taking... why not take it?

All stretches of the river intrigue me, from the lazy, meandering bends of the Park section, to the sweeping, strainer-clogged portion out in the valley. From south to the mouth, I want to fish it all, and I finally have a plan.

I’m going to treat myself to a mini-vacation close to home. I know the canyon well enough, as I’ve made its acquaintance often with other ends in mind: hiking, climbing, skiing. What I don’t know is the river—but with the right guidance and experience, that will change. I'll stop by a fly shop to get oriented: perhaps Gallatin River Guides or Wild Trout Outfitters in Big Sky, or Blue Ribbon Flies in West if I head down that way.

Here's how it will work. Leaving town around noon on Friday, I'll start at the very beginning—sort of. The first water I’ll fish will actually be the Madison, where it spills out of the Park near West Yellowstone. That will be basecamp number one. West can be a little hectic in the summer, but I won't stick around long and by not going into Yellowstone Park proper, I’ll avoid much of the ruckus. But I am on vacation, and I want a clean bed and a prepared meal to kick off the weekend. An evening spent plucking browns from the Madison’s upper stretches is just too good to pass up, anyhow.

The next morning, I'll start early—there’s a lot of water to cover and I plan on hitting it all. Plying the canyon stretch all day, I'll leave no pull-out uncovered, bring fine specimens to net all the colors of the rainbow.

If I’ve done it right, I’ll have fished all day without making much geographical progress. Ideally, I’ll be in the canyon yet, and still fishing its pocket water as the sun sets. I'll camp, either along some Forest Service road or at a designated campground. Either way, there will be whiskey and a fire after swinging by the Cave in Big Sky for a fifth.

Sunday morning, I’ll make haste for the valley stretch, bumping along River Rd., taking the time to stop at the designated access sites along the way. The river is wholly different here, and can be intimidating; I’ll fish micro-features and fragment the waterway into riffles, cutbanks, and channels.

As Sunday afternoon gives way to Sunday evening, I’ll see no reason to go home just yet. After all, Three Forks is Montana’s favorite small town—so says the sign on Hwy. 287, anyhow. The next morning, rested and restored, I’ll tumble into work a new man, and hopefully, I’ll have a few more Gallatin trout under my belt.

For a little extra help planning your own trip, Visit Big Sky is a great resource. Check out some of their recommendations online, or stop into the chamber building to get your bearings.