Lowland Lakes

What lakes to fish near Bozeman

The lowland lake fishing within a day’s driving distance from Bozeman can be very rewarding. Even if the fish aren’t biting, the scenery from shore or boat will make the trip worthwhile. Hebgen Lake outside West Yellowstone is one such lake. This beautiful body of water is a little-known treasure for fishermen all year round. With 95 percent of the shoreline residing on national forest land, this 12,000-acre reservoir is beautiful and loaded with trout—but not with boats and anglers.

The fish are hungry at ice-out, which typically occurs around Mother’s Day, but can be as early as mid-April or as late as the end of May. Nightcrawlers are the food of choice this time of year, when shore fishing is easy. The fish stay hungry, hanging in the shallow water until around late June. When the weather and water warm up, most of the trout head to deeper waters. Trolling down the deep channels of the lake with bright lures or dragging flies can yield nice catches throughout the summer. The periodic hatches on the lake shoreline draw out fly fishermen in their tubes going after the big gulpers.

Fall fishing is arguably the best time to get big fish out of Hebgen, with three-pound or bigger rainbows and browns not unusual—and even bigger fish caught often, too. Ice fishing officially starts around New Year's, but can be earlier if it gets cold enough.Throughout the winter and extending until late March, ice builds to 18 inches or more, with cagey fishermen able to catch trout near the shorelines or the dam where the fish hang fairly close to the top. Kirkwood Resort and Marina is right on Hebgen Lake and offers rooms, boat slips, and fishing advice catered for this Montana jewel. Just to the west, Quake Lake offers great fly fishing opportunities.

Another personal favorite of mine is Canyon Ferry—it’s one of the most popular bodies of water in the region. Trout anglers do very well from shore with egg sacks on the north end of the lake by Kim’s Marina. Boat anglers in the spring have great luck trolling rapalas 12 to 20 feet deep, between White Earth in the middle part of the lake south to the Silos. Walleye anglers mostly gear up for the annual walleye bite on the south end of the reservoir from late May through most of June.

Downriver from Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter also offer some of the best trout fishing in the state during the spring. Harrison Lake (north of Norris) and Ennis Lake are great lake-fishing options, both a little closer to home and often more productive during the summer months.

Cliff and Wade Lakes are two more great options about 40 miles south of Ennis. As a great venue for fly fishing, spin fishing, and trolling, they might be a lot smaller than the neighboring Hebgen, but they're known for holding monster rainbows and browns. In fact, Wade Lake hold the brown trout state record at 29 pounds.

Mark Ward is the captain of the Montana Outdoor Radio Show, heard on 22 radio stations statewide every Saturday morning from 6-8am and at montanaoutdoors.com.