Still I Rise

A guide to Montana's lowland lakes.

Many fly anglers are not lake fishermen, preferring the challenges of reading water, achieving effective drifts, and fighting fish against the current. But anglers of all walks would do well to consider the reward of fishing southwest Montana’s lowland lakes and reservoirs. 

Lake fish are often larger than their riverine kin because they don’t burn calories fighting the current. And lake fishing can often be more productive with less effort, especially during and after ice-out and significant hatch events. Here are a few of the best lakes to try your luck.

Hebgen Lake
Hebgen is an impoundment of the Madison River near West Yellowstone. It has built a reputation as one of the best dry-fly fisheries in the world on account of its “gulpers”––brown and rainbow trout that rise to indiscriminately inhale clusters of callibaetis or tricos during July, August, and September. Gulpers cruise in random directions, each one rising in its own steady rhythm every few feet, making a distinct “gulp” sound. Early-season chironomid hatches and mid-season damselfly hatches can also be fantastic, as can nymphing under indicators and throwing streamers. 

Ennis Lake
This reservoir on the Madison River lies downstream of Ennis and just upstream of Bear Trap Canyon. It’s a shallow fishery that hosts medium to large trout, though it also warms quickly, causing its trout to flee into the river and its tributaries. Anglers can find gulpers here as well, albeit in lower numbers.

Canyon Ferry, Hauser, and Holter Reservoir
These Missouri River reservoirs, chiefly renowned for their walleye, all host large trout and warmwater fish. Canyon Ferry has rainbows and the occasional brown trout, walleye, carp, and smallmouth bass; Hauser has browns and rainbows alongside walleye and perch; and Holter holds brown and rainbow trout, king and kokanee salmon, walleye, and carp.  

Clark Canyon Reservoir
Clark Canyon is where the Red Rock River becomes the Beaverhead River, southwest of Dillon. It is one of the best big-trout fisheries in the state, with browns and rainbows growing to hefty sizes.

Other Waters
Harrison Lake (a.k.a., Willow Creek Reservoir) north of Norris and Ruby River Reservoir near Sheridan hold large trout. Dailey Lake in Paradise Valley has trout and walleye. In-town ponds around the Gallatin Valley have everything from carp and panfish to bass and trout, and Montana FWP stocks many kids’ ponds in southwest Montana with exceptionally large trout.