Warm-water fisheries in SW MT.
Montana is known far and wide as trout country. Several must-read angling stories have been penned about the cold, clear waters of the Treasure State, and it’s no doubt that our trout fishing is some of the best in the nation. However, many anglers have found that the mid-season throngs of scissorbills invading their rivers, lakes, and streams have thrown a wind-knot into their search for solitude. If you’re tired of sharing your honey hole with a chromed-out Escalade, it’s high time you set your sights on some of Montana’s warm-water fisheries.
Lower Lower Yellowstone River
While the upper stretches are a trout paradise, the lower reaches past Big Timber have become an underground hit for smallmouth bass, catfish, northern pike, walleye, and carp. Crowds are rarely an issue on this stretch of river; access is great, and even in the height of summer, the river’s sheer size makes it very floatable and wade-worthy. Weighted fly lines and big bugs will put some fish in the net, but throw in a spinning rod, a good selection of lures, and don’t forget the bait if you really want success.
Canyon Ferry Reservoir
For the last decade and a half, Canyon Ferry has become the go-to spot for walleye anglers in southwestern Montana. While healthy populations of rainbow trout still ply these waters, this lake is rapidly becoming mainly a warm-water destination. Though rare, huge northern pike also lurk here, as well as good numbers of yellow perch. Spin and bait fishing are the norm, but if you’re up for a challenge, try fly casting for some big carp in the shallow bays during the heat of summer. Access is great via one of several state parks and campgrounds around the reservoir. Downriver from Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter reservoirs also offer great trout fishing during spring.
Three Forks Ponds
Believe it or not, Three Forks happens to play host to a small group of ponds harboring some (comparatively) exotic species of fish. Nestled between I-90 and the golf course, these ponds stay warm enough to sustain largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and carp. The fishing is easy from the bank, a float tube, or hand-launched craft. The access is unassuming: keep an eye out for local kids drowning worms on what appears to be a PGA water hazard. Tackle preferences vary: if spin casting, stick to baitfish lures or stick-baits. Fly fishermen can usually count on streamers, baitfish patterns, or poppers. If live bait is on the menu, the standard nightcrawler and bobber is a good bet. Sunfish are prolific and the ponds are a great place to introduce young or prospective anglers to the sport.
Wherever you’re going, make sure to check the current regulations before you head out; some of Montana’s warm-water fisheries require a special stamp. Current regulations are available at fwp.mt.gov.
Kurt Dehmer owns Durty Kurty’s Guide Service in Bozeman.