Waters I Guide & Fish

My outfitting operation is based in and around Livingston. 

Town of Livingston is the "destination" itself as the "Fly-Fishing Capitol". 

Then with driving, two hours or less, and well-planning, we can explore more waters in other parts of the state!!

Waterbodies listed below are where I frequently fish and guide, with a brief description for each. 

If I find myself missing certain waters or learn new fisheries, I'll add. 

To plan when to fish, please check my SW Montana Fishing Calendar.

If that's not enough or to see if I guide certain waters or not, please don't hesitate to contact me!!

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Montana Public Waters

 

State of Montana offers numerous, perhaps the best in US, public fishing access sites. Along with Stream Access Law, one can navigate most streams on foot or with a craft. Below is a list of waterbodies where I fish and guide in and around Livingston.

 

  • Yellowstone River: Livingston and Yellowstone River are near synonyms to each other. In general public views, I may be assumed I prefer spring creeks and spring creeks are more technical. But let me tell you that Yellowstone River is the most challenging and the true learning/developing river of all (with some tempers). I have immense respect on this river and keep learning new things/spots every year. Remember "if you can learn to read the waters of Yellowstone River and can take trout successfully, you can travel the world and be a successful fly angler anywhere in the world" (Don Williams). 

  • Bighorn River: This is one world-class tailwater fishery: remote location even in Montana standard, consistent nymphing, superb hatches = dry-fly fishing, and numerous trout with some really big ones. Please refer my Bighorn page

  • Madison River: I've been fishing the Madison before I became a guide. Certainly I frequent less than Yellowstone Rivers or spring creeks but my trips have been successful, i.e., consistent. I guide Lower Madison just outside of Bozeman in spring when baetis and caddis hatches are good. Then I hit the Upper section above Ennis whenever fishing is good and as requested. I don't mind a little drive from Livingston or Bozeman. 

  • Missouri River: Another world-class tailwater fishery. As with the Bighorn, MO tends to be fishable all through the year. Popular yet there are lots of rooms. 

  • Boulder River: A fair size tributary to Yellowstone River right at the town of Big Timber, 30 minutes east of Livingston. It's not quite off-the-radar any more but it tends to be less busier than the list above. I offer walk-wade fishing from public access sites. 

Below are the streams I fish on my own and oftentimes I direct visiting fishers to, but I don't guide due to the extra permissions to guide. 

  • Mill Creek: A small tributary to Yellowstone River in the middle of Paradise Valley. We fish the mouth when we float "The Bird". As one drives up the road, there's a National Forest Service sigh and access. Upstream from there offers numerous public accesses (downstream to the mouth is along private properties.

  • West Boulder River: A good size tributary to the Main Boulder. One can fish very end from the public access, as it merges the Main Boulder. Upstream from there are along the private properties. But further upstream, there's a National Forest Service access and trailhead. Around there is fun enough. Then one can hike as far as one wants to!!

  • Gallatin River: One of the most convenient drive-in streams in Montana. Along US-191 between Bozeman to West Yellowstone, there are numerous public accesses and pullouts. The most popular Canyon stretch, Gallatin Gateway to around Big Sky, requires an extra guide permission for my part of business. That is why I don't guide. Instead I guide the Yellowstone National Park section. 

  • Taylor Fork: A nice tributary to Gallatin River, located between Big Sky and YNP boundary. If you fish the Gallatin, might as well swing by!

Yellowstone Brown
Yellowstone Brown

On a big dry-fly!

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Yellowstone Brown
Yellowstone Brown

Overcast day brown with a streamer!

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West Boulder River
West Boulder River

Day-hiking to the meadow.

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Yellowstone Brown
Yellowstone Brown

On a big dry-fly!

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Montana Private Waters

 

Good looking waterbodies beyond the private property, fear and doubt of trespass, etc................

No worries around here. With affordable daily rod fees, we can access some of the best kept private fisheries in the world. Anglers owe rod fees for the day (clients: on top of my guide service fee). 

Spring Creeks

  • DePuy's Spring Creek: Among three fabled spring creeks, DePuy's is the longest, 3 miles, and offers the most diverse features, from riffles, pools, to flats, even a pond where one can put a craft on. Besides Yellowstone River, this creek has been the significant contribution to my guide career and my development as an observer. 

  • Armstrong's Spring Creek: Just upstream and right next to DePuy's is O'Hair Ranch, a real working cattle ranch. This is another beautiful MUST-FISH creek when you are in the area. Popular spots do produce but I wouldn't mind trying less fished spots and sections and I often get good bites!!

  • Nelson's Spring Creek: This short creek can be visited from East River Road. 

Lakes/Ponds

These are located in working cattle ranches. Oftentimes called stock ponds that are used for irrigation or drinking waters for livestock, owners stock these waters with trout. But these are by no means easy "pay ponds" filled with pellet fed trout. Trout will soon become wild and grow enormously. They are NOT easy to hook, and even harder to bring them into the net. That is why we call these waters "Trophy Lakes". 

  • Burns' Ranch Lake: Located in Big Timber, this is my go-to in spring, while rivers are experiencing runoffs, and in the fall. Dry-flies, indicator rig, and stripping leeches all produce memorable trout. 

  • Story Ranch Lakes: Located in Emigrant. Ranch offers two lakes. 

  • Sitz Angus Ranch Lakes: Located in Harrison, MT (about 30 minutes drive from Bozeman), these ponds offer superb fishing. Sitz Angus is a very well-known Angus seedstock, by the way. 

Armstrong's Rainbow
Armstrong's Rainbow

This was the very first fish I caught back in the yonder year!

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Armstrong's Big Rock
Armstrong's Big Rock

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Sitz Ranch Pond Brown
Sitz Ranch Pond Brown

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Armstrong's Rainbow
Armstrong's Rainbow

This was the very first fish I caught back in the yonder year!

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Yellowstone National Park

 

If the list of Montana waters above look small, there's a 3,471 square mile "backyard" filled with so many legendary waters. Livingston is one hour away from the North entrance and about two hours away from the West entrance (if going through Bozeman and Big Sky), but I'm usually ahead of most anglers wherever I go. That's because I KNOW the routes, the seasons, and traffic tendencies. Indeed I can mark exact dates on calendar where to go fishing and what to expect. 

That said, there are a few very useful and highly recommended books written by long-time guides/fishers in the area. I'm fortunate enough to meet them in person. These books are highly recommended to obtain as they contain fishing & access information and detailed maps. Although I don't link the purchase sites, they are easy to find anywhere online and of course fly-shops and bookstores in the area (check out when you are here).

  • The Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide New & Revised (2019) by Craig Mathews and Clayton Molinero

  • Fishing Yellowstone National Park: An Angler's Complete Guide to More Than 100 Streams, Rivers, and Lakes (2007) by Richard Parks

  • Fly Fishing The Greater Yellowstone Backcountry (2017) by Bruce Staples

West & Northwest: Following streams are closer to the west entrance in West Yellowstone, MT on the map, however, it's an easy day trip from Livingston. Park's west side is known for geothermal features: hot springs and geysers. Hence these streams offer good fishing in the early (opening through June) and the late (late September till the season end in November) seasons. During the summer months, water temperatures of these streams reach very high and trout become lethargic. Besides, the west entrance/West Yellowstone attract the most number of sightseeing tourists during summer months. So find some other waters to fish from July to the late September, which is not a difficult task at all! 

  • Firehole River: This is one of the most popular river in the Park in terms of fishing and sightseeing. Geysers along this river attract millions of visitors each year but also they affect our fishing significantly. Typically known as the "opening day river", dry-fly fishing for superb yet complicated insect hatches is the main feature. It is indeed similar to spring creeks.  

  • Gibbon River: In a nutshell, Gibbon has similar systems as with Firehole but it does have its own distinctive features. To me, the meadow section always feels moody but oftentimes reward some surprises to persistent and patient fishers. 

  • Madison River: Madison in the Park is as popular and productive as the Montana section. Dry-flies, nymphs, and streamers all can be productive. Fall-run fishing is legendary. Big pre-spawn browns and rainbows swim up to the Junction Pool and all the way up to the big falls of both Firehole and Gibbon. 

  • Gallatin River: The Park section of Gallatin runs "out of" the west entrance, the tiny portion of Montana. This is the mix of meadow waters and rocky riffles/pools. This section remains cold throughout summer. I like to pry with nymphs then eventually cast dry-flies; match flies if I see rises or attractors and terrestrials to prospect. This section often gives up some surprises. REMINDER: Mile marker 31 of US-191 is the YNP-MT boundary. Might as well obtain both licenses. 

  • Certainly there are more streams and lakes in this side of the Park. There are numerous tributaries of main rivers mentioned above. Cascade and Grebe Lakes offer us to catch rare graylings. I can certainly arrange guide trips but also these can be good for DYI. Please contact me so I can get you to right directions.

East & Northeast: This side of the Park is, in a large picture, Yellowstone River and its tributaries. Although the official fishing season starts at the end of May, practical fishing would not really start till sometime in July, which is up to runoffs (snow accumulation and spring weathers). Once streams come into good shapes, native Yellowstone Cutthroat are true gems to our dry-flies (of course one can catch them with nymphs and streamers). Then as the summer ends and the fall deepens, i.e., toward the end of September, these streams and "cutts" tend to slow down. So!! This side of the Park really fills in when those geyser influenced streams in the west side become too warm. Considering the middle of summer, fishing traffic feels busier. However, over the years, I developed how to navigate traffic of cars and people and get to the best available spots/sections. And also, there always seems to be a "gray period", that I call when there are almost all no fishers on these streams in the middle of summer.......... 

Apparently, this side is considered just an extension of Livingston!! 

  • Yellowstone River: The entire Park section of this immense river is hard to describe in a few sentences as it's so diverse. I primarily guide a section below the Lake, and some hike-in sections of Grand and Black Canyons. Except for the very end of the Park section, near Montana boundary, all we will catch is native Yellowstone Cutthroat. Close to Montana boundary, below Knowle Fall, rainbow, brown, and whitefish mix in. The legendary "below the Lake" section opens on July 15th. This section and true native Yellowstone Cutthroat should mean so much for every fly anglers. 

  • Lamar River & Soda Butte Creek: It's very fair to say these are siblings. Streams sizes aside, they both host native Cutts and fish the same (water characters, structures, hatches, and so on). Fished properly, these streams can give up some big cutts!! Most visiting fishers can't believe their productivities as these run right along the road and especially the Soda Butte looks such a tiny creek. Now this is very hard to describe by words: I can't emphasize how influential these streams are on Yellowstone River in Montana section and learning & fishing these two streams are very important to decode the hundreds of miles. FYI, these streams can muddy up quickly and be out of fishing options for a couple of days due to summer thunderstorms. Apparently the mud plugs flow down to the Montana section and our float trips need some adjustments. 

  • Slough Creek: This one joins Lamar from the other side of the mountain. Unlike Lamar and Soda Butte, Slough tends to clear up earlier and won't get muddy by the summer thunderstorms. Meadows above campground are very enjoyable hiking and fishing destinations. Lower meadow below CG is almost all like a spring creek and holds some huge trout. But certainly they are not easy to hook. They really inspect our flies............

  • Gardner River: This is a very diverse river for its size. Further upstream offers easy & enjoyable brook trout fishing, there are some very rugged sections to approach here and there, there's even a tiny bathing area (Boiling River), and the lower section offers salmonfly hatches and fall-run brown trout. This river doesn't seem to attract as many fishers as other popular rivers. Fishers need to learn how to get around this river. It is well-known, even a roadside fishery, but under the radar sort of..........especially salmonfly hatches and fall-run brown............

  • Trout Lake & Blacktail Ponds: These may be exceptions among this side of fisheries as they can be ready to fish right after opening or while streams are in the middle of runoffs. That said, always check the regulations: Blacktail Ponds are closed for public access until July 1st. Trout Lake's inlet stream is permanently closed. 

  • Trails & Tributaries: There are so many tributaries to these main rivers, under-the-radar lakes, and trails to get there. Too many to list here. 

Firehole Brown
Firehole Brown

Majority of our catches on Firehole are around 12" trout. However there are plenty of big ones if one headhunts for them!

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Firehole Insects
Firehole Insects

Firehole is the insect factory.

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Joffe Lake Fall Brookie
Joffe Lake Fall Brookie

Joffe Lake is near Mammoth.

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Firehole Brown
Firehole Brown

Majority of our catches on Firehole are around 12" trout. However there are plenty of big ones if one headhunts for them!

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