In an unprecedented move, the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks closed the Yellowstone River and it's tributaries to all forms of recreation. That means fishing, floating, rafting, swimming, playing fetch with your dog, etc. It's a quarantine to prevent the spread of a deadly parasite that causes kidney failure in fish. The parasite poses no risk to humans or pets but it's deadly and we applaud the FWP for taking great measures to prevent the spread of this parasite.
Although this is unfortunate, it doesn't mean you have to cancel your fishing plans. Montana still has plenty of options within a few hours of the Yellowstone. Here are a few of our favorite alternatives.
1. The Madison
The Madison is close and will absorb a ton of pressure from the closure. This doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it as an option. The fall fishing can be great on this river. The upper reaches will have some serious crowds so consider basing your trip out of Ennis. Get in touch with The Tackle Shop in Ennis for wade and float recommendations, reports and guide trip options.
2. Big Hole and Beaverhead
There's a common misunderstanding that the Big Hole is closed. The river is open without restrictions from Dickey Bridge to Maiden Rock. The traffic is light and the fishing is solid. Spruce moths and hoppers give you plenty opportunities on the dry fly. The cold flows on the Beaverhead are another great option. Big browns on hoppers will keep your rod bent. Call or visit Great Divide Outfitters for reports, gear and guides. Craig and Lisa Jones will get you on track.
3. Missouri River
The Mighty Mo' is ripe with hatches and serves as a nice alternative to the Yellowstone. Wade or float, DIY or hire a guide. This river is technical but extremely rewarding. With temperatures cooling and some days being overcast, expect some great reports on this river. The fall streamer bite is coming soon and fish will also be looking up for the dry. Wolf Creek Angler has the flies and guides. They also rent boats and have some great lodging options at affordable prices.
4. Bighorn River
Head a little farther east for another great tailwater option. The Big Horn fishes well most of the year and it runs through some amazing country. Numbers are excellent in this river and the Bighorn Angler has great reports, guides, lodging and boat rentals. Give them a call and start planning your trip.
5. Missoula and Western Montana
There is a big divide between southwest and northwestern Montana. Many folks stick to the Yellowstone and Madison every year while others only fish the Missoula area. This is a good year to mix things up and hit some new water. Head towards Missoula and fish the Clark Fork, Bitterroot or Blackfoot. There's a ton of water and great dry fly fishing. Call the Grizzly Hackle for more information and current reports.
6. Kootenai and Flathead Rivers
Head up north and get off the grid. The Kootenai has big rainbows below the dam and amazing scenery. Traffic is low and the river is wild, deep and one of the coolest places you'll float in Montana. Linehan Outfitting has the local knowledge, guides and lodging here. It's a world-class operation.
If you are craving the cutthroat action on the Yellowstone, consider a trip to the Flathead region. Different strain but same willingness to crush a dry fly. The water in the Flathead system is clear and cold. The rivers are surrounded by wilderness and crawling with wildlife. Hop on a raft with Wild River Adventures and go nail some cutthroats.