Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss - Originally native to Pacific Ocean tributaries on both the North American and Asian side, Rainbow trout are common to most Montana river systems. You can expect to catch these guys on any given day in the Bozeman area. Rainbows are bold and aggressive, and most commonly caught on both nymphs and dry flies. Their speed and tendency towards acrobatics make them a rewarding fish to flight.
Brown Trout - Salmo trutta - These European natives are found just about everywhere the Rainbows are in Montana. Browns are more secretive and can be harder to fool than Rainbow trout. They usually want the fly presented as naturally as possible, but the reward for hooking into one of these guys is a hard fighting fish that makes up for speed with brute force. We find Browns all year long , but the fall is a particularly good time of year to target larger fish.
Cuttrout Trout - Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri (Yellowstone) Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi (Westslope) - The Cutthroat is Montana’s native trout. There are two subspecies that inhabit Montana, the Westslope Cutthroat that is found on the west side of the continental divide (and is also the state fish) and the Yellowstone Cutthroat that is found on the east side. They once covered most of Montana, but as a result of several factors over the last century have been banished to the upper reaches of most rivers and some mountain lakes. However, due to heavy reintroduction efforts over the past decades, the cutthroats are starting to show up in new places every year. Yellowstone Cuts are most commonly caught in southwest Montana in the upper portions of the Yellowstone River as well as in many of its tributaries. If you want to fish dry flies you couldn’t ask for a better target than a Cutthroat. They have a signature slow, deliberate rise to a dry fly that is unmistakable and a pure joy to behold. While the Yellowstone Cutsh are all bite and no fight, the Westslope Cuts tend to make good runs and fight much harder/. You couldn’t ask for a more photogenic fish though, with their rich coloring and prominent throat slash.
Brook Trout - Salvelinus fontinalis - Brook trout hail from the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern side of America. Although called a trout they are actually a kind of char, which look a lot like a trout, but notably have a large mouth compared to its body and voracious appetite. Brookies can be found in many of the area’s small tributary streams and a few lakes. They are usually not usually found in the bigger rivers and rarely get larger than 8-10 inches. We’ll find some larger ones every once in awhile in the larger rivers.
Bull Trout - Salvelinus confluentus - Bull Trout are native to the waters west of the Continental Divide here in Montana and are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. They are still found in many of the rivers and tributaries throughout the Bob Marshall Wilderness in addition to many other rivers in western Montana. They are notoriously voracious when it comes to chasing big streamers as well as fish that are being played by an angler. Bull Trout are actually a char and commonly reach sizes over 30”.
Mountain Whitefish - Prosopium williamsoni - Another species native to Montana, Mountain Whitefish are a salmonid like a trout, but have a small downward facing mouth and resemble a sucker or chub more than a trout. Whitefish love small nymphs and will rise to a dry fly, so it is not uncommon to catch several a day. Whitefish are generally not targeted because they don’t fight as well as a trout; they mainly try to stay near the bottom, don’t run, and are not nearly as pretty as their trout cousins. They are commonly caught in just about every watershed in the region.
Arctic Graying - Thymallus arcticus -The Arctic Grayling is native and common to most of northern North America. A population in the upper Missouri watershed is the southernmost extent of its range. The only native population pocket left in Montana is in the Big Hole River watershed. There have been many restocking efforts made in the last 20 years or so in several rivers where they used to thrive. Most notably to us the Madison and Gallatin rivers, and even though they restocking programs have failed thus far to produce a viable population the occasional straggler is caught. There are also mountain lakes the hold Arctic Grayling.
Carp - Cyprinus carpio - Once thought of as a garbage fish the humble carp is quickly becoming a favorite option of fly fishermen all over. The upper Missouri River has a large, thriving population of carp that are more than willing to eat a fly. They swim out of Canyon Ferry Reservoir into the Missouri River, but can also be taken effectively on the fly in the reservoir itself.